For so many survivors of abuse, it became a survival skill to learn not to say no. We are often so fearful of being hurt further that we train ourselves to stop saying no to our abusers. Over time, or even with a single instance of abuse, we grow to fear saying no to other people, too. After seeing the dark side of humanity, after experiencing abuse, we often lose our self-confidence, making it even more difficult for us to say no. Also, especially for those abused as children, we grow to feel an enormous responsibility for others' emotions - that their happiness relies on us. Sometimes, on top of everything else, saying no feels like we're hurting someone else or depriving them of happiness. Often, we end up sacrificing our own wants out of a combination of all of these things.
For many of us, this might have led into unwanted relationships, unwanted sex, possibly even drug or alcohol use because we feel that we must do those things or fear retribution. The instinct to comply is a very, very hard one to shake - as it had indeed become a survival tactic, and saying no feels like you're putting yourself in danger.
But - there are ways to learn to say no, to regain that confidence, while acknowledging why your brain instilled that instinct into you. The best way to start is always to start small. Start by saying no in a relatively safe environment. For example - if you're out eating at a restaurant, say no to extra fries or coleslaw, or say no to lemon in your water. Practice saying no in an environment where the worst consequence is that your water won't be lemony. I know how silly it sounds, but practice it.
When you gain some confidence, try the next step up - say no or 'no thank you' when someone you know offers you a glass of water or something. Move from being in an impersonal place to a personal one, but still, start small. Over time, keep bumping up the level to which you say no (and remember, you can change your mind immediately after you say no if you want to!), until you feel a bit more confident. As silly as it sounds, practicing is a great way to build confidence and reclaim some of your rights to your wants and needs.
So this week's questions are:
- Do you have difficulty saying no? If so, what is the hardest thing to say no to?
- Do you fear specific consequences when saying no?
- What are some safe places for you to practice saying no?