How do you say NO to sh*t you don’t want to do?

Dec 05, 2022

How many times have you found yourself getting ready to go out to dinner with a group of girlfriends, and absolutely dreading it?  Or how about that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach when you walk through the door of your cousin’s gender reveal?

If you’re going through infertility or pregnancy loss, a large group of people can tend to feel overwhelmed.  Especially at this time of year.  It hurts to watch other’s celebrating their newborn babies at any time, but at Christmas time it seems to cut extra deep. That’s the picture that we all had in our heads.  We wanted that moment, and now we have to watch someone else enjoy it.

And because we have a hard time saying NO to invitations, we can find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do, with people we don’t want to be around.  Your Christmas season (and your life in general) is being hijacked, and instead of looking forward to it, you’re dreading it. 

So, let’s talk about boundaries. Why are they so hard to set and maintain?

And how can you say NO to others, and in turn, start living life on your own terms?

Firstly, what is a boundary?  The easiest way I can explain it is by working out what I am responsible for, and what I am not responsible for. For example; I am responsible for deciding whether to attend my second cousin, Gertrude’s, Christmas luncheon filled with people I don’t know, who will talk about their children, and ask me why I don’t have any children yet. I am responsible for declining the invitation if I don’t want to go.  But I am NOT responsible for Gertrude’s reaction, or anyone else’s reaction as a result of it, for that matter. 

Now, you may be thinking, whoa Jen, that’s a little harsh. I understand that it may feel a little scary because we all have a little people-pleaser inside us.  That’s how most of us were raised (and why I’m so hell-bent on breaking that cycle with my daughter). As women, we have been groomed to put other people’s feelings above our own.  We have spent years being complimented for being completely selfless.  And now that we’re grown women, we still can’t shake that feeling of guilt when we do something “selfish” like putting our own needs first.

But here is the thing that we need to remember when that little voice tells us we’re being selfish for saying NO to the party invite or telling our mother-in-law that she can’t come and stay with us while we’re in the middle of our IVF cycle.  

Saying NO, which is essentially the first part of setting a boundary, is not about saying that my feelings are more important than yours. It’s about saying that my feelings matter too.

Let me say that again so it sinks in……

It is not saying that your feelings are more important than theirs, it’s saying that your feelings matter too.

Yes!! We get so caught up in trying to please other people, that we forget one important detail.  This is YOUR life.  Cousin Gertrude doesn’t get to live her life, because she’s only responsible for living her own best life.  We only get one. And we all get to make our own choices for that one life.  And if someone is going to judge you for living your life the way you want, it speaks volumes about them, not you.  And if someone’s happiness depends on you doing or not doing something, I’d say they are the one who has some inner work to do. 

Ok, I’m getting down off my soap box now. 

But if the thought of saying NO still makes you feel a little icky, let me give you a few other mindset shifts you can use to justify why it is ok to consider your own needs in the decisions you make (as ridiculous as that sounds).

You are actually saying NO because you have integrity.  You are not going to accept an invitation to cousin Gertrude’s Christmas luncheon, because you respect her and all the other family enough to not show up in a way that isn’t your best.  If you’re feeling super raw because you’ve just had another negative pregnancy test, or are just feeling sad in general because infertility sucks, you’re not giving them YOU, just merely a shell of yourself.

How would you feel if a friend came to your party and didn’t want to be there because she was going through a tough time personally?  How would you feel knowing that being at your party was causing her additional pain, she didn’t want to tell you that, but just felt resentment at having to be there.  Does that sound respectful? Not at all. 

So, saying NO to something is showing your host the respect that they deserve. 

It’s also showing yourself some respect.  It may help to say to yourself - I am the type of person who takes my mental health seriously and I am going to take care of myself and give myself what I need right now.  It’s about protecting your energy and what you need in this moment.

AND most importantly, it’s putting your body first, because going to an event or function that is only going to increase your stress levels, isn’t great for your fertility. It puts your body into a fight-or-flight response, which shuts down your reproductive system.  So saying no to this is actually saying YES to you and your fertility.  And saying YES to YOU, will increase your chances of getting pregnant – see I can make a very compelling argument here!!

Phew – so now that we’ve gotten over that hurdle of justifying why it’s ok to say NO to the party, dinner, or function. HOW do you decline the invitation?

You can spend hours, days, even weeks pondering how to say that one little word (NO) in a way that justifies why you can’t go, provides a palatable explanation or reason, removes the guilt you feel for not attending, makes the other person still feel loved…..and doesn’t open yourself up to more questions, gossip or conflict.

That’s some RSVP, right?  So where do you start?

The best way to set a boundary and politely decline an invitation is to state what you need.  It isn’t about saying NO to them, it’s about saying YES to you.  This is very similar to the old break-up line (which I have been guilty of using a time or two) of – It’s not you, it’s me.

You’re basically saying, I’m not declining your offer because of something you have done wrong, I am not coming because of something I need.  You’re not asking them to cancel the event or change it.  You are stating that their party doesn’t meet your needs (in a much more subtle way).

This is a hard one, because now you need to work out what you need, right? And if you’re anything like me, you’ve gone through most of your adult life doing what makes other people happy, and now you have no idea what makes you happy, or what you need in this moment.

But, setting boundaries is essentially stating what you need.  So take a moment to fully reflect upon it.  This Christmas season, or any other time for that matter, what do you need?  Is it company, or rest, or distractions? Write a list of what your ideal Christmas looks like.

Now if the thought of telling them in person has you hyperventilating, you can’t go past the quick text message. I know it may be impersonal, but this will stop you from waffling on, and heading off in a completely different tangent and revealing things you didn’t want to.  We tend to get into a justification spiral and end up betraying ourselves (and them) with our answer. 

But texting them keeps it succinct and protects your mental well-being.  Because you don’t need to be stressed about politely declining an offer.  At the end of they day, they are asking you to come to a party, they aren’t asking you to donate a kidney.

You could start it off something like……..

I need to take care of myself by (insert what you need), so I can’t (attend the party/event/dinner).  

You could also soften the NO, by providing another time you can catch up when you’re feeling up to it (only if you want to though – if you don’t want to catch up with them, leave this part off). Or you can tell them it sounds like it will be a lovely event.

And of course, don’t wait until the last minute to cancel.  Show them some respect (and reduce your stress levels quicker), by saying no as soon as you can.  Delaying the inevitable won’t make you, or them, feel any better.

Here are a few examples of different language you could use -

I’ve been feeling so tired lately and need to rest, so I’m afraid we won’t be able to come.  When I’m feeling better, I’d love to catch up.

We’re going through a few things right now, and I need to protect my energy.  Thank you so much for thinking of us, however I won’t be able to attend. I hope you all have fun though.

I haven’t been feeling 100% lately and need to focus on my health, so I won’t be able to come. Perhaps we could catch up after Christmas?

This sounds like it will be a lot of fun, however we’ve had a few medical issues lately, and aren’t up to seeing anyone at the moment.

Things are pretty crazy at the moment, and I just don’t think I’d be good company.

I’m really not up for socializing at the moment, but I really appreciate the offer. Perhaps next time?

That sounds like a lot of fun, but I haven’t been sleeping well lately, and I don’t think I’d be very good company.  I’ll check in when I feel better.

At the end of the day, a simple no thank you would suffice. 

Remember that you, and maintaining your stress levels are the priority right now.  And that includes your mental health.

It’s ok to say no, and consider what you need this holiday season. Because this is your life.  And infertility is hard enough without testing yourself and making it harder.

Go gently, and remember – your feelings matter too. 

Would you like to know more about how you can work with me, so you can get back control of your life and start moving forward?  My 1:1 coaching program is packed with information, tools and support. Find out how you can get on the wait list now.  

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HOW do you slow down, feel at peace, achieve a little more balance in your life and say good bye to the inner struggle?


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