Applied Psychology

The power that lies in knowing when to say no

Apr 11, 2018

We’ve heard much about the power of positivity, and the importance of saying ‘yes’ to life. But power also lies in knowing when to say ‘no’.

We celebrate ‘The Power of Yes!’, and live in a society with a keen focus on seizing the day by keeping our thoughts, words and deeds as positive as possible.  For the most part, this is all good, after all Yes is the bright yang to No’s moody yin, right? No. Not quite. Life is so much more complex, and the truth is that ‘No’ itself has both a yin and a yang.

On the sunny side of ‘No’ we find clear, strong boundaries that delineate the degree of our self-worth and self-respect that is sorely needed to avoid abuse, being taken advantage of, the slide into victimhood, the rise of our resentment against others and our descent into emotional dishonesty. Wielding ‘No’ as a force for good, we are empowered to steer clear of toxic relationships or, over time, transform harmful ones into blessings in our lives.

“No, is a full sentence,” insists Gauteng-based Psychologist, Colleen Johnson who is speaking at the upcoming SACAP Festival of Learning. Her work spans parents, siblings and families, adult abuse survivors and self-esteem groups, as well as leaders, employees and team members across a wide spectrum of corporate and business fields.

In a nutshell, Colleen explains that an inability to say appropriately ‘No’ to a boss or colleagues; to a partner, friend or child, is not an indication of their pushiness or systemic dominance over us, but of our fundamental failure to set the boundaries that denote proper self-care.  When we care more about ‘pleasing others’ than we do about our own needs, we are not virtuous, unfortunate martyrs. Instead, we are the powerful creators of the out-of-whack fields where toxic relationships flourish. It happens because of us, not ‘them’. The journey to being willing and able to use ‘No’ as a full sentence is therefore one of heightened personal awareness and important consciousness of self and others.

“Our fundamental worth in life is based on what we think of ourselves!” Colleen says. “Unfortunately, this is not the message we receive growing up. We are actively taught to prioritise what others might think of us, and adjust ourselves accordingly. That’s how our boundaries get set by others instead of ourselves; and those others may well be exploitative.  We try to conform to the needs of others and to what we perceive we need to be in order to be deemed acceptable. In the process, we lose a vital sense of self so that we end up as adults who don’t know how to say ‘No’ even when we do know well we are too tired; or we say ‘Yes’ to be in community when we know we really need some time alone to recharge.  We may take on work that our team members are actually responsible for; or put our life goals aside to help our partner achieve theirs. We may model for our children a sense of helplessness that leads to their ‘failure to launch’ and an idea of entitlement that could trip them up for life.”

In all aspects of our lives we need to know where we begin and end in relationship to others.  This can be trickier than it sounds. “Setting boundaries across your relationships gives the message that I respect myself; I respect you; and I expect you to respect me too,” Colleen explains.  “People are encouraged to know themselves; to take responsibility for their behaviour; to know what their triggers are; and to learn to set limits as far as relationships are concerned. When you value and respect yourself; people will value and respect you – because, ultimately, people treat you the way you allow them to treat you.”

Colleen Johnson will be presenting her talk, ‘No! is a full sentence’ at the upcoming 7th annual Festival of Learning which will be held in Johannesburg on 17th and 18th of May, and in Cape Town on 24th and 25th of May 2018. 

Tickets for the 2018 Festival of Learning are available through Webtickets.  Costs are R200 for the full-day programme which includes dialogues and panel and R200 for the short talk evening, which includes catering and networking opportunities. There is a special offer for students at R80 per ticket.

For further information visit http://go.sacap.edu.za/psychology-festival

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