Friday, April 4, 2014

Autism Answer: It's Nice To Say No

When I was younger I was terrible at saying no. I had a reputation as the "nice" one among family and friends, and it was extremely challenging for me to learn how to say no, yet still be nice. 

During my teen years it got really bad. I would say yes to a date I didn't want, and then stand them up and avoid the phone calls. I knew it was cruel and so I struggled with guilt, but I just couldn't say no. Then later, as a young adult, I said yes to everyone who needed help, a babysitter, a friend... and then I made excuses when I wouldn't show, or I'd show up but spend a large part of the time imagining excuses for the next request or invitation. Ways of saying no that weren't exactly no.

But I became a mom, so I had to learn how to say no, otherwise I would forever be a bad example for my sons. Luckily, something about the parent/child relationship reveals with clarity the kindness behind saying no. It's just not nice to allow your children to be unsafe or mean, and so saying no to them slowly began to feel nice.

However, it wasn't until I started working for my mom--Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD--doing PR work that I really learned how to say no comfortably. It started when people would say no to my pitches and story ideas, and though at first it hurt my feelings or made me feel unskilled, eventually I saw the truth behind it. A no is merely an answer, not a judgement. And when people wanted to interview my mom and she was either unavailable, or unwilling to give them a spin she doesn't believe in, I felt kind saying no right away. Rather than string people along or try and talk them into something different, I'd offer a kind no and be on my way to new ideas.

And sometimes a no would lead to surprising and fantastic new ideas!

My mom taught me at a young age that saying no is often kind-- to yourself and to the person you are saying no to. When plenty of people would assume that my brothers (who had various challenges and disabilities) couldn't learn or understand and so wouldn't tell them no, she would instead believe in their ability and lay down the law. Not with unnecessary anger or unrealistic expectations, but with respect and love. My mom explained to me as a child and then as a teen why it was kind of her to say no, and why we were only hurting our brothers when we sighed and felt sorry for their inability to learn it. But it wasn't until I became a mom myself, and then more so when I worked for my mom, that I began to live and believe that truth innately.

Now whenever I am asked to do something or go somewhere I'm usually comfortable to say either yes or no. And when I'm not immediately sure I answer with, "Let me think about it." Then I take a moment to check in with myself; am I wanting to say no because I'm avoiding a responsibility, and therefore should say yes? Or am I wanting to say no because I'm actually uninterested or unable? And though I still have to steel myself sometimes before saying no I don't worry that it's unkind and so it's much easier, and I feel more connected to the activity when I say yes.

So next time you're feeling bad about saying no, or feeling offended when someone tells you no... don't!! Very often no is nice. 

And when it's not, make a change.
(Or don't... you can always just tell me no! tee hee!)

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)