What Really Happens When You Say No

By Eilat Aviram

I received passionate feedback after I wrote about give-take balance last week (read the full post here). It seems many of us struggle to say ‘no’. So I gave it more thought. As I do, a fascinating complexity about a belief in ‘should’ and ‘must get it right’ is revealing itself to me. I’ll try to share what I can see so far. Here goes;

What do I need in order to say no? First I need to see that something I’m being asked to do (by myself or someone else) isn’t right for me. I can only see that if I am paying attention to the signals my system gives me – for example, if when I’m asked to do something I feel uncomfortable, unhappy, resentful or panicky.

So right there at the starting line we already hit a tricky patch. How many of us regularly listen to the signals we get from ourselves? Society trains us to override ourselves and ‘be nice’, not listen to ourselves and be insubordinate or non-compliant.

But let’s just say I manage to get past this tricky patch and I hear my signals telling me something being asked of me does not suit me? THEN what? Well then it gets even trickier because now I have to take a stand. If I don’t go along with what is being asked of me I have to show myself, I kind of have to get naked and stand there being seen. “Here I am, this what I think and feel – you probably won’t like it because it’s not what you want, but here I stand naked anyway.”

Now does that sound like your idea of fun?


So we can see why we avoid saying no. I mean who wants to subject themselves to THAT? But it’s not as simple as avoiding that scenario – because as you step away from the pan, you find yourself in the fire.

If I go along with what I ‘should’ do or I try to ‘get it right’ or be ‘perfect’, then I am not seen in a negative light – not by myself and not by you – which is a relief. However I have noticed that when I am trying to ‘get it right’ or I am following a ‘should’ it comes with an unpleasant, hot, burning sensation of panic and stress– which is not a relief. I feel like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, rushing around to get there on time – but the ‘there’ keeps moving around. I have this “I must get it right, I must get it right” anxiety racing through my body in those moments.

Why the fear? Because otherwise I will be exposed as not up to standard? Yes ok, but why the fear REALLY? And here’s what I realised: The panicky feeling when I follow a ‘should’ is the sensation of me stepping away from myself.

In the moment I turn to follow some expectation of me, I am TURNING AWAY FROM MYSELF AND MY TRUTH and this makes the inner Me panic – and rightly so. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? asks the Jewish sage Hillel (Nice article on this here).

So let’s recap:

  1. When I feel an expectation to do something, I need to listen to the signals my body and heart are giving me.
  2. If I do listen to the signals and they inform me this doesn’t suit me, I’m faced with a catch-22.
  3. If I say no I am exposed for all to see and judge. I am vulnerable to the world.
  4. If I say yes I abandon myself and therefore feel frighteningly alone and vulnerable to the world. (Also If I ignore the ‘no’ signals and keep saying yes to this thing, they will get louder in some other way – resentment, illness…)
  5. At these moments of expectation of me, I can choose intimacy with myself or distance from myself. In one the vulnerability can be liberating, in the other it can be terrifying.

So can you see? When we avoid saying no we are trying to avoid vulnerability – but all that happens is that we are left alone inside ourselves while we feel vulnerable. Vulnerability happens the moment expectations of us clash with our desires for ourselves. At least when we let ourselves say no, we are not alone inside ourselves while this happens, even though we are still exposed. When I say no I’m reassuring myself, “I see me and I love me. I won’t leave me.”

I don’t know about you, but I would prefer to be WITH me and love me as I go through life. That feels nicer. And apparently the alternative is anxiety. No thanks.

When I am faced with an external expectation (which could also come from INSIDE myself because I think I ‘should’ do it) I am faced with myself. I see myself in that moment. It’s a choice point. Every choice point is a chance to get to know myself better and to choose to love myself or turn away from myself.

When a relationship is important to you and you want to nurture it, always choose to turn towards rather than away from the one you love.

My best advice to all of us is; Ask yourself at these moments, “If I loved myself, what would I choose now?” and then try to honour your answer as best you can.

How do you feel about saying no now?


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Eilat Aviram is a Daring-Decisions Teacher.

She's worked with people for 25 years as a clinical psychologist, hypnotherapist, best-selling author, speaker and energy-healing teacher and she is passionate about helping people dare to love themselves in their moments of decision and find the courage to live their truth.

Eilat Aviram