Saying No is Enough — You Don’t Have to Justify ItApr 17, 2021
Psychologists spend an enormous amount of energy building psychological tests, assessments, and the like, and then administering them to people to help them understand themselves. This practice is very helpful in many settings, from work, to education, to couples and individuals. Insight into ourselves and others is really helpful for several reasons. I believe in good, validated testing.
But one of the best tests for our psychological well-being, the tenor of the family or work culture we live in, and our relationships' health, is free and can be self-administered. All you have to do is monitor the internal response you have when you want to say the word “no.”
Let’s start with ourselves. What happens when someone you love, someone you want to please, or maybe even someone whose anger or frustration you fear, wants you to do something that you do not want to do? I do not mean the kind of need or desire that will call for sacrifice, effort, or even discomfort from us, that we don’t “want to do,” but is something we still choose to do out of love, duty, or the desire to help. That is life-giving and good. Great relationships, families, friendships, and businesses are only built when people can get beyond their own self-centeredness and sacrifice for the greater good and others.
The situations I am talking about are the ones where you truly do not want to perform that particular gift of time or energy. It is not something you truly want to give. It is a request to which your real, heartfelt answer is “no.” What happens inside?
Here is the psychological test: when you know your answer is “no,” do you begin to scramble for a good reason to justify your “no”? Do you have an internal pressure to find a good, acceptable excuse? Like a parent’s note to the principal’s office?
The pressure to “justify” literally means the pressure “to show something to be right.” Think about that. Why does this person have that psychological authority over you, to see if your reason is “right” or “wrong”? Certainly if a judge orders you to appear in court, she has the authority to do that, and if you are not going to be there, you do have to “justify” your absence, or there are consequences.
In relationships, there is supposedly no “judge,” but only people who freely give love, time, and energy to each other. So how is it that a simple “no, thank you, but I am going to miss that dinner,” can immediately internally marshal emotional resources to “look for a good reason,” to make it a “right” decision? Why do you have to “justify” your “no”? No is a complete sentence in its own right.
When you feel that kind of pressure, let that be a psychological or relationship assessment or test. If the pressure to justify is there, it reveals a lack of freedom in the relationship at some level. Remember, I am NOT saying that we do not often do things that we do not “feel” like doing for the sake of others or a relationship. Sacrifice is key to any good relationship. I am referring to the freedom to say “no” to the sacrifices we do not choose to make. While bosses and governments have the authority to require a good excuse, love doesn’t ask for that. Love respects freedom. Love thrives in freedom. Love requires freedom.
In the best relationships, “no” certainly might be questioned, and it might reveal some problem, but usually is not “judged.” There is a big difference. When your “no” feels like it is subject to judgment, and you feel like you need a good “excuse,” let that be a signal that you might have a lack of freedom. Then, take the second step: do something with the test results!
When your doctor gets a test result that shows an issue, he or she has a discussion with you. So, in your relationships, it might be time for a good conversation: “Sometimes, I feel like it is not ok with you if I want to say ‘no’ to sex, or to some event or the way we spend our time or money. I don’t really feel free to say ‘no,’ like I truly have a choice. I want to talk about that to see if that is in my head or really in our relationship because I want us to have the freedom to say ‘no’ to each other and have that be ok.”
The best families sometimes say things like these: “No, we won’t be there for that holiday this year. We are going to be spending that one at home.” “No, we have made a different choice which school he is going to attend.” “No, I don’t want to do that right now.” And in good relationships, the response is not one that requires some excuse to justify the “no.”
Instead, the response sounds more like: “Oh, really? Where are you guys going this year? Sounds great. We will miss you, but I hope it goes well. I am happy for you!”
Self-centered people say “no” to almost every request that will not feel good to them or will cause some sort of sacrifice. That is not good. When we never say “yes” to someone else’s wishes, there is something wrong in that relationship. But the opposite is just as troublesome: the inability to say “no” or the pressure to “justify” it every time you do. Remember, you are not there to judge each other, but to love each other and build something together. That does not require a “yes” to everything someone wants. But it does require the freedom to decide when to say “yes,” when to say “no,” and the mutual respect that brings that freedom.
So, take the test. Monitor how much internal freedom you feel in your most significant relationships. Let the lab results tell you something….you may be in great health! Or, there may be a good discussion to be had with yourself, or someone else, like your kids, spouse, partners, extended family, in-laws, or whomever. If they are not in a courtroom, wearing a badge, or signing your paycheck, have a discussion about where each of you needs to be free to say, “No, thank you,” as a complete sentence.