This week and next week on The Best of You podcast, we're getting into 3 types of "No"—including practical strategies, and scripts, for how to say No in different situations.
First up is how to say no in healthy relationships. This episode is for you if you struggle to set a boundary, state a preference, or honor your own limits **even with people you know would respect you if you did.**
It's hard to disappoint people. It's hard to assert honest needs, wants, and preferences when you've been conditioned to please others, fawn, or always put others first. So today we're focusing on how to exercise your "no muscle" even with people you love.
Here's what we discuss:
1. Why learning to say “no” is vital for the the ongoing health of your relationships
2. 5 steps to develop your “no” muscle
3. Why criticism is tempting and how to avoid it
4. How to use “I statements” (and when not to)
5. Scripts for 3 different situations
6. What about when someone says no to you?
7. The hardest category of No I think we all have to face
Thanks to our sponsor Organifi —Go to www.organifi.com/bestofyou and use code BESTOFYOU for 20% off your order today!
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
- Learn more about the Spectrum of Toxicity and scripts for setting healthy boundaries inThe Best of You: Break Free From Painful Patterns, Mend Your Past, and Discover Your True Self in God, by Dr. Alison Cook
- Get my free Boundaries Kickstart Guide
- How to Reclaim Your Inner Alert System
- Will Setting Boundaries Make Me Cruel?
Episode Twenty-Five The Best of You Podcast 20th October 2022
With Dr. Alison Cook
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Alison: Hey everyone, I'm Dr. Alison, and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started, as we learn together how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone, Welcome back to The Best of You podcast. I am so glad you keep coming back each week. To learn more about this work of establishing healthy boundaries and all of these different things we're diving into that relate to this topic.
I have so appreciated, again, your comments, your feedback, the reviews, you've been leaving on Apple, on Spotify. All the reviews you've been leaving on Amazon, related to my book, The Best of You, it just means so much to hear from you and to read about how the podcast, how the book is helping you, the questions that you have.
It helps me just feel encouraged to continue to go deeper and deeper into some of these topics. Every week I'm trying to expand and go a little more deeply, especially, in this series called Boundaries in the Bible. We're really drilling deep into what it means to do this work inside of yourself first.
To get really clear, to get really centered on the inside of you. So that you know what your convictions are. You know what you need to protect. You know what's valuable to you. You know what matters to you. You know those key relationships, those core values, those desires that you want to move toward, in partnership with God.
You've done the work you've discerned and now, inevitably, we bump up against obstacles and challenges, even in the healthiest relationships in our lives. Where we have to have hard conversations. We have to say no from time to time. In some instances, we have to say no and or we have to negotiate the boundary lines.
And, so, that brings us to today's episode. We've talked through some of these bigger picture themes, and today I really want to get into brass tacks. So we're going to get into three types of NO that you have to say, that we all have to say in life.
It would be so nice if we could just waltz through life and agree with everything that everybody else wants for us. But it doesn't work that way. Again, even in our healthiest of relationships, we have to learn to really pay attention before God. To what we need to say "Yes" to and, inevitably, that will mean we have to say some "Nos" in our life.
And, so, I want to get into three categories, three types of NO. Based on the spectrum of toxicity we talked about in episode 24, last week. So these different ways of saying no relate to where this relationship, where the patterns of behaviors that this person has demonstrated, over time, fall on that spectrum of toxicity.
Because depending on where that person's behaviors fall on that spectrum, you are going to insert your, No, you're going to insert your boundary in a different way. All right, so here we go, let's get started. Number one, in today's episode, the first category of NO I want to touch on, is this category of saying NO in your healthy relationships. Now, it's such a different thing to go to someone you love, someone you trust, someone you have a really incredible history with and say, "No".
Sometimes this is a hard NO to say because we love this other person. We don't want to disappoint this person. But because of the demands on our time, because of our own limitations, because of the way God is leading you.
You sometimes find yourself in the position of having to say "No" to good things. To otherwise healthy things. We can't say "Yes" to everything. And, so, this first category is how do we say "No" in a healthy way because we want to honor the other person.
We want to honor the relationship. It might be honoring an organization. We might want to honor a work colleague, a boss that we respect. We want to show respect, but we still have to say "No" and for many of us you struggle with this. Because you're very empathetic, you have a kind heart, you never want to disappoint other people.
Maybe your conditioning has taught you that it's wrong to disappoint other people. That you should bend yourself into contortions to always say "Yes" and, so, you've just learned that. And, so, you don't even know how to develop this NO muscle even in a healthy relationship.
But here's the thing, if you don't learn how to say NO in your healthy relationships, you risk becoming resentful. You risk introducing unhealthy into a relationship that has potential to be really healthy.
It's a paradox, so in many ways, you are learning how to say NO. You're learning how to honor your limits in a respectful way, is the best thing you can do for the long-term, ongoing, sustainable health of this relationship.
Here are some examples; let's say your spouse really loves to spend the holidays with his family and this is challenging for you. You love your spouse. You love how much he loves his family or she loves her family, but there's a cost to you.
This happens, again, even in the healthiest of relationships, the people we love, and who are healthy, and who want the best for us still have blind spots. And, so, if you've been going along and doing this and, all of a sudden, you're starting to notice resentment.
You're starting to notice, "I don't want to do that this holiday." You've got to learn how to speak up for yourself in a healthy way. So that all that anger doesn't mount, doesn't pile up on the inside of you, and then it comes out in an unhealthy way.
Another example is maybe you have a friend who loves to travel, who loves to eat out. Maybe she loves to spend a lot of money, maybe she has more time on her hand, maybe she just prioritizes her time and money in a different way. You can't, or don't want to, or maybe you don't have the money to spend all this time traveling, going to expensive dinners.
There are ways in which you prioritize differently. You love this friend, you cherish your friendship. But maybe you need to figure out a way to let her know that you're going to have to do things a little bit differently. You're going to have to say some NOS.
Another example, your colleague or maybe your church wants you to take on a new responsibility that you don't have capacity for. You love this organization. You love this person asking you, you want to be there for them. But the truth is if you say yes to them, you're goin to jeopardize your own health, your own family, other commitments that are really important to you.
So the point is, we have to learn to set boundaries to say NO, even in our healthy relationships. And, again, if you've struggled with people-pleasing, with codependency or you were conditioned to always put other people first. This can be challenging to assert your preferences even with people who are probably going to honor that NO.
So again, first of all, you have to do that inner work that we've been talking about. You have to start paying attention to those little messages that creep into your mind that say things like, "It's okay, just take one for the team. Just do it again. It won't hurt anybody."
Just start paying attention, if you're someone who's been conditioned to always say "Yes", to always put the other people first. Start to pay attention and just try. Try exercising your NO muscle. Here's how to do that, now, again, this is for your healthy relationships. You're going to use a different strategy with folks who are more on the toxic side of that spectrum.
So this is for a relationship that, for the most part, you're discerning. You're saying, "This is someone I actually think will respect my NO." And, so, I'm really aware so many of you will say that to me, like, "I know that they'll be okay with it. I can't get myself to do it."
And I got to tell you, guys, I have been there and sometimes I still find myself in this position of saying "Yes" to someone who would have respected my NO, and it was because of me. It was because I just let my conditioning, I let that people-pleasing part of me get the best of me.
So here's how to do it, and I'm adapting this from chapter six of The Best of You, start with YES. What is the YES you need to say to yourself? That means you're going to have to say this NO. This goes back to episodes 21 and 22, where we talked about what is a promise you have made to yourself?
What is a promise you have made to yourself that is important to you? That is going to get you over the hump of saying, "You know what, I think I need to say no to this. I need to exercise my NO muscle."
Number two, don't go into it with criticism. Sometimes those of us who we have to almost get into a fight response inside of us to say no, even in a healthy situation. And, so, we're tempted to go in, kind of, mad at the other person for even asking this of us.
But you know what, sometimes even the best of people they don't know. They don't know what you've got on your plate. They don't know what you've committed to, and I noticed that, again, to be transparent, in myself.
I'll get frustrated with someone I really love. Who I know wants the best for me, and I'm like, "Why are they asking this of me? They know it's hard for me to say "NO." And then I have to remind myself, "It's my job to say the NO. It's not their job to read my mind."
Now, listen, if someone has asked you over and over, and they're blatantly disregarding the NO you've already said. Then, yes, that's a red flag we're getting into the toxic category, where you have to use a different strategy.
But in this category of no, remember, we're talking about people who are, for the most part, you've discerned, "They would respect my NO." And I'm just putting that out there because I see it in myself, I see it in my clients, I see it in my friends.
We'll all say, "Man, I'm frustrated with this person." But they haven't actually done something wrong in this situation. I'm frustrated because I'm invited to have courage. I'm invited to grow. I'm invited to be more assertive and that's hard for me. So we have to start looking at that as an invitation versus a reason to be frustrated with someone else, who doesn't know better. Again, on this healthy side of the spectrum.
So you're going to start with, YES. You're going to work with that frustrated part of you, that you've got this invitation to do a hard thing to grow, to challenge yourself. And then closely related to that, number three, you're going to affirm the good. You're going to force yourself to see the good, the shared value, the common ground.
Because you're going to go into this conversation, again, with this healthy person by affirming the good because that always helps things go better. When you can affirm the good when you can find the common ground.
So number three, you're going to affirm the good. You're going to figure out the common ground. And then number four, you're going to use what I call- "I- statements." Now, "I-statements" I go through in detail in chapter nine on Negotiation, in The Best of You.
Again, "I-statements" work very well within healthy relationships. They're well researched, they're very effective, but here's the caveat, they do not work with people who are showing toxic patterns of behavior. They won't work there. So a lot of people come to me and they're like, "But I tried to use my 'I-statement' and this person twisted it and used it against me."
And I'm like, "Exactly." Their one strategy they work within the context of healthy relationships. They work with people who really want to honor you, who want to respect you, people who are doing their own work. So, again, remember we are talking, right now, about folks who, for the most part, show behaviors that are on that healthy side of the spectrum.
So, What is an "I-statement"?
An "I-statement" is just what it sounds like, you start by looking at yourself. You lead with an "I-statement" versus a "You-statement". And I go through this process in-depth, step-by-step, including fill in the blanks with you, in chapter nine of The Best of You.
But, essentially, an "I-statement" would start with something to the effect of, "I sometimes feel frustrated, or overwhelmed, or exhausted when we spend five days at your parents' house over Christmas." And, again, we want to affirm the good. So in that script, we would first start with an affirmation of good, then go into the "I-statement".
But here's the thing, it's so different to say, "Sometimes I get really frustrated or overwhelmed, when we have to spend a lot of time with this particular family member." Maybe you're saying this to a spouse versus going to them and saying, "You don't care about me. You always drag me to spend all this time with your family."
That would be a "You-statement." A "You-statement" is pointing the finger at someone else, it's criticizing them, it's assuming they're doing something to hurt you. An "I-statement" is just simply saying, "Hey, this is what happens inside of me when we do this. When this decision is made, as a result of this behavior."
And, so, it's taking that other person off the hot seat and saying, "I need you to know this is what goes on inside of me." Again, remember, this only works with people who are, for the most part, healthy. Because someone who's not healthy doesn't care what happens inside of you.
But with someone who really loves you, a healthy spouse, a healthy parent, a healthy friend. You going to them and saying, "Hey, I need you to know this is something that goes on inside of me and, so, can we please revisit how we go about doing this thing?" It's a really great way to start that conversation.
Finally, last thing, you've started with YES. You've gotten to figure out what you need inside of yourself first. Number two, you're not going to criticize. Number three, you're going to affirm the good. Number four, you're going to use an "I-statement."
Number five, propose an alternative. Come to the table with a positive proposal. Suggest an alternative. It's just a great way to honor this other person. Now, again, with a healthy person. Sometimes you won't have a proposed alternative, this, especially, works great with spouses. Sometimes you're just going to say NO in a really nice way.
But sometimes it's really helpful to propose an alternative. All right, those are the steps. Start with the YES, don't criticize the other person for asking or for putting you in this position. Assuming the best of them, especially, if they're someone who's shown a consistent pattern of health to you over time. Affirm the good. Use "I-statements", and propose an alternative.
So you've taken your notes, those are the steps, again, with healthy people. What does that look like in a real script?
So here are some scripts to help you through that. In the case of, we're coming into the holidays, you've got to plan your holidays with your spouse. Start with the YES you've figured out in yourself. What you've decided in yourself is, "It brings out the worst in me to spend day after day with my in-laws. I can't do it. I've got to do it differently this year."
You've done that work. You've journaled, you've processed with a safe person, you've talked to God. You know you've got to do something differently this year. You've now got to approach the conversation with your spouse. Don't criticize, start with the good.
For example, "I love how loyal you are to your family. I want to support your relationship with your parents. I want to support you in your relationship with your siblings." Whatever it is that you can affirm, start with that. Give them the benefit of the doubt. You have immediately disarmed them by saying, "This is a great quality." Whatever it is that you can genuinely say in this scenario.
So you start with the good, here's the thing, and then you get into your "I-statement." "I can get really overwhelmed and, frankly, even a little bit depressed if I'm stuck in the house all day, for a couple of days. I feel trapped. It's nothing against you, it's nothing against them, this is just what goes on inside of me."
You've used an "I-Statement." You've really been clear about what's hard for you. So you're going to then move into proposing an alternative. Maybe you ask a question, "Would you be open to discussing a revised schedule for the day?"
For example, "I'd love to spend a couple of hours, with your parents, over a meal. But then what I'd like to do is excuse myself and go do something else for a while." And you're just making a proposal for, "This is what I need."
Or you might say something like, "I'd like us to consider staying in a hotel this year. So that we can go to your parents, but when I'm feeling overwhelmed, or trapped, or stuck, I have a getaway. I can excuse myself and you can stay, that's fine."
Or maybe, "We together decide, 'This is where the limit is and we're going to leave together.'"
Or maybe, "I'll take the kids and do something." There's lots of different room for negotiation there. But the point is you're proposing some suggested possibilities that honor their desire to be with their parents and your need to limit that time.
You're negotiating. You're being assertive. You're saying, "I want to honor you and I also need to honor myself. I'll show up in a far more healthy, generous way, with your family, if I've put some boundaries around it." Do you see how all of that is fairly positive? There's very little criticism there. You're honoring someone else and you're also honoring yourself.
Here's another example; the friend who maybe wants to spend more money than you do or wants to do things that you don't really want to do. Again, get clear in your mind about what you can say "Yes" to. What you want to say "Yes" to and, therefore, where you're going to have to set the boundary.
It might go something like this, start by affirming the good. "I love how exuberant you are. I love your zest for life that you want to eat out and take trips, and I really enjoy hearing about your adventures and I get so much from our friendship.
Here's the thing, I have a different capacity, I really love staying home. I really love a simpler life. I don't like traveling that much or I really love to save money, and that's not where I want to spend my money.
I just want you to know that I'm not going to do these expensive dinners anymore. I'm not going to go to these expensive shows.
I love that you love to do them, it's not my thing. I appreciate that you've invited me. I just want you to know this because I value you and I want you to know that I honor this part of you, and it doesn't work as well for me. So let's figure out the things that we actually enjoy, both of us, doing together."
Again, that was a little long-winded. I'm speaking this out because sometimes, and you can read the script in a book. The scripts that I give you in the book are a lot tighter and cleaner. But, sometimes, when we're talking to a friend we're working it out in real time.
We're really trying to make sure they understand that we want to honor them and we're going to honor our own limits. And we're going to honor our own needs, and we're going to honor our own desires for how we spend our time, our money, our treasure, and our weekends.
It can also work in the reverse. So, for example, maybe you have a friend or a family member with whom you really long for more consistency. Maybe you feel like they blow you off, that they're irregular, they're inconsistent, and it stirs up anxiety in you.
And, so, in a way, the NO that you're saying is to their inconsistency, and what you're inviting them into is more consistency. This is also a way of establishing a healthy boundary, of asserting yourself, of speaking up for yourself. It's less about saying NO and it's more about saying the YES, and requesting what you need from that friend.
But, again, if we're dealing with someone who is, for the most part, healthy, this is a conversation you can have. It takes courage, but here's one way you might do that. Again, affirm the good; "I love our friendship. I love to be more intentional about how we spend time together. Are you open to a conversation about how we could connect more regularly?"
Maybe, "I'm someone who just loves structure. What if we could schedule a weekly walk and talk? Where we go for a walk and chat?"
Or if they live far away, "What if we could schedule a monthly Zoom or FaceTime? What if we could schedule a quarterly check-in?" Depending on the nature of the friendship and the relationship, you're, essentially, asking them to meet you in the middle ground.
"I'm not asking you to reach out to me every day, I am asking for consistency. Because what's really hard, for me, what I'm saying NO to is this erratic showing up." And you find out, and maybe they're like, "I've never thought about that. I never really thought about things that way, but sure, yes, let's do a quarterly call.
Let's do a quarterly FaceTime and really enjoy that time together. Let's do a monthly call or let's do a weekly walk. Let's get coffee once a week or every two weeks." So you're meeting in the middle. You're negotiating what you need and what you want out of that relationship, in a way that honors that other person.
Now, again, that's using an "I-statement".
"I love structure."
"I love consistency, and no criticism of you." You don't have to say that but that's what you're conveying in your tone.
Now, a "You-statement would be like, "You're inconsistent."
"You make me anxious."
"You're not a good friend." And that's never going to be a great way to start off a negotiation conversation, a NO conversation with a healthy relationship. Nobody wants to be put on the defense.
Now, here's the thing, as we wrap up this category of NO with healthy people, you might get a NO in response. That friend who's inconsistent, might come back and say, "That doesn't work for me, I can't do it that way. I love you, but it's never going to work for me."
And you have to figure out how to honor that, and maybe that means you're going to have to distance a little bit from that friend. Not to punish them but to protect yourself. Sometimes people say NO to what we ask for.
Maybe that friend who loves to go out for dinner all the time, is going to be disappointed because you're saying, "I'm not going to be your dinner buddy. I'd love to be your walking buddy or whatever it is. I'd love to be your book club buddy, but I'm not going to be your dinner buddy." And maybe they're a little disappointed with that.
Again, assuming that they're, for the most part, healthy, you can honor their disappointment and empathize with it, even. "I get that, that's disappointing. I wish I could be that friend, it's not going to be the best way for me to show up in this relationship."
And, again, if they're healthy, they'll learn to respect that. I've had this happen time and again. I've done this over and over again, in my friendships. You can ask my friends and maybe it makes me a little weird, but I'll say to them, "I love structure. I need to put us on a system. Let's figure out the structure that works for us."
There's some trial and error that works with that. Maybe someone is like, "I can tell they're going to start texting me every day. I'm not a texter, I don't like texting." I'm just putting it out there, that's not my thing. And, so, instead of saying, "Stop texting me." I say, "Hey, let's figure out a rhythm that works for both of us. How about we try a weekly walk and talk?"
Where we don't live in the same state, we take a walk, we get on the phone together. So I try to be open, and creative, and curious about what's going to work. "I value this friend. I've decided I want some regularity with this friend. What works for both of us?" So you leave it up to some trial and error, and you figure out a rhythm that works.
Same with your spouse. "I want to date night, he likes to fly by the seat of his pants." How do you negotiate something that works for both of you? Use these principles, I'm going to walk through them one more time.
I go through them, in detail, in both chapter six and chapter nine of The Best of You in a much more linear scripted fashion. You're getting me talking it out in real time, in this podcast episode. But start with the YES. Start with the thing that you need, that starts from inside of you, and that'll keep you.
That'll help you from, number two, criticizing them for not knowing what you need or the boundary that they've tripped over. Maybe, inadvertently, they've tripped over one of your boundaries. You know what it is, so you work to not be critical of them. You work with that part of you that's tempted to do that.
Number three, affirm the good, find the common ground. This is what we have in common; we want to be in relationship with each other, we value each other, we value time together. And then, number four, use "I-statements" to communicate what you're feeling isn't working. And it's not, "I feel like what you're doing isn't working."
It's, "This is what happens inside of me as a result of this behavior, and it's no criticism on you. It's just I need you to know this is what happens inside of me." And then, lastly, propose an alternative. Propose a couple of alternatives. "Can we even have a conversation about what might work better?" Again, with a healthy person, you can have that conversation.
And then have fun figuring that out. Again, this is all in that healthy side of the spectrum of toxicity.
Now I'm going to touch on this middle category, what I call chronic. It's where there is some good and there's also very real limitations, maybe, even a little toxicity. I believe this is the hardest category of NO to say.
This second category, saying NO to folks where there's some good, you don't want to cut them out of your life entirely. You don't feel like that's the right thing to do. There might even be some good in the relationship, but there's also some toxicity. This is a hard category. It might be a person where there's a lot of good, but there's some limitations. In terms of what they can do and bring, and how much they're doing their own work.
It might be a person you feel some responsibility to, such as a parent, an adult child, or another family member, maybe, a friend with whom you have a long history. But they have some really challenging qualities and some really challenging patterns of behaviors, that do not seem likely to change.
Maybe it's a co-parent, you've divorced but they're helping you parent your child. And, so, you're in relationship with this person. Maybe it's a work colleague, someone who goes to your church who is really challenging for you, but you're part of the same community. I think this is the hardest category of NOS to say.
And with that teased up, we're going to pause here and we're going to circle back, next week, to the second and third category of NO where actions speak far louder than words. So we're going to go into that next week. We're going to get into some of these more sophisticated skills where communication, verbally, is not the primary strategy.
In fact, communicating with words actually is not wise and you're going to need to lead with very clear actions. You may use some words, but for the most part, it's your actions that are going to work.
We're going to get into that in next week's episode. It's the last episode in this series, on How to Set Healthy Boundaries in a Biblical Way. And I'm also going to answer the question; what about turning the other cheek? Which, as it turns out, is a very sophisticated strategy you can use with folks who are more on this toxic side of the spectrum of toxicity.
So this week, practice using your NO muscle in your healthy relationships. I want you to practice saying NO where there's some low-hanging fruit. Where there's someone who, for the most part, you're like, "This person's going to get it. It's hard, I'm going to have a hard time having this conversation."
But I want you to practice writing a script, affirming the good, using your "I-statement", proposing an alternative, practice it with the safest person you can think of. That's how you begin to develop this NO muscle.
You don't start with your hardest situation. It's like going to the gym; you don't start with the heaviest weights. You start where you know you can get some success. So practice using that NO muscle in a safe context this week.
Use those principles I talked through in this episode today. Check chapter six and chapter nine of The Best of You. Where I walk you through those things in details, including some fill-in-the-blank exercises. Practice with the low-hanging fruit.
Next week we're going to come back, where we're getting more to where there's some toxicity, and even some major toxicity on that side of the spectrum where actions are going to speak loudest. Where you're going to have to get to some next level skills on how to say "No" in more toxic situations.
I've also got a really cool strategy, that has nothing to do with saying "No" to other people that I can't wait to share with you next week. It's something I've done in my own life to help me and it really works, and it's the fun part of this.
This is all really hard, so we've got to have a fun part of how to do this work, of saying "No" in a healthy way, in a respectful way, but in a way that does not let other people get the best of you. Thank you for joining me. I can't wait to come back and finish out this conversation and this series next week.[00:34:37] < Outro >
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode, and I'd love it if you'd go ahead and leave a review. It helps so much to get the word out. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others and you stay true to your God-given self.[00:35:15] < Music >
Kelli Jo says
This is excellent work, Alison! I love the examples and the scripts and I am very interested to see how the strategies change with the other categories. Thanks for being you and making your difference!
Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!