How To Say No, And When To Say Yes | BTR.ORG

How To Say No, And When To Say Yes

by | Abuse Literacy

Emotional and psychological abuse and sexual coercion can make boundaries extremely difficult to understand and implement.

The simple boundary of saying yes or no can become cloudy and confusing – so Anne brought her daughter Penny onto the podcast to share her simple philosophy on how to say no and when to say yes. Tune in to the podcast and read the full transcript below.

How & When to Say No

The general idea is this:

If it’s unhealthy, harming me, or I don’t want to do it AND it’s arbitrary, I say no.

When someone asks me to do something that I don’t want to do or isn’t right for me, I’m like, I don’t want to do it. So I’m like, “No, thank you.”


General “No” Tips

If you’d like tips on saying no, try:

  • Saying “No, thank you” politely like Penny.
  • Choosing not to offer explanations or reasons for your “no”.
  • Communicating your “no” in writing so that you don’t have to worry about experiencing trauma if it isn’t received in a healthy way.

When Should I Say Yes?

Saying yes can be just as important as saying no. Just like “no,” the basic idea is pretty simple but important:

I say yes when it’s a healthy choice; I say yes to what I want when it is going to help and heal me.

You’re Allowed to Change Your Mind

Sometimes we say yes when we meant no – or feel coerced or manipulated into saying yes.

Sometimes we say no, then later realize we would like to say yes.

You’re allowed to change your mind!

You’re allowed to make mistakes!

BTR.ORG Is Here For You

The reality of boundary-setting is that it’s hard – but even more difficult for victims of psychological and emotional abuse. Please have compassion for yourself as you begin your journey – and consider attending a BTR.ORG Group Session today.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to BTR.ORG. This is Anne. I have a really special guest on the podcast today. We’re going to call her, because she wanted to be called Vanilla Pea after Vanellope from Wreck-it Ralph, we’re going to call her Vanellope, or Penny for short, and she is my eight-year-old daughter. Welcome Penny.

Penny (03:33):
Hi. I want to teach you how to say, “No, thank you.” So if someone that is abusive says, “Do the dishes” or “Do everything”, then you could just say, “No, thank you.”

Saying, “No, Thank You”

Anne (03:55):
So Penny’s a very good example. She started doing this on her own. Basically, if somebody asks her something that she doesn’t want to do, she very politely and sweetly smiles and says no.

Penny (04:10):
Thank you.

Anne (04:12):
And she says it a lot. Like I might say, “Penny, go brush your teeth.”

Penny (04:18):
And then I say, “No, thank you.”

“How do you feel when someone asks you to do something and you don’t want to do it?”

Anne (04:23):
How do you feel when someone asks you to do something and you don’t want to do it? And then when you respond with the very polite, “No, thank you”, how do you feel inside?

Penny (04:36):
When someone asks me to do it, I’m like, I don’t want to do it. So I’m like, “No, thank you.”

Anne (04:43):
You seem very confident when you say it. If I’m like, “Penny, go brush your teeth”, and you look at me and you say, “No thank you”, it’s hard for me to be like, “Wait a minute, you do need to brush your teeth, Silly.”

Penny (04:55):
And then I actually do it.

Anne (04:58):
You do go brush your teeth.

Penny (04:59):
Yeah, or a chore, do the laundry. I say, “No, thank you”, but I actually do it.

“She’s not afraid to say no”

Anne (05:06):
Well after I say, “Hey, that’s not going to work, Missy, you actually have to do the laundry.”

Penny (05:11):
Yeah, then I do it.

Anne (05:14):
The reason why I wanted Penny to talk about this strategy that she uses is because I find it to be extremely impressive because she’s kind and happy and she’s not afraid to say no. So as her mother, I think it’s an awesome skill to have, and when she says “No, thank you” when it comes to basic self-care like brushing her teeth or eating breakfast or doing the laundry, then I have to redirect her and be like, “You know what? That does need to be done.”
However, when she first started using this tactic, it caught me off guard at first and I thought, Well, if she says “No, thank you” so sweetly and nicely, I guess that’s the end. For a minute it just stopped me in my tracks.
Even as her mom, and I’m a pretty assertive mom, the way that she says it and the confidence that she has, it was hard for me at first to realize, Wait. As her mother, I can be like, “You still have to brush your teeth.” However, with other people, if you use this same tactic to say no, it could be really effective. I think they’d be like, oh, she’s pretty serious. Even though you seem happy and friendly and cheerful, it doesn’t seem like you’re open to negotiation. Do you know what negotiation means?

A “no” that isn’t open to negotiation

Penny (06:26):
Not really.

Anne (06:28):
It seems like you’re sure that you want to say no, that you’re going to say no, and that that’s sort of the end of the conversation and that you do not expect for them to try and talk you into it. Negotiate means, kind of, give-and-take like, Hey, you’re going to do this thing and I’m going to do this thing, and we can kind of work it out. When you say, “No, thank you”, you don’t give a reason, you don’t complain.

Penny (06:52):
No. Like at a dinner party if you don’t want that food, I would say, “No, thank you.”

Anne (06:59):
Have you said that before when you’re somewhere else and someone offers you some food?

Penny (07:03):
Yeah, I have.

Anne (07:04):
How do you feel when you say it like that?

Penny (07:05):
I’m like, Now they know that I don’t like that food.

“Hey, my opinions matter!”

Anne (07:10):
How do you feel about yourself when you stand up for what you want to do?

Penny (07:16):
I do not even know.

Anne (07:18):
You don’t know?

Penny (07:19):
I do not know.

Anne (07:21):
Do you think, Hey, my opinions matter?

Penny (07:26):
Yeah. I don’t like to do that.

It can be hard to say “no”

Anne (07:30):
Why do you think it’s hard sometimes for girls of any age, your age? My age to say no? Is it hard for you to say no?

Penny (07:42):

Anne (07:44):
It’s not.

Penny (07:44):
It’s not that hard for me to say no.

Anne (07:47):
How come it’s not hard for you to say?

Penny (07:49):
It’s just easy for me to say no for some reason. I can do it really easily.

Anne (07:57):
At school or a dance or anything. It’s easy for you to say, “No”.

Penny (08:01):

Anne (08:02):
You don’t know why it’s easy? Why do you think it might be hard for other people to say no?

“They don’t want to hurt those people’s feelings because it’s really hard for them to say no”

Penny (08:08):
They don’t want to hurt those people’s feelings. Because it’s really hard for them to say, “No”.

Anne (08:16):
Maybe some of them want to do the right thing. Maybe they’re like, I want to be polite, or I want to do the right thing, and when someone’s sort of trying to talk me into doing something, maybe it is the right thing, even if they don’t want to do it. What would you say to women like that they’re maybe not very confident about knowing if saying no is the right thing to do or not?

Penny (08:39):
Well, I don’t know if it’s the right thing to say no or yes. I know how to say no or yes, and know it’s the right thing because you have a feeling that you could say no. Or you have a feeling that you could just say, “Sure, I’ll do that”, even though you don’t want to, like doing the laundry or doing the dishes.

“I know in my heart it’s the right thing.”

Anne (09:07):
So with those things, is it sort of like, I don’t want to do it, but I know in my heart it’s the right thing. I don’t want to brush my teeth, but I know in my heart that I should brush my teeth.

Penny (09:20):
Yeah. If you have a feeling that you need to do that, you’re like, Okay, I’ll do that.

Anne (09:27):
Even if you don’t want to do it.

Penny (09:28):
Even if you don’t want to do it.

Anne (09:30):
So is your guide, first of all, what you want to do?

Penny (09:34):
No. Your guide is not what you want to do. My guide is just like, I know I don’t want to do that, but I have to eat vegetables or I have to do that.

Knowing when you can say “no”

Anne (09:49):
Or you have to brush your teeth.
How do you tell the difference between something you really need to do that’s good for you like brushing your teeth or eating your vegetables or folding the laundry, and something that you don’t need to do that it’s just fine to say no and you don’t have to do it. How do you tell the difference between those two things?

Penny (10:10):
Well, if your parents taught you. If someone else says you have to do that, but you didn’t know that.

Anne (10:22):
What if they say something that you know isn’t right? They say, “Hey, come over here and sit by me”, and you don’t have to sit by him and you say, “No, thank you”. And then they say, “But you need to because if you sit over here, then you can see the TV better”. And you’re like, “No, I can sit over here just fine and see the TV” – situations like that where it’s like, I can say no and why are you trying to talk me into this? How do you know those situations?

More on saying “no”

Penny (10:55):
Maybe your parents are there by you and then they’re like, “Yeah, you can just sit there. You don’t have to sit over there with your brother, sister, or a friend.”

Anne (11:07):
Okay, so you brought up parents, which is great. However, I am your parent.

Penny (11:11):
Yeah. Parent.

Anne (11:12):
But I’m your parent.

Penny (11:13):
I know.

Anne (11:14):
And sometimes I say, “Hey, penny, you got to brush your teeth.” And you’re like, “No, thank you”. And I say, “You really got to brush your teeth.” And you’re like, “Okay.” Or I might say (I don’t think I do this, but maybe I’ve done it, I don’t know), “You have to wear these specific pants”, and you’re like, “No, thank you. I don’t want to wear those pants.” And what if I tried to make you wear those pants? Even if I was your parent and you still didn’t want to, what would you do? And you’re like, this is arbitrary. Do you know what arbitrary means? It’s not a good reason. There’s no actual reason for the thing.

Who do you feel safe saying no to?

Penny (11:50):
Yeah. So if mom says you have to wear these pants and she thinks that they’re cute, and then you’re like, “I don’t want to wear these pants. I want to wear these other pants.” And then your mom’s like, “I think you should wear these pants.” But then you’re like, “I don’t want to wear them”, but you could just wear them instead of arguing or you could just put on the other pants that you want to wear.

Anne (12:17):
Right. Are you afraid of saying no to me as your mom?

Penny (12:24):

Anne (12:25):
Are you afraid of saying no to some people? Are there people around that you’re like, Oh, I want to say no, but I feel uncomfortable?

Penny (12:40):
Not really.

Anne (12:42):
You feel like you can say no?

Are you afraid to say no?

Penny (12:44):
Yeah. To anybody. If they ask me to sit here and I’m like, I don’t want to sit there, I could say no. I’m not afraid to say no.

Anne (12:52):
Why do you think you’re not afraid to say no?

Penny (12:55):
I don’t really know.

Anne (12:59):
For the listeners to my podcast, they’re all women who have been in abusive relationships. So they’re either married currently, or their ex-husband is a porn user. So some of them might be worried about saying no in some instances because they’re worried maybe they’ll get divorced or maybe they’re worried that someone will get upset with them. What are your thoughts about that?

Know in your heart what you really want.

Penny (13:25):
I would say you could say no if you want to. Just think in your mind, Is that the right thing to do or is it the wrong thing to do? So think for a while, and then if you think you should say no, or if you think you shouldn’t, don’t say no.

Anne (13:48):
So does it pretty much come down to knowing in your heart what you really want to do and then just saying it?

Penny (13:59):
Yes. That’s what I think, but I don’t really know.

Why is it hard for people to say what they really think?

Anne (14:05):
Why do you think it’s hard for people to say what they really think?

Penny (14:09):
Well, they might think, That might hurt the person, or that might make me lose something, or it might be the wrong thing. Or they might be afraid to just say, “No”. They think they’re going to hurt them or they’re going to be really mean to them.

Anne (14:35):
Has that happened to you before?

Penny (14:37):
Not really.

Anne (14:39):

Penny (14:40):

Anne (14:40):
We’re saying no a lot on this episode, huh?

Penny (14:43):
I know.

Anne (14:44):
So you’ve never felt afraid to say No.

Penny (14:48):
I have never felt afraid to say no.

Anne (14:51):
Were you about to say, “No”? And then you were like, Oh, I keep saying no.

Penny (14:56):

How to say “no”

Anne (14:57):
So I’m impressed with your skill with your no saying skills. You’re excellent at saying no. You’re excellent at saying it in a way that is kind and polite and sort of ends the conversation when you’re like, “No, thank you”. Should we give them an example?

Penny (15:14):

Anne (15:14):
Okay. Should we role play?
“Hey, Penny!”

Penny (15:19):

Anne (15:21):
“Will you please go get the mail?”

Penny (15:24):
“No, thank you!”

Saying no, Saying yes

Anne (15:25):
Why is that a funny one? Because you love getting the mail? Were you confused for a minute because if I said, “Will you go get the mail?” Usually you’re like, “Yes!”?

Penny (15:33):
Yeah! I’m like, Since this is an episode about saying no, I have to say no.

Anne (15:43):
Well, you can say yes if you want to do it. Alright. So here we go.
“Hey Penny, will you go get the mail?”

Penny (15:49):
“Yes! I love getting the mail!”

Anne (15:52):
“Hey, Penny, will you please brush your hair?”

Penny (15:56):
“Yes. If I brush my hair.”

Anne (15:59):
“Hey, Penny, can I brush your hair?”

Penny (16:01):
“No, thank you!”

Anne (16:04):
“Hey, Penny, you need to wear socks with those shoes.”

Penny (16:09):
“No, thank you. I don’t like socks with my shoes.”

Anne (16:14):
“Hey, Penny, eat those tomatoes.”

Penny (16:16):
“No, thank you. I don’t like tomatoes. They’re disgusting.”

Being honest is part of saying “no”

Anne (16:21):
So do you think being honest is part of this?

Penny (16:24):
Yeah. Being honest is what you should do. If you’re lying and you’re like, I don’t want to do that, but they say to do that (wear pants or sit by you), you would be like, Oh, they might hurt. It might hurt their feelings, but you have to be honest, not lying.

Anne (16:48):
Is there a way to be honest and not hurt their feelings? And how do you do that?

Penny (16:53):
By saying it in a kind way. “I don’t really want to sit by you, I want to sit over here.”

Anne (17:00):
Do you always have to have a reason?

Penny (17:02):

You don’t have to give a reason when you say no

Anne (17:04):
Can you just say, no? “No, thank you. I don’t want to sit by you.” So I think it’s okay to give a reason, but you don’t always have to give a reason, right?

Penny (17:12):
Yeah. If you don’t want to give a reason or if you want to, you could give a reason, but if you don’t want to, you don’t have to give a reason.

Anne (18:31):
Do you feel safe with people around you who, if you say, “No, thank you”, and they’re like, “That’s a very polite way of saying, no, I appreciate it. However, you still do need to brush your teeth”, as opposed to people who were like, “Excuse me, you’re saying no?!” I do say so that sometimes though, don’t I? Sometimes you are like, “No, thank you”, and I’m like, “You really do have to brush your teeth”, right?

Penny (19:00):
Yeah. I’m like, Yeah, I know that, but I like to always say, ‘No, thank you.’

“I can say yes to healthy things”

Anne (19:07):
Where did you learn that?

Penny (19:11):
I just wanted to say, “No, thank you”, and now it’s a habit saying, “No, thank you.”

Anne (19:17):
Well, you’re really good at it. Do you think maybe you could pick up the skill of saying yes to healthy things, like brushing you teeth?

Penny (19:25):
I can say yes to healthy things, but I just like saying, “No, thank you”, because it’s fun for me.

Anne (19:32):
And you’re so good at it. How do they react when you say it? What does their face look like?

Penny (19:38):
Their face looks like, “WHAT?!” and I’m like, I just like saying it.

Anne (19:44):
What kind of “WHAT?!”, like they’re mad or like surprised, or like, “Woah!”

Penny (19:49):
Like surprised. If someone popped out and you didn’t know and you were like, “WHAT?!”

Anne (19:57):
They didn’t expect you to say that. Do you think they didn’t expect you to say no, or do you think they didn’t expect you to say no so politely?

Penny (20:05):
So politely, I think.

Saying no throughout all stages of life

Anne (20:08):
I can imagine you when you’re dating, when you’re older and a guy is like, “Hey, would you like to go to this movie?” And then you could just say…

Penny (20:19):
“…No thank you.” Or if I were a teenager, I would say, “No.” or “No thank you” in a different, not sort of soft voice, I think.

Anne (20:33):
Your voice is pretty soft as it is.

Penny (20:35):

Anne (20:36):
I don’t think you have to worry about what your voice sounds like. It’s the cutest voice ever. Do you have any more advice about saying no and why saying no is important?

Saying no to unhealthy behaviors and yes to healthy behaviors

Penny (20:48):
Yes. So saying no is good and somehow kind of bad. This is a good type of No. So like, “Can you please sit on the couch with me?” And then you’d be like, “No”, that’s a good no, but if you’re eating vegetables and you’re like, “I don’t want to eat those vegetables. No.” And then your mom says, “Eat your vegetables”, and then you’re like, “No!” And then you keep on saying no, and then they’re like, “Eat your vegetables”, and then you push it away, and that’s a type of “bad no”.

Anne (21:36):
So basically you want to say no to things that are unhealthy for you or things that are arbitrary that you just don’t want to do for whatever reason. Do you know what arbitrary means?

Penny (21:47):
Not that much.

Anne (21:48):
Arbitrary means there’s not a super good reason or an important principle behind it. It just doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t matter if you wear a purple shirt or a red shirt.

“We want to say no to things that are unhealthy, that would hurt us”

Penny (21:59):
Yeah. If someone says, “You should wear this one”, and you’re like, “No, I want to wear this shirt”, and that would be a “good no”. So yeah.

Anne (22:07):
We want to say no to things that are unhealthy that would hurt us, or things that we just don’t want to do and it’s arbitrary; doesn’t matter.

Penny (22:16):
Yeah. If someone says, “Do you want some coffee or alcohol?” And then you could say, “No, I don’t want that. That’s unhealthy.”

Anne (22:25):
Right. Or you could just say –

Penny (22:27):
“No, thank you.”

Anne (22:29):
And then we need to say yes to healthy things.

Penny (22:32):
Like if your mom says, “Eat your broccoli”, and then you say, “Yes”, that is a good thing.

Determining when to say “yes”

Anne (22:38):
So when we’re talking to women who are in the situation that the women are in that listen to this podcast, just a tip from my eight year old daughter is- say no to things that are unhealthy and things that you don’t want to do that are arbitrary, and say yes to things that are healthy and to even some things that you might not want to do, but are the right thing to do.

Penny (23:05):

Anne (23:07):
You just said, “Yeah”.

Penny (23:09):

Anne (23:09):
You didn’t say no. Give me five.

Penny (23:13):
Guess what? There’s only been two “yes”es in this podcast.

Anne (23:19):

Penny (23:20):
Actually, three “yes”es.

Anne (23:22):
Well, I think it’s time to go. Do you want to say anything else before we go? Do you want to sing a song?

Penny sings for the BTR.ORG Podcast

Penny (23:29):
But am I going to be singing it to a ton of people?

Anne (23:33):
No, just me. Do you want me to start you out?

Penny (23:37):


Anne (24:16):
Okay. Do you want to sing it one more time? All by yourself?

Penny (24:20):


Anne (25:50):
Until next week, stay safe out there.


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