How to Say NO in an Authentic and Heartfelt Way

BY Rev. Connie L. Habash        June 23, 2017

One evening before bedtime, when my daughter was two and a half years old, she firmly planted herself on the bathroom floor. "NO! I don't want to take a bathie!" she cried, determined to win her cause. After struggling over the issue for a few more minutes, I relented. Meera had a bath yesterday - it wouldn't hurt to skip a day.     

There's no doubt that a toddler relishes saying NO. It was clear that my daughter felt empowered with that "NO!" That night, the bathie was Meera's claimed dominion.

The clarity of NO:

One thing is for sure - I'm more certain of how my daughter feels about something when she says NO. It's authentic, honest, and totally clear. Even at that tender age, I wondered if the times she said YES were merely to appease or please, and not really what she wanted to do. Early on we learn that saying NO isn't OK with other people.

Saying NO has had a particularly bad rap in recent years. We believe that if we want to manifest the life we dream of, we must always keep it on the positive. We avoid our NOs. 

However, there is a healthy and powerful aspect to saying NO. Saying NO to what we don't want allows us to joyfully and emphatically say YES to our true desires. Saying NO brings clarity to our lives, rather than settling or feeling pressured to say YES to whatever comes our way.

Saying NO from the heart:   

Saying NO can come from the heart. Because I really want to spend quality time with my friend, I say NO to something I'm not comfortable with, in order to find a YES that’s  more fun or meaningful for the both of us. We can say NO, not in reaction or in defense, but in honesty and openness, seeking what better serves the connection between us.  

By saying NO, we honor the authenticity of the relationship. No one trusts a "yes man": they aren’t believable. Our true friends are people we trust to tell us the truth, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then we know the relationship is based on a real and respectful connection. Saying NO (and giving others permission to do so as well) can allow each person to simply "be," rather than having to perform or please others.

Reclaiming your power: 

Just like my two and a half year old, we can reclaim our power through saying NO. When we feel pressured to say YES all the time, we often feel impotent, weak; powerless to stand up for what we want. The simple and clear practice of saying NO helps us reclaim our ability to set our boundaries. NO helps us stand strong and centered within. When someone responds to and respects our NO, it's empowering.

There's also the power of saying NO in relationship to ourselves. We can say NO to qualities we want to let go of, and to clutter we don't need. It can be joyful and playful - "NO, I don't need this! NO, I don't want to overeat!" Then, for the NO to remain effective, what do we want to say YES to instead of that? "YES, I am happy with having more space in my closet! YES, I feel full and satisfied!" NO can be utilized to clear out space in our lives and our inner selves, making room for what feels right.

Practice your NOs: 

It takes practice to become comfortable with saying NO, and learning to say it authentically and with love. You can do it in front of a mirror. How do you look when you are saying NO? Are you looking certain or anxious? Does it feel honest? Can you be firm and kind in the energy of saying NO?

You can also say NO without using the word NO. "I'd rather go for a hike with you," "Can you pet the cat gently?" and "How about we plan another day, as I'm not feeling up to it right now." You can experiment with different ways of saying it and learning to enjoy saying NO. When you become more comfortable with NO, notice how it feels to say  YES. You may discover that YES also feels more authentic, comfortable, clear, and joyful.      

Learn from a toddler:

If you think you can't ever feel free to say NO, just imagine a toddler. Let your toddler-self come out. Shout out an emphatic and preposterous NO! It feels good! It’s fun when we allow ourselves to express that. We don't have to become serious and heavy about saying NO.  Enjoy it!

My daughter's NO was a way for her to feel empowered and respected, and a great opportunity for me to say NO to my need to control. "Do you want to skip a bathie tonight and read books in bed?" I said. "YES!" my daughter exclaimed. She chose a story and we happily curled up together under the covers.

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Rev. Connie L. Habash

Rev. Connie L. Habash, MA, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Yoga & Meditation teacher, Interfaith Minister, and writer, with a counseling practice in Menlo Park, CA.  She integrates body, mind, heart, nature, and spirit, as well as a passion for yoga philosophy, into her groups, workshops, retreats, and sessions online and in person. Read her articles and discover more about her offerings at her website: or on Facebook.

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