"No" Is a Complete Sentence

The word "No"I recently heard a phrase that is brilliant in its simplicity:"No" is a complete sentence.

Some people don't seem to have any trouble saying "no", but for those of us who can struggle with temporary surges of codependency, this simple word can be a challenge to utter. Instead, it's tempting to give a lot of explanations when declining an offer or request, instead of simply saying "no".

There are several reasons why it can be a bad idea to spend a lot of time giving explanations for a refusal to do something you'd rather not do. The first is that you may be tempted to concoct some cover story that isn't true, thus violating one of the most important rules of all: live in the truth. Any time you can avoid even a small lie, do it. Deception, large or small, is simply a poor game to play.

The second reason why "no" needs to stand on its own without a lot of explanations is that providing reasons for your decision gives the other person the chance to offer solutions you don't really want: "You don't a way to get there? Don't worry, I'll pick you up!" By not giving people more reasons than are absolutely necessary, they won't have much opportunity to suggest solutions you aren't really looking for.

Third, the ability to say"no" makes the willingness to say"yes" really mean something instead of being taken for granted. It's like gold: something is often more valuable when there is less of it.

The fourth reason to treat "no" as a complete sentence is that it represents a clean boundary. There is no confusion to the matter. "Maybe I can do it" is a clouded way to get out of something and can therefore be the least helpful answer of all since it doesn't provide clarity. Saying something like "maybe I can do it, I'll have to check" simply muddies the water if that isn't what you really mean. Remember the old adage: say what you mean and mean what you say.

This leads to the final reason for treating "no" as a complete sentence: it is often a crucial tool for self-care. I've previously written how "sanity is measured by boundaries and limits", and being clear on how much you are willing to extend yourself to another person is a prime example. If you want to conserve your finite energy, flip the switch to "off" sometimes.

None of this is meant to promote total selfishness and disregard for others: that's an entirely different subject. The point here is that people who are fundamentally very nice can have a difficult time saying no if they think it's going to make themselves look bad or hurt another person's feelings, especially if it's someone they care about.

Of course, there are ways to soften the harsh edges of a refusal to do something you don't want to do. One is to simply be polite about it: "no, thank you" is a reminder that gentleness and respect for human feelings goes a long way. Also, a mentor once taught me that granting in fantasy what you're withholding in reality is a way to can keep the refusal of an offer from coming across like a rejection of the person. "That might be fun, but not today", or "I wish I could help you, but I'm going to decline" are ways to honor the idea while refusing the action, but only if they are true statements.

I feel like I could write more about this, but am I? No.


Bill Herring is an Atlanta therapist who works with adult individuals and couples.  He also provides specialized therapy for people who fear that sexual addiction may be a problem for them or someone in their family.   

Filed under: