How Does Our Childhood Affect our Ability to Say No?

How-Does-Our-Childhood-Affect-our-Ability-to-Say-NoWe all have trouble saying “no” every now and again – do you think there's a reason why we find it so hard?


This has just got to be one of the first words we all learn as infants!

Mum: “Susie, sit up at the table!”

Susie: “No!”

‘No’ seems to be so easy when we are young, like a reflex reaction. But as we get older, we learn that it is not polite or even right, to say no all the time. There are consequences to saying no; our parents, family members, teachers or friends might become upset with us. We may have been punished for saying no, and some people might even abandon us. Perhaps none of these scenarios occurred for you, however you learnt by observation that it didn’t pay to say no. Being a ‘good’ girl or boy seemed the far safer, easier and more peaceful option to take.

Our childhood experiences teach us how to behave in relationship towards others, and how best to have our own needs met. Even as we grow into adulthood, it is typical that we continue to relate to people according to the ‘template’ we formed as a child. For example, it may be that as a little girl your father was frequently irritable and easily angered. You may have adapted to this by doing everything he asked in order to please him which in turn would keep the household settled. Consequently, you find it difficult to say no to males for fear that they will be angry.

Or perhaps as a child, your mother was always depressed and often teary. You learned to say yes when you meant no because your mum would cry if you didn’t do what she wanted. This then produced guilt and distress for you.

Fear, rejection, abandonment and sadness are all strong motivators for saying yes when we need to say no. Unfortunately, the cost is the loss of your own identity. Knowing who we are, what we need and how to communicate that need to feel happy and safe in relationships is lost to us. This is because we have not been taught or modelled how to truly know, respect and care for ourselves.

Learning to say no is a lesson in learning to value and respect ourselves. Being able to say no and mean it is truly empowering – it is declaring a strong yes to who we are and what we need to be healthy, happy and secure in the world.

So get out your ‘inner’ toddler voice, and start practicing saying no in front of your mirror. Never be apologetic for taking care of yourself. After all, if you fail to respect and value yourself, it is likely that others will do the same. Don't over-explain or defend your decision as it invariably invites others to challenge your decision. And when they do, remember it’s not your problem anymore.

Being able to identify your needs and be an advocate for them is absolutely essential to our health and wellbeing. Where a person fails to learn this skill in younger years, self- confidence disappears, unhappiness and feelings of stress and anxiety increases, and the physical body becomes unwell in response. Learning to say no is a life skill not to be minimised. Taking the time to start practicing it today; it is an investment not just for the present, but also for your future health.

Do you struggle to say no? Is it hard for you to talk about conflict with your partner? Are you struggling to focus on your priorities? Then here’s what you need to do; contact me on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you or press book now to book on my online diary.

Family Transitions: On Becoming an Adult

A common issue for many parents with young people living at home , is how to deal with behaviour that challenges parental rules and expectations.

I have 2 young people living at home and my husband and I have been intentional in our working to create the positive relationships we now enjoy with each of them. That work has been primarily about addressing our own unrealistic expectations and beliefs about how they should act and what they should be doing at any particular age.

Frequently parents come to counselling requesting that I facilitate change in their young person. I generally find that it is not the young person who must change (they already have enough on their plate) but the parents beliefs and expectations about their young person.

Here a few suggestions to think about:

1.Don't sweat the small stuff

A messy bedroom, curfews, money management , dietary habits, dress, friendships and sexuality are just some of the issues that become points of conflict with your young  person.

It is worthwhile to ask yourself if the issue that is particularly causing conflict is worth sacrificing your relationship over. In my own experience , I have come to recognize that when I am able to tolerate and accept my young persons approach to life, they are more likely to respect my approach and be willing to negotiate aspects of our living together that are causing significant problems.

Of course, where a young person is clearly at risk or putting others at risk, it is important that parents are proactive in negotiating safe boundaries, doing so with kindness and respect for them as a person.

2. Be encouraging

It is very easy to fall into the trap of speaking negatively to your young person. When we are feeling frustrated, anxious, disappointed and helpless we frequently communicate those feelings by our talk, our body language and our behaviour. Your  young person, already feeling confused and insecure about themselves, hears the message reinforced that they are a failure, incompetent, and hopeless. It is likely that they will either shut-down and not communicate with you or get angry and act out. Both of these responses are your young persons attempt to protect and defend themselves from further negativity.

Become a good detective and learn to pick up on what your young person does well. The smallest achievement can be congratulated and encouraged and your relationship will benefit.

3. Be approachable

Be available. This sounds self- explanatory however your young person is very astute at picking up whether you are emotionally as well as physically available to them. If you say you are available but continue to work on your lap-top while your young person try's to address you, you are sending a conflicting message.

Be respectful. Remember that your young person is growing towards adulthood and is wanting to be treated like an adult. Learning to contain your frustration as a parent and respect them as another adult, will in turn, encourage them to be respectful of others, including yourself.

Listen without giving advice . Have the courage to let them work it out for themselves. They might make mistakes, even fall flat on their face, but our best teacher is experience itself.

4. Trust the process

Your young person is going through a complex developmental transition . This transition, driven by the biological imperative to separate from their parent and become autonomous, is a lengthy process for human beings because the development is occurring at a number of levels; physical, cognitive, emotional, psychological and socially.

Internal chaos and confusion occurs in the young person because each aspect of the person is changing at a different rate. For instance, we know that a young male generally maturates physically and sexually before he maturates emotionally and psychologically. We also need to be aware that when any potentially traumatizing experience occurs during this stage, that one or more aspects of development are likely to be delayed.

Be patient, trust the process and remember that over time, as the developmental transition occurs, your relationship with your young adult is likely to be richer and more satisfying having  made the effort to remain connected with them through a difficult stage of life.

If you want to grow, experience wellness and reach toward your full potential then here’s what you need to do contact me on 0434 337 245 for a FREE 10-minute phone consultation on how I can best help you.