Just Say No: For Those With an Eating Disorder, 
It is More Than a Cliché

Just Say No. If you are a teen or a parent of a teen, or even watch TV for that matter, you have heard the slogan. It refers to a person’s ability to say no to sex before marriage and/or no to drugs and alcohol. Since this slogan is so prominent, those wishing to say no to these things may experience that they have an easier time doing so, in that negative peer pressure is less evident in these instances.

Yet, sex, drugs, and alcohol are not the only things you can or need to say no to.

Picture in your mind the busiest woman you know. She is working or stays home with her children, a Girl Scout leader, a Sunday school teacher, cooks at least 2 meals a month for someone she knows that is sick or having a hard time, baby-sits for parents who just need a break from their kids, and on and on. This person may love her life and all that goes on it in. She may also feel as if she MUST do all that she is doing and simply cannot “just say no.”

Why Saying No Is So Hard

We learn early on that what we do affects others and can even affect what they think of us. Therefore, especially as children, we try to please those that are important to us. As we get older, we find that we are still trying to please those around us because it has become a habit. It is fine to want to please others. The problem comes when you do so at your own expense. The easiest way to set boundaries that allow you to please others, yet give yourself the freedom to do for yourself, too, is to “just say no.”

This is easier said than done. Many of us learned that saying no was wrong. Society looked down on it. Our families disapproved when we said it. If we are females in this society, we may have also learned that saying no is aggressive and that aggression is bad. We may have learned that we will be rejected or that someone will get even with us if we say no. We may have learned that we will be labeled as selfish or worse. We may have learned that saying no leads to abandonment.

Whatever we learned in our past about saying no, it affects us now. Changing such long-standing beliefs is not easy, so we keep saying yes over and over again even if we really wish we could say no.

Saying Yes and Anger: How They Relate

If you say yes to something that you don’t really want to do or feel uncomfortable doing, you will feel resentful and angry. If you do not feel that way now, you will be gin to at some point in the future. Repeatedly saying yes when you want to say no may also have the ripple effect over time of making you feel depressed and out of control of your own life.

When you feel these things, you want to strike back. However, most of us are far too socially-minded to strike back at others. Instead, we tend to self-destruct by striking back at ourselves.

If you have intense anger at a situation that you feel helpless to control, you may begin to take it out on yourself by engaging in self-harm, drug or alcohol abuse, or by misusing food. These are all ways to express anger and frustration without having to actually talk about it. While it may feel worthwhile in the short-term to engage in these behaviors, over time the behaviors themselves can have a devastating effect not only on your relationship with yourself, but in all of your relationships.

So, what can you do about it? Learn to say no.

Learning to Say No

Saying no is not easy, especially if you believe that others will be disappointed or angry with you. If you are feeling this way, you may not make your message clear. You may hesitate and say no with a questioning voice. Saying no firmly is not aggressive but assertive. Just do it in a firm but empathetic way – “I won’t be able to watch your twins on Saturday. I have plans with my family.” If you would like to offer help at a later time, you can then say something like, “I have the first weekend in October free if you’d like to plan for 3 to 4 hours away on that Saturday.”

Most importantly, do not apologize for saying no to someone else so you can respect your own need for you-time. You have the right to say no. You have the right to have time free just for you. Saying you are sorry, such as “No, I can’t watch the twins. I’m sorry” states that you believe you should and you are seeking affirmation from the other person that you should be feeling guilty for saying no. The truth is that you can say no any time you need to, even without an excuse!

As you learn to say no, you will feel more control over your life. As you practice this valuable skill over and over again, your own stress level will decrease and you will find that you like yourself more – and enjoy your own company!

Just say no. It is more than just a slogan or cliché. Use it for your benefit!


Kimberly Krueger, MSW, LCSW is a therapist and the founder and director of Southlake Counseling and The Center for Self Discovery in Davidson, NC. Kimberly may be reached at kkrueger@centerforselfdiscovey.com. This article may be used but original content must be kept in tact and full credit must be given to author, including contact information.

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