The holiday season is a time of giving. We give of ourselves because we want to be "the good guy." We want to be helpful, well-regarded, valued and, of course, our hearts tell us that giving is the right thing to do. Plus, giving feels just plain good.
The holidays bring so many opportunities to meet worthy needs; however, we sometimes arrive at that fine line separating "the joy of giving" from "the stress of feeling obligated to give" — the point where we feel we must do more and more to please others, the point where the cost to ourselves is greater than the benefit.
Constantly saying "yes" to everyone and everything buries us neck-deep in commitments and obligations we have no idea how we'll meet, complete or afford. The fact is, there are times when we simply need to decline requests in order to maintain healthy boundaries and preserve our health and sanity.
Here are a few ways to say "no" while staying in the good graces of those who ask things of us:
Decide what you really want
Be honest with yourself. Are you doing things just because you enjoy getting compliments? Is it worth it? Is the task just too large? If you're not certain about taking on a commitment, say you need time to think things over and give your answer within a reasonable time-frame.
The same goes for gift giving. Does someone want you to buy him or her a certain gift? Does it feel right to you? Popular media makes it look trendy to go into debt to buy lavish gifts. The bigger and more expensive the gift(s), the more you prove your love, right? Um, no.
Clarify your spending motives. Is this a gift from your heart, or are you feeling pressured or otherwise obligated? If you've already adopted the habit of buying gifts because that's what is expected, that's a hard habit to break. While it's great to experience the elation of feeling appreciated, the sum total of what you truly have to offer is not wrapped up in glitzy paper and stashed under a tree. Don't discount how caring, patient and loving you are the other 364 days of the year. In the long run, when you stop doing things out of feelings of obligation, you'll reap a legacy of respect — and self-respect — that long outlives the transitory nature of material goods.
Be honest. Be polite
Misunderstandings can be prevented by stating your true feelings right up front. While beating around the bush may save a negative emotional response temporarily, it often brews future problems. If you hem and haw, tossing excuses like a juggler, it leaves the door wide open for misinterpretation. When you're afraid to say no, your indecisiveness ends up putting you on the defensive when others persist for an answer.
When asked to do something you know you can't do — or don't want to do— express thanks for the offer, then state your response and intentions in a clear and concise manner. "I'm sorry, I can't. I don't feel comfortable being in front of that many people. I need time for myself. I need to focus on my family. I'm not able to bake that many cookies, but I can bring punch." You get the picture.
If the response to your "no" or counter offer is annoyance, frustration or anger, restate your intentions if necessary, but once you've decided on your answer, stick to it and don't back down. Don't let yourself be emotionally berated or guilted. Determine to react calmly to criticism or careless remarks. Realize others may feel stressed and overwhelmed, and be willing to forgive. Avoid comparisons and bringing up old wounds, mistakes or failures — yours or those of others. If you perceive emotions are becoming heated, smile and walk away if you need to.
Don't apologize. Be patient
There's nothing wrong with saying no to something you can't do. Your time and health are important. If others truly have your best interests in mind, they'll understand. Have realistic expectations of others, and know it's OK to expect the same in return. Patience with others — and even with yourself — can sometimes be hard won, but it's a prize worth striving for. Patience kindles lasting hope and good cheer long after the holidays are over — a feeling of peace that remains in the hearts and homes of those you care for.
If you still feel a twinge of guilt for wanting to say no, consider this. Dr. David Walsh, founder of the National Institute on Media and the Family, notes that saying no to our children encourages a sense of resourcefulness and determination. The same holds true for all ages. If you decline to pitch in every time something is asked of you, others will be given the opportunity to discover their own abilities and strengths.