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Why It's So Hard for Highly Sensitive People to Say 'No'

person in front of floral background with the words why it's hard for sensitives to say no

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Why It's So Hard to Say 'No' as a Sensitive Person

Are you one of those people who says 'yes' when invited in person to go to a social event, knowing full well you'll say 'no' later via text closer to the event? This perfectly outlines why you're motivated to say 'yes' when you mean 'no', and how you're actually doing more harm than good…In this blog post, we're going to go over:

  • Why sensitive people struggle with saying 'no'
  • Why it's important to say 'no'
  • And how to actually start doing it

Before I begin, I just want to preface the following by saying that I'm not intending to make any over-generalizations here about sensitive people - I'm just speaking to what I've found to be true and helpful in my own experience as an HSP, and in my experience working with HSPs in a coaching capacity.

If you are a highly sensitive person (HSP), or an empath, or identify as being a sensitive person, it's likely you tend to feel very aware (sometimes painfully so) of other people's emotions, and really dislike the feeling of seeing disappointment in the other person when you say 'no' or turn them down. Because sensitive people tend to be more aware of other people’s feelings, we wind up feeling a strong need to cater to them.


Why It's Important to Say 'No'

When your 'yes' isn’t genuine, you’re prioritizing the other person’s feelings over your own. At first that might seem honorable, but let me flip the script for you...

If you were them, would you want another person giving you a fake yes? How weird would you feel knowing someone said yes to you when they really didn’t want to? Knowing that you were choosing to be uncomfortable for their benefit?

A honest no is always better than a fake yes.

...Otherwise, you’re choosing to be uncomfortable so they don’t have to. But the people who really care about you, don’t want you to be uncomfortable, and sacrifice your needs and put aside your feelings. And the people that don’t care about you being uncomfortable, and are okay with your fake 'yes', are not people’s whose comfort and feelings you should be prioritizing over your own.

What you’re also doing in a way in saying that you believe on some level that you can predict their feelings, or know how they are going to feel better than they actually do, and are preemptively accommodating these feelings by adjusting your responses on their behalf.

You’re also potentially robbing the other person of the chance to participate in their own personal growth, and/or not seeing them as someone who can manage their own emotions. 

And if you know they are in fact someone who cannot manage their own emotions — then again, I must ask:     is this a relationship worth sacrificing your needs for?

Mature adults can handle their own emotions. If you’re tiptoeing around anyone who can’t manage their own emotions and reactions, you are enabling that person to stay the same;  to not have to grow and deal with the reality that sometimes our needs and desires clash in life, and we have to deal with disappointment or frustration. That’s just a natural part of life.

In the right relationships, your 'no' won’t destroy it.

But Tiara, you don’t understand, I’m trying to preserve an important relationship!

Well, let me ask you then:

Do you believe that in order to have any healthy strong relationship, honesty must be a core element of it?

Without honesty, can you have a successful relationship?

What you are doing when you are saying 'ye's when you mean 'no' is being dishonest. You are not being open and honest with them out of fear that you will hurt their feelings or lose them. But let me tell you, there is no relationship without that kind of open communication. A relationship is a two way street where both sides are contributing to to maintain.

Each time you are not being honest, you are further leading the relationship down the wrong path.

The relationships worth saving are the ones that will respect your 'no'. And anyone who doesn’t, I’d argue is not a relationship worth tip-toeing around, anyway. Right?

Any relationship where you cannot be genuine, authentic, and honest is not a relationship worth putting effort into, let alone prioritizing the other person’s feelings and comfort over your own.

No one wants you to be fake, and if they do, they don’t have your best interest in mind.

In fact, in the right relationships, conflict can bring more intimacy - because when resolved properly, conflict removes blocks out of the way that were preventing you from interacting with that person in a more relaxed, open, and close state.

If the relationships you are struggling to be honest in and say 'no' when you mean 'no' are work or family relationships that you wish to keep, I would tell you to take a long hard look at...

  • what space you really want this relationship to take up in your life
  • how you are going to keep your self-respect
  • what importance you will put on these relationships,
  • how these situations are truly affecting your well-being
  • and if all of this is even worth it

You can always start “practicing” in less high-profile relationships, friendships, acquaintances, people you are just meeting, etc. You can rehearse your 'no' in the mirror and get used to saying the words out loud so they become familiar and normal. This will help you when you go to say 'no' in person - you will feel more strong and grounded saying it, and will walk away from that interaction with more self-respect.

Another way you can more easily apply this to your day to day life is if you start to think about it in terms of short term discomfort and long term benefit.

Maybe there are some scenarios where you should say yes even if you want to say 'no': like when a friend asks you for help moving and the short term discomfort of saying 'yes' and doing the favor is worth it for the long term benefit of building that supportive nature of your relationship.

But what I'm talking about here is those times that you want to say 'no' and should say 'no', and don't: like if that same scenario of your friend asking you to help them move came up, but this time you just injured your back, but choose to hide that from them and say 'yes' anyway so as not to let them down. Not only does this put you at risk long term for worsening your injury, but it also risks worsening the relationship because you're likely to build resentment due to the pain you'd be in. And, if your friend found out you were withholding information from them and making assumptions about their own feelings or what their reactions will be or their ability to handle disappointment like an adult - helping them out with moving would likely strain the relationship much more than it would benefit it. And now, instead frustration and resentment have moved in where trust and honesty should be.

Let's say you're being invited to a social event that you don't want to go to, you may feel discomfort in the moment by having to deal with their disappointed face. But, if you actually care about the relationship, you’ll put the health of the relationship over your own need to avoid discomfort in the moment.

Putting the feelings you are assuming the other person will have if you turn them down over your own need to honor your truth is not in the best interest of the relationship, or your own self-respect.

If and when you find yourself in these real-life situations where you find yourself being conflicted about how to respond, whether or not to share your genuine response, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I trying to avoid by being dishonest?
  • What is the best thing for me to do here for the true health of this relationship that includes compassion and honesty?
  • Am I making assumptions about how the other person will feel, or their own ability to handle their emotions like an adult?
  • If I say yes, will this build resentment?
  • If it were me making this request or extending this invitation, wouldn't I want my friend to trust me enough to tell me their truth?
  • If I were me, would I want someone saying yes and then secretly building resentment, without them allowing me the opportunity to know about any of this?

You have to value honesty and respect over avoiding the discomfort of disappointing someone or the false perception of always being liked.

Would you rather be liked, or respected?

Would you rather be trustworthy, or dishonest?

Would you rather be someone with integrity or someone whose feelings and reactions are hard to predict or trust are actually true, someone withholding and editing their feelings?

Its your job in this world to advocate for your own needs, and uphold your own standards, and if you identify your values and needs and standards, it’s a lot easier to uphold them.


How to Actually Start Saying 'No'

  • Remember that honesty is vital for any healthy relationship
  • Start valuing long-term standards over your short term comfort
  • Stop making assumptions about what other people will feel
  • Stop tiptoeing around any incapability that you perceive they may have about being able to handle disappointment
  • Say thank you more often than you say sorry (thanks for extending the invite! vs sorry about turning down the invite!)
  • Sandwich the statement (sounds great, unfortunately I’m not available but thanks anyway!)
  • Keep explanations to a minimum (you don't owe anyone an explanation, and the reason you aren't available or aren't interested ultimately doesn't matter all that much - the point is, you're not available or interested - it is what it is)

And that’s it! Once you've got these principles down, saying 'no' actually isn't that difficlut or complicated.

I hope this has helped you!!


What's Next?

If you are interested in become more of your authentic self, recalibrating your views on relationships, discovering your purpose, gaining more energy, feeling more grounded and self-assured, increasing your ability to speak up and set boundaries, and so much more - I have an entire online program devoted to helping HSPs climb out of survival mode and vibrantly thrive as highly sensitive people, without sacrificing even an ounce of their authentically sensitive selves. This journey leads you through a step-by-step process of finally creating the life you've always wanted to live as a highly sensitive person, that is authentically supportive and fulfilling to you, that helps you heal and transform from the inside out.

Click here to learn more: From Surviving to Thriving as an HSP Online Program

Learn more about Tiara Ariel's coaching program and course offerings:

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