Saying “no” is a pathway to healthy self-care

Defining assertiveness

The Cambridge Online Dictionary describes assertiveness as the following: “Someone who is assertive behaves confidently and is not frightened to say what they want or believe.”

I like this summary, and it's a great mantra to have in life. Unfortunately, social influences and life experiences tend to pull you away from behaving confidently. I give an example of this problem in the case study portion of this article.

The congruency of youth

The authenticity of a two-to-five-year-old can be so refreshing. It can help to inspire you to get in touch with your truth. The term “congruency” looks at the alignment of heart, mind, and words. At a toddler's age, the influence of social compliance hasn't caused development of a mediating tool to keep the young one in line with the demands of social propriety. As we get older, the mediating tool of the “ego” forms to regulate, negotiate, and dampen the authenticity of the congruent youngster. The “no” at this age is so powerful and matter-of-fact that it is often entertained, due to adults admiring their lost assertive “no” in their own lives. You may have observed grandparents praising the individuality of their grandchild for saying “no”, with their son, for an example, feeding back: “You never let me get away with that”. We can assume that life lessons have changed the way the grandparents relate to assertiveness and confidence, resulting in grandparents encouraging and championing the development in their grandchildren. 

Understandably, not every “no” can be entertained with these young ones if they are to be kept safe, but how can we as adults get back in touch with this authentic “no”?


A recent study by the World Health Organisation shows a rise in depression worldwide, and a well-documented cause of depression is the under-development or shutting down of emotional expression. Congruency or assertiveness is often dampened to comply with social demands, occasionally causing neurotic damage which corrodes expression and in some cases leads to depression.

Case example

How often have you said “yes” when you meant “no”? An overbearing relative informs you that they are coming to visit you. There was no enquiry of your plans, no mindful consideration of your needs, and now you've found yourself in a situation of wanting to say “no” but other things creep in (guilt, shame) and you say “yes”. Your words are not aligned with your heart and mind like a toddler. This may cause a neurotic disturbance and trigger upset that you may repress.

What can help?

Practising tuning into your congruent “no” can really help you to be more aligned with your wants and needs. It's your assertive right to say “no”. Being mindful of congruency can support you to be more authentic and take psychological care of yourself. Seeing a trained professional can help you take risks saying “no” in a safe environment. Be inspired by the young ones and their authentic “no”.

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