Here's the situation: It's 2 o'clock on a Saturday and your bestie sends you a text asking what you're up to later on. You instantly know she wants to check out a new restaurant and bar downtown. You say yes without missing a beat, even though you know you don't want to go. Truth is, you were looking forward to staying in and treating yourself to a cozy bubble bath. You have zero interest in showering, changing your outfit a dozen times, hailing a cab, waiting for a table, ordering food, and socializing. You're looking forward even less to what comes after dinner: bar-hopping, mingling, bumping up against so many sweaty people, and hailing another cab to get home. But you've already committed, and the plans are in motion. So why do you say yes to plans when you don't want to go?
For starters, you're not alone. Like you, I've also found myself floundering in a conversation, trying to get out of plans, and inevitably going along even though I don't want to, too. More often than I'd like to admit, I've agreed to plans and entertained small talk because I felt bad saying no and wanted to be polite. Even if I enjoyed myself, I woke up the next day regretful for not protecting my time and spending it how I wanted to.
Turning down plans because you want some alone time doesn't make you rude, antisocial, or inflexible, though. Instead, Susan Winter, NYC-based relationship expert, love coach, and author of Allowing Magnificence: Living the Expanded Version of Your Life, says the reason you feel so bad saying no is much, much simpler.
In an interview with me for Elite Daily, Winter says, "Everyone wants to be liked." According to her, people want to feel like someone else is interested in them and show that interest and congeniality in return. They want to be part of a close-knit group where they're given "stability, confidence, and support."
It's not just teenagers who get into unwise situations because they want to be liked.
So when your bestie asks your group chat if anyone wants to go out for pizza, you may feel like you should say yes, so you do.
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, licensed clinical psychotherapist, relationship expert, and author of the new book Training Your Love Intuition, agrees with Winter, saying that even self-aware people say yes to plans when they don't want to. "It's not just teenagers who get into unwise situations because they want to be liked" — it happens to everyone, regardless of age or emotional intelligence.
Think about making plans with someone you want to be closer with or someone who's important to you. You may say yes to plans when you want to say no because you want to feel recognized or included. You may also realize you've had a lot of alone time lately because you work from home, have been prioritizing your career, or have been focusing on things other than your friendships. In that case, Wish says you may feel like you should socialize and go out because you know having a social life is beneficial to your health. According to Wish, even though an active social life is good for you, it goes wrong when you start "ignoring your own needs" and desires and don't give yourself permission to say no.
Wish says if you're an "empathetic and caring" person, you may find it easier to "dismiss your own needs" rather than turn down your friends, family, or coworkers. You may feel like saying no leads to disappointment and disrespect, and justify agreeing to commitments and plans with phrases like, "Oh, it's no big deal," or, "I can do what I need to later." Sound familiar? Wish says this may be due to the fact you over-give to the people in your life.
Over time, Winter says over-giving can "diminish your self-control and happiness," and keep you from living your #bestlife. It may feel easy in the moment, but it can lead to feelings of dread and like you're spreading yourself too thin.
Joshua Klapow, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, also speaks on how personality can tie into your habit of saying yes, and tells me being agreeable and flexible has perks in the short-term, but will ultimately leave you feeling drained and may send the wrong signals to the people in your life — even the ones who know you and you're close with.
"When we say yes to things we really don’t want to do," he says, "We quickly can become overcommitted and out of personal bandwidth." So instead of coming across as agreeable, you might come across as unreliable because you run into situations where you inevitably cancel plans later on, or you're not fully present because you're distracted by what you'd rather be doing. Your brain is elsewhere, or you're grappling with feelings of resentment toward the friends who wanted to make plans when you'd rather do something else.
Klapow says when you insincerely overextend yourself you can "become tired, irritable, and not very pleasant to be around," and even though you may try to mask it, your desire to say no comes out in the way you carry yourself through small talk or your attitude.
When you get to that point that you feel, 'My life and time aren't mine anymore,' then it's time to tough out the anxiety of saying no more often.
Wish says the first step to changing this behavior is to stop beating yourself up when you're invited somewhere and don't want to go. She says it comes down to being more self-aware. "When you get to that point that you feel, 'My life and time aren't mine anymore,'" she says, "Then it's time to tough out the anxiety of saying no more often."
Wish says you need to take control of your fears, expect to feel anxious during the process, and seek out help from professionals trained in navigating these situations if you need it. She adds, "Learn to give yourself permission to do what is important to you." You can find ways to make plans with your friends at a later date and instead decide how you're going to spend your free time.
"The goals are to get used to saying no and give yourself permission to do something else," Wish says. It's not necessarily going to be easy, but it will be worth it, and Winter agrees, adding this new habit will give you the chance to recharge as well as the opportunity to do what you need to do, so you'll "come back to the group refreshed and ready for new adventures."
Other ways you can learn how to say no, according to Klapow, are by putting in a little bit of time and effort rehearsing your responses and ditching your usual excuses and phrases when plans come up that you're not interested in. Stop saying, "I'm sorry," at the start of a text because it allows the other person to feel like they can guilt you into saying yes.
A clear response also politely and bluntly alerts yourself, your friends, and the people in your life that there you have boundaries when it comes to your time and your energy. "For us, it gives us the permission to have some boundaries in our life," Klapow says. "It sends the message that we have strength," and it's true.
Every time I said yes when I really wanted to say no, I felt I wasn't putting myself first. Saying no allows me to be completely honest and puts me back in charge of my time and my life — and what's more valuable than that? Nothing.