Kind People Say No, Too (Episode 79)

Can you really say no and still be a kind person? Yes, you can. In this episode, your host, Kay Coughlin, explains why we confuse these two behaviors and how you can say no and still be kind if you want to.

As always, you can expect real talk with no judgment, no guilt and no pressure!

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Do you need to find a way to get some rest and take control of your own life again? You can, even if you believe that you can't possibly take care of yourself when the people around you need you so much!

Hi there. I’m your host, Kay Coughlin, and you are listening to From One Caregiver to Another. I am a life coach for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers like me, who want to get some rest and feel less alone. I taught myself how to navigate all of my responsibilities and get into the mindset I need so that I can set boundaries, have self-compassion and prioritize myself. So that my needs get met, too. And that’s what I help my clients do. And if we can do it, I know it’s possible for you too.

This is episode 79.

I got inspired to record this episode today because I saw a social media post a couple of days ago and it read something like this: “Saying “no” doesn’t make you an unkind person.” Now I want to tell you right off the bat that I agree with that 100%, no reservations.

And I want to tell you why that’s true. My take on this is that saying “no” and kindness are two entirely separate things. They are independent of each other.

This is something that we get wrong a lot. We confuse saying “no” and being kind, they are not the same thing at all. And I realize that even by my saying this, it could blow up your mind a little bit. I bet that you are feeling a little bit skeptical, right? And I understand that.

And I know that it’s probably because you’ve heard people mixing up saying “no” and being kind for a lot of your life. I know that I’ve been hearing that for most of my life and it started when I was little. In fact, maybe it’s that I don’t hear it that much anymore, but I heard it a lot when I was little. I can remember people saying a lot of things like this: “a good little girl shouldn’t say no.” Oh, and this one just makes me so angry when I say it now. But one of the things that I heard a lot was, “if you say no, it will hurt his feelings.” So those are confusing messages. And they’re also incorrect.

Now I talked about this in a different way over in episode 49, and that one was about boundaries and guilt. And what I said there very strongly is that we confuse boundaries and being polite. It’s a human right to set a boundary and tell somebody about it. And I’ll say that’s even polite, because at least then people understand what you need and want. What’s impolite is to cross somebody’s boundary. That is very rude.

Now, when it comes to talking about just the act of saying “no”, if you want to learn more about how to do that more easily and more comfortably over time, go back and listen to the episode called “The art of saying “no”.” And that was number episode 75.

Saying “no” is actually a neutral act. It’s not good or bad. It just is. It doesn’t make you good or bad. It’s just a thing that people do. I know, I know. You’ve probably been taught something very different by your culture or your family or your colleagues, like maybe you’ve been taught that saying “no” is impolite or could hurt somebody’s feelings. Or maybe that other people are allowed to say no, but not you, you can’t say no. And maybe you’ve been taught that saying “no” is unkind, but it is actually none of those things.

Saying “no” is just a neutral word that you can say. It is just an option that we humans have. We can always say “no.” We can always say “yes,” but we can always say “no.”

Now the tricky part about this is that other people might react badly when you say “no,” but that still does not mean that saying “no” is bad or unkind.

The way other people react is not within your control. No matter how much you think it is. And the way other people react can just be a negative or a really difficult consequence of saying “no”. And that is the reality of this.

But another reality about this is that saying “no” is neutral.

Now being kind, that is a choice about how you behave towards others and towards yourself.

I did a whole episode on the difference between niceness and kindness and that’s number 62. And you might want to go listen to that, where I talk a lot about what it means to be kind versus being nice.

So let me say this again: you can say no and be kind at the same time. Yes, that’s right. They really can happen alongside each other.

The flip side of that is that you can also say no and be a total jerk. That’s a choice too. And it’s up to you, how you want to behave.

I know this whole thing is a tough idea to swallow because most of us have been taught that saying “no” isn’t neutral. And that saying “no” is mean or not kind.

So because one of the things that’s coming up a lot with this is our emotions. I want to talk about how emotions actually work, and this is going to be a quick one.

And before I go any further with talking about emotions, just let me remind you that all emotions are okay to feel. And I mean, all of them. Now, if you are stuck in an emotion, you can get help with that. And I encourage you to get help with that, but it’s still okay to feel them. It’s okay to feel all of them.

Here’s how emotions work. Emotions or feelings, we can use them interchangeably, they are generated from within our own minds and bodies. They don’t come from outside of us. Now, pain comes from outside of you, physical pain, like when you stub your toe. Okay. That comes from outside of you. But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about emotions.

So what happens is that we respond to some stimulus. Okay, something happens and we respond to it. So for the sake of this example here today, I want to talk about something that’s difficult or challenging that you end up responding to and get an emotion from it. And by challenging or difficult, I mean, maybe being yelled at or noticing some body language that you have an emotion about, like being flipped off. Like if somebody flips the finger at you and then that triggers an emotion. It might trigger anger or fear or embarrassment.

This emotion actually comes from inside of you. Nobody makes that happen to you, but it is a habit that you’ve learned over your life. And it does happen almost instantly.

But I’ll say it again, that nobody can make you feel those emotions, emotions just don’t work that way. It’s generated from within you.

And you also cannot make another person feel any emotion. It just doesn’t work that way. That’s not how humans are.

One of the things that makes emotions confusing to us – and it makes it feel like they come from outside of us and we even don’t even realize they come from within us – is that emotions happen very quickly. I mean, some of them happen so fast that it feels like it’s instant, but that speed with which emotions happen? That’s just your mind and your nervous system doing their job. You’re human. That’s your mind doing what it’s supposed to do.

So you feel this emotion quickly, but then something else happens. You get to choose what your long-term relationship is going to be like with that experience and that emotion.

And here’s how you get there. That initial emotion bubbles up in you, it’s your nervous system. It could be a chemical response or a hormonal response. It could be a combination of a bunch of things, but that happens in you and it happens almost right away.

But it’s also going to start to fade away pretty quickly. And there’s some science behind this. So it’s going to start to fade away pretty quickly unless you keep it alive, unless you keep reliving it in your head.

Now, again, I’m going to say I’m not blaming you or shaming you if some emotions stick, if you’re stuck in some emotional cycle. I’m not a psychologist, okay. So I just want you to know that you can get help. And it, there could be a lot of things going on for you. It could be a trauma response. It could be PTSD, that’s post-traumatic stress disorder. And again, please get help with that.

Something to be aware of about this stimulus that I talked about – these things that happen, and then we respond to them and we have an emotion. These things can come from outside of us, like from other people, you know, like a conversation or an email or something. Or just a situation, something that’s going on while you’re out and about. Or they can come from within. From within our own brains and bodies, from our own thoughts and beliefs things we picked up over time.

But no matter where the stimulus comes from, after that initial reaction which you’re doing out of habit and, you know, habits can be changed. But anyway, no matter where the stimulus comes from, you still get to choose whether or not you keep reacting to that stimulus and keep dwelling on that emotion.

What’s important about all of this to know is that if somebody is telling you that saying “no” is going to make somebody else feel bad, that’s actually not true. That’s not the way emotions work. You can’t make somebody feel something and they can’t make you feel something.

Now, I’m sure you’re asking, how does all of this relate to being kind? And this weird relationship between saying “no” and being kind or being unkind that has confused all of us for so long?

Well, it’s very possible, and I will say, unfortunately, it might even be really likely that the person you say no to will perceive your words as unkind. And you can’t do anything about that. Even if you act in the most kind way anybody on the planet earth has ever seen, the person you are talking to might still perceive it as unkind.

And yeah, it’s really painful to think that you said something that they are perceiving as unkind. It hurts to think that words you said might hurt someone else, but you can’t do anything about how they perceive things. And none of this means that what you did was actually unkind.

If the person that you are dealing with really wants to perceive your saying “no” as damaging and hurtful to them. And if they choose to take it as a rejection or as a punishment, that’s up to them. In fact, I’m just going to say, what if it’s true that that’s going to happen sometime. It is going to happen to you that you are going to try to soften a “no” as much as you want and as much as you can, and somebody is still going to perceive it as an intentional hurt. A lot of people are like that.

Anyway, everybody has the right to react however they want, and if they want to change, they can get some help. But you cannot control what somebody thinks or how somebody feels or how somebody perceives what you say to them.

And it’s also true that some people manipulate other people by the way they react to what it is that they’re hearing. And if we’re being honest, and let’s just be honest here, I think it’s true that we’ve all tried to manipulate others at some point in our life. I mean, toddlers do it when they throw fits to get treats. We test out manipulating other people from the time that we’re tiny.

And I see manipulation happen all the time in family caregiver situations. It happens in families in general, and it happens at work.

But I want you to know that it does take two people for a manipulation to work. It takes somebody to give it and somebody to react to it. So if you don’t receive it and don’t react to it, the manipulator then has to figure out another tactic to try instead.

I’m still going to tell you that I think all of this is neutral. That is just the way humans are. We are so complex and each of us is going to perceive the world in our own ways. No matter what the people around us are doing or saying. And it’s because we’re individuals, that’s just the way it works.

And before I wrap this up, I want to leave you with something else to consider. What if saying “no” to somebody else means that you can be kind to yourself? There, I said it, you can say no to somebody else with the pure intention of being kind to yourself.

Now, look, I know that maybe it’s hard for you to think about being kind to yourself too. For a lot of us, that seems like a radical idea. I’ve done a lot of podcast episodes that talk about being kind to yourself and the one that you might want to go listen to right now is actually the last episode that I recorded. It’s number 78, and it’s called “Being gentle with yourself.” I talk a lot about kindness in there.

So I am not saying that any of this is easy. If right now, you already believe that it is unkind to say “no,” but you want to believe that you can be kind and say “no,” you’re going to have to do some unlearning. That’s not easy.

Now there are a lot of ways to do it and you don’t have to rush. You don’t have to rush this. You don’t have to force any of this. Okay. There’s no, there’s no need for haste on any of this. And because of that, for today, what I’d like to do is invite you to just notice that you’ve got this belief and that it’s okay, that you’ve got this belief. You’re just human. You’re doing what you picked up across your lifetime.

And then once you notice this and you tell yourself that it’s okay that you have this belief, the next thing to do is just try to notice when this belief or this thought pops up for you. And when it gets in the way of saying “no”, or maybe it gets in the way for you of even thinking about saying “no”. Once you can learn to see this and be aware of when you’re doing it and why you’re doing it, then you can start to change it if you want. It’s just a habit.

I don’t want to minimize it. I mean, it’s an important habit and it might be a big one for you, but you can change it if you want to. That’s how habits work.

For today though, just this first part, this noticing is a great starting place. And I know that it might sound like a tiny step to you, and it might even feel like a tiny step to you, but I’m still telling you that it’s a big deal and it’s enough. Awareness is always an amazing first step.

So if confusing kind behavior with saying “no” is stopping you from saying “no”, that is something that you can work on. You can say no and still be kind if you want to. You can also say no and behave like a jerk. It’s up to you.

The way people perceive you, though, is not something that you can control, not now and not ever.

What I want you to know as I close up here is that it is possible to say no and be kind. You can stop believing in it when anybody tells you that saying “no” is unkind. You can question that belief and you can say no. And if you want to, you can be kind.

If you liked this episode, you have to go check out my monthly membership for family caregivers who want to get some rest and feel less alone. It’s the place for emotionally-safe community, brave self-development and always self-compassion. You can find a link to it in the show notes and on my website at Facilitator On Fire dot net. And that is Facilitator On Fire dot net. If you are looking to connect with me, the best place to find me is in my free Boundaries Community. And I would love to hear from you. I can’t wait to be with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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