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How to say 'no' without feeling guilty

It's all about you!

When I was 20, I found myself feeling trapped in a marriage that wasn’t right for me. 

My husband at the time and I were so young. 

The pressure from my in-laws to perform the domestic duties, be the traditional wife and daughter-in-law were both suffocating and immense. And it just wasn’t me.

Coming from traditional Fijian-Indian families, there were certain cultural norms, and I was terrified I was going to lose my family and my community if I left the marriage - it’s just not something that’s done. Especially over such a trivial reason of simply ‘not being happy’...

I remember crying to one of my girlfriends one day and letting out all my fears - one after another.

What would they say? Would they still accept me? Will I need to leave the country to escape the shame?

So many questions raced through my mind.

But, at the same time, I also knew that I wasn’t being true to who I was by staying. 

I would never be happy.

In fact, I found myself retorting to people who’d invoke 'YOLO' ('you only live once') at parties by saying "ahhh life is short," by unconsciously and almost involuntarily responding with "actually, life is really long when you’re unhappy."

Looking back now, I also notice that the unhappiest times of my life have always been ones when I’ve lived solely for others, all at the cost of my own happiness.

Five years later, I was eventually able to leave that marriage.

And it was the best decision I ever made. It was the time I grew wings.

When I reflect, I realise how easy it is to get caught up in what you think you should be doing, according to everyone else - your parents. Your in-laws. Your family. Your friends. Society.

Everyone apart from yourself.

This is especially difficult because, as women, saying ‘no’ to others and honouring ourselves doesn’t always come naturally.

We’re wired to live harmoniously with others.

To be accommodating. To keep the peace.

We feel selfish for turning others down. 

We feel like we’re being ‘mean’ for going against what others want. That we are disappointing those around us and that’s not ok. It’s not made any easier when, as little girls, we’re brought up to be nice, kind, giving… and altruistic. These are the values we’re not just taught, but are made to feel we need to practice, in order to have a sense of belonging, purpose and meaning in our lives.  

Plus it’s particularly difficult to say ‘no’ to our loved ones, it makes us feel torn, ridden with guilt.

Like we are  responsible for their feelings. 

The truth is, by saying yes to others when we don’t want to, we’re only disappointing ourselves - the ones who have to live with the consequences of our own decisions.

And here’s what I’ve learned the hard way: you can’t make others happy when you’re not genuinely happy yourself. The entire process ends up being a sad, unfulfilling, disappointing cycle for all. 

So here’s a tip I want to share with you - whenever you get even the tiniest inch of a feeling that you’re not sure whether you want to do something, but you find yourself wavering - and those questions start to flood your mind...

Do this exercise to work out whether it’s just a momentary fear of the unknown - or whether it’s deeper in your body: a sign it is actually trying to tell you something.

Sit upright in your chair, with your back straight. 

Take in a couple of deep breaths. Feel that lovely air!

Then really start to tune into your body as you contemplate your situation. 

You might start to feel a sensation in one particular area - whether it’s a tightness in your chest, or a sinking feeling in your belly, or a pulsating rhythm in your head that starts to get faster.

Get curious with that feeling. 

You’ll likely know your body is leaning towards ‘no’ if that feeling won’t go away - especially if you do this on a number of occasions and the same thing happens.

So why does this happen? Well, the body keeps score.

It has absorbed all the clues from your situation and, when synthesising them with your experiences from previous events, it’s trying to signal to you when you should be cautious - and that something might not feel right for you. 

Listen to your gut.

This exercise has helped me hugely in reconnecting with what it is I want - and helped me make the right decision for me. I’ve never looked back since. 

In my culture, stories are shared of women who sacrificed it all for the sake of her husband and family, and somehow made it work. She’s the saint, the hero, the one that everyone admires long after she’s gone. In reality, stories like these are used to bring women into line. 

I can see that so clearly now that I’ve broken free from that ‘long suffering heroine’ role. It’s time we stopped celebrating ‘the bearing of pain’ and starting cheering on the experience of happiness. 

Becoming aware of these social elements and tuning into my instincts saved me from a lifetime of unhappiness in my former marriage - and gave me the courage of conviction to say ‘no’. 

Because saying NO to someone or something, is saying YES to you. 

So tell me, what or whom do you need to say ‘no’ to today?

Where are you sacrificing your own needs for other people’s, at the cost of your own joy?

If you find it hard to say ‘no’, you may find you have a whole mountain of goals that you’ve always wanted to achieve, somewhere there in the back of your mind - without any idea how to focus on them and stop getting distracted by other people’s requests!

I’d love to share with you the benefits of having your very own 1:1 mentor, who can give you that personalised support to help you achieve your career and personal goals - and take you to the next level. I’ve needed mentors to get me to where I am today and still do. It’s the secret to helping you see the path outside yourself in order to get ahead. 

You can enlist the help you deserve by signing up for our Signature Membership here - plus you’ll receive access to our short and long courses, surveys, videos, downloadables, money calculators and more - to help you reach your full potential. Say no to what doesn’t serve you and YES to what does!

Your remarkable life starts here.

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