Practice a compassionate inquiry exercise
- Ask yourself: What am I not saying no to in my life's important areas?
Think about situations when you want to say "no" to something or express disagreement, but you stifle it and say "yes" instead. For example, do you give your time to people even when it puts more stress on you? Do you say what you think people want to hear instead of what you really feel? Look for patterns where you do this repeatedly.
- Ask yourself: How does my inability to say no impact my life?
Next, think about how those situations and your inability to say no impact your life. Are you taking on too much work and causing yourself stress? Do you feel anxious because you are not expressing your true feelings? Look for physical symptoms too. Do you have tension in your neck because you’re so stressed? Is anxiety causing nausea or shaking?
- Ask yourself: What bodily signals have I been overlooking? What symptoms have I been ignoring that could have been warning signs if I had paid attention?
Symptoms of illness or physical changes can indicate that something is wrong. For example, the tension in the back or neck is very common when people are stressed. You may experience chest pains when very anxious too. Some medical conditions like arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome, for example, can flare up due to emotional distress too. So, consider what physical messages your body might be trying to send you.
- Ask yourself: What is the hidden story behind my inability to say no?
There is always a reason that you have the inability to say no. For example, somebody who always takes on extra work, even if it causes them stress, is likely to be worried about letting people down. Their constant attempt to please people is a way of getting people to like them and prove their self-worth. Other reasons include not wanting to seem weak or selfish or feeling that they are responsible for other people’s feelings.
- Ask yourself: Where did I learn these stories?
Once you have identified the story behind your ability to say no, think about where you learned it. Usually, it is rooted in childhood, often in a traumatic event of some kind. It can also relate to your relationships with others. Those who struggle with self-esteem and become chronic people-pleasers, for example, are frequently neglected by their parents or made to feel unloved for various reasons.
- Ask yourself: Where have I ignored or denied the “yes” that wanted to be said?
Stifling a "no" can cause emotional distress, but so can ignoring or denying a "yes.” Are there ways that you want to express yourself, like through writing or music? Is there something important that you want to say to somebody? Do you want to change the way that you dress? These are all examples of ways that you embody your authentic self. Identifying areas where you have denied this impulse and then acting on it can make a big difference to your mental well-being.
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