The Importance of Saying No

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By Scott Brassart

For many people, the hardest word to say in the entire English language is no. We just can’t seem to spit out this tiny, two-letter word, even if we really want to. Someone asks us to do something for them and our mind screams no but our mouth says, “Sure, happy to help.” And then our stomach churns and our neck muscles tighten because we really, truly do not want to do whatever it is that we just agreed to do.

A lot of the time, of course, we should say yes. But this does not mean we should say yes to every little thing that is presented to us. In fact, if we habitually say yes to all requests, even when we really want to say no, we increase our risk for a whole host of physical and psychological problems. For instance, research tells us that ‘submissive behavior’ such as saying yes when we want to say no can:

  • Compromise our immune system
  • Increase our risk for cancer
  • Create ulcers
  • Lead to depression

For these reasons alone, we should learn to say no. But there are plenty of other reasons to say “no” to unwanted obligations, especially if we are recovering addicts. For starters, feeling stress and anxiety related to commitments we’d rather not keep is a potential trigger toward relapse. And don’t we have to deal with enough triggers toward relapse already?

Other good reasons to occasionally say no, for both addicts and non-addicts, include:

  • Reduced Stress: Think about your physical reaction when you agree to do something you’d rather not do. That reaction is stress. Learning to say no when no is the appropriate response helps us eliminate this stress.
  • Respect: Surprisingly, people respect us more when we learn how to say no, as long as we’re able to say no politely and then stick to our refusal.
  • Time: When we say no to things we don’t want to do, we can spend more time on things we do want to do. We can put more effort into things that matter (like recovering from addiction). We can spend time with our family. We can enjoy a hobby, hang out with friends, engage in self-care, further career and personal goals, etc.

Both addicts and non-addicts are taught from early childhood to people-please – to be helpful, to be friendly, and to say yes when someone makes a request. For this and many other reasons, saying yes is a lot easier than saying no. But saying yes indiscriminately, especially when we’d be better off saying no, may cause us to lose track of what’s truly important in our lives. It also takes us away from doing things that contribute to our success and make us happy. So, if we want to be happy and successful in both life and recovery, we’d best learn how to say no.