­­How to Say ‘No’ with Confidence

Listen, before we start this article, would you mind getting up and grabbing me a sandwich? Liverwurst and onion on rye, with a little bit of that fancy mustard…?

If you even thought about saying “yes” to that request—or if you find yourself often saying “yes” to things you later wish you hadn’t—then you need to keep reading, because we’re going to talk about how to say “no” when you need to…without the guilt.

 

How to Know When to Say No

Most of us don’t like telling people “no” when they ask for our help. We humans are wired to cooperate with one another, after all. In general, we want to be helpful!

But the reality is, it’s not always good to say “yes.” For one thing, if we said “yes” to everything that was asked of us, we wouldn’t have time to fulfill our primary responsibilities in life. And sometimes, saying “yes” to someone causes more harm than good. Consider these examples:

  • After taking her kindergartener to his classroom, Sandy gets stopped in the hallway by the president of the PTA, who begs her to help coordinate the fall fundraiser. Sandy feels pressured to agree, despite already having a full plate. As she drives away, she finds herself fuming with resentment and frustration.
  • Jenny doesn’t want to alienate her adult son, so she frequently agrees to his requests for help, even though he has a serious drug addiction. When she refuses his requests, he accuses her of “rejecting” him, so she keeps helping—even though his situation keeps getting worse.

The hard truth is that sometimes it’s more generous and loving to say “no” to someone, even when it makes us feel uncomfortable or makes the other person feel let down.

And that’s the key to knowing when to say “no,” says Dr. Greg Popcak, founder and executive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute. Instead of basing your response on how we feel (guilty, empathetic, pressured), focus instead on the more objective question of what kind of response will lead to the best outcome for both you and the other person.

“When somebody’s asking something of us, especially when they’re pressuring us, the question to ask ourselves isn’t, ‘Do I feel like doing this or not?’ Or even, ‘Would they be upset with me or not?’” Dr. Popcak said recently on the More2Life radio show. “The question to ask ourselves is, ‘Is there a way to say “yes” to this request that is good both for me and the other person?”

By basing your answer on an objective assessment of what is going to be good for both you and the other person—rather than on the shifting sands of emotion—you set yourself up to resist pressure and shed feelings of guilt.

Even better, your answer is grounded in genuine love for the other person. Prior to becoming Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła wrote a book titled Love and Responsibility. In that book, he argues that Christians are not only called to love, but to love in a way that actually achieves the good of the other person.

Rachael Isaac, a pastoral counselor at the Pastoral Solutions Institute, encourages clients to evaluate decisions by checking three key indicators of well-being: “I always ask my clients, ‘What is going to lead towards greater meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue in your life?’” she says.

If saying “yes” creates resentment and burnout, it’s not the most generous response: “It doesn’t allow us to work for their good or ours if saying yes breeds resentment or frustration.”

 

Another Option: The Qualified Yes

It’s good to remember that there’s often a third option besides “yes” and “no,” says Lisa Popcak, vice president of the Pastoral Solutions Institute and a certified family life coach. She calls it the “qualified yes.”

A qualified yes involves saying “yes” to the what of the request, but placing conditions on the how and when.

In the example above, Sandy might tell the PTA president, “I’d love to help out, but the only time I have available in my schedule right now is Monday afternoons from 2 to 3:30. Is there another job I could do that would fit in that time slot?”

In the second example, Jenny might say to her son, “I love you and I want to help you, but I can’t help you harm yourself. When you’re ready to enter a treatment program, I’d be happy to pay for it.”

“You’re attempting to meet their need,” Lisa Popcak says, “but it’s within the boundaries of what will work for you without demeaning you, diminishing you, leaving you exhausted, or distracting you from all the other responsibilities that God has given to you.”

 

Let Your Yes Mean Yes…

Christians should remember that even Jesus said “no” sometimes, said Andy Proctor, another pastoral counselor at the Pastoral Solutions Institute.

“Jesus certainly said ‘no,’ sometimes forcibly, sometimes even to those closest to him,” he said. Delivered with prudence and humility, “no” might be what the other person really needs to hear, he added.

And if you need any more encouragement, just remember that Jesus himself calls us to clarity and integrity of heart in the commitments we make to others: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one,” he says (Matthew 5:37).

For more advice from Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, tune in to the More2Life radio show every weekday between 10 and 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time, or catch it on your favorite podcast app. And if you need more help setting healthy boundaries in your life, you can connect with the Catholic counselors at the Pastoral Solutions Institute at CatholicCounselors.com.

Does Jesus Want Us to be ‘Nice’ to the Difficult People in Our Lives?


“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Jesus couldn’t have been more clear that following him means imitating the Father’s radically generous, unconditional love. He didn’t just preach this love; he embodied it through his death on the cross, and he expected his disciples to “take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

Over the centuries, those words have inspired countless Christians to heroic acts of love, sometimes to the point of sacrificing their lives.

Unfortunately, too many Christians also take Jesus’ teaching to mean that they ought to patiently put up with bad behavior from difficult—or even abusive—people.

But as Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak frequently point out to callers on their More2Life radio show, that’s a serious misunderstanding of Jesus’ call to radical love. In fact, such an approach may not be loving at all.

 

Jesus Wasn’t Always ‘Nice’

To see why Christian love sometimes calls for us to stand up for ourselves, set healthy boundaries, and in some cases, even end a relationship, we need to get a fuller picture of who Jesus really was.

Jesus dealt with “difficult” people all the time. Sometimes, those difficult people were even his closest friends! Other times, they were religious authorities who had it out for him.

Did Jesus quietly tolerate problematic behavior in the interest of “being nice”? He certainly stood up to the religious leaders who opposed him, often in forceful terms that left no question about their need for a change of heart.

Nor did he let his friends off the hook when they went astray. He famously rebuked Peter just moments after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 16:23).

At the same time, Jesus met known sinners with tenderness and mercy: think of his encounter with Zacchaeus or the woman caught in adultery, for example.

 

Real Love Works for the Good of the Other

Each of these very different approaches had a common motivation: Jesus’ genuine love for the person, tuned to achieve the good of the person he was encountering. As St. Thomas Aquinas would later put it, Christ-like love “wills the good of the other.” Christian love cooperates with God to help the other person become fully the person God desires them to be.

At the heart of our love for anybody, then, is the question: “What do I need to do to help this person achieve the good that God wants for him or her?”

In a healthy relationship, the answer would begin with the needs and desires of the other person. But in the case of someone whose problematic behavior is causing real, ongoing harm to us or other people, the bar is a lot lower. In these cases, really loving the person begins with not letting them mistreat you or other people. Instead, it begins with helping them become a better person.

Usually, the first step is to engage the person in a respectful, cooperative conversation about how to change the problem behavior. In God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People, Dr. Popcak outlines a five-step process for doing that.

If a person isn’t open to cooperatively working on the problem, then the next step might be setting limits or boundaries on the relationship. Ideally, these boundaries are targeted at the problem behavior and don’t cut off the relationship completely.

Sometimes, though, it is necessary to end the relationship entirely, especially if your life or health are in danger. As the Church teaches, we have a duty to care for our own life (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2264).

 

The Love of the Cross

At this point, you may wonder how Jesus’ call for his disciples to “take up their cross and follow me” fits into the picture of Christian life. After all, plenty of saints have suffered, and even given their life, for the sake of Christ.

What distinguishes the sacrifice of the cross, though, is that it served a higher purpose; Jesus sacrificed his life to save all humanity. The sacrifices of the saints and martyrs participated in that sacrifice. For instance, saints such as Maximilian Kolbe, Gianna Beretta Molla, Oscar Romero, and Maria Goretti sacrificed their lives in order to save another life, or to stand up for truth and justice.

Each of us has everyday opportunities to practice this sort of sacrificial love: quietly putting up with a spouse’s annoying but harmless habit, getting up with the baby so your spouse can get some much-needed rest, ignoring a stranger’s rudeness out of charity.

But if you’re dealing with someone whose behavior is causing real problems, then ask yourself: Is putting up with this behavior really the best way to love this person? Does it serve Christ and the Kingdom of God?

If the answer is “no,” then it might be time to imitate Jesus’ other ways of loving difficult people.

For much more on this topic, check out God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! And if you need professional, one-on-one help navigating a difficult relationship, reach out to one of the Catholic counselors at CatholicCounselors.com.

But I don’t want to spoil them!–How to Have a Healthy and Positive Relationship With Your Child

I want to have a good relationship with my kids but I don’t want to spoil them!”

Does this statement feel familiar?

Attachment does not mean that you have to give your children everything they want, when they want it, and how they want it. It means listening to them, taking the time to understand why they want the things they want, and—if you can’t let them—brainstorming more godly and efficient ways that you could help them meet at least some of those needs in the here and now.

Alternatively, if you have to say no, as parents often must, it is always for a good and objective reason (for instance, your child’s safety or well-being) and not just because you don’t feel like it or because you reactively tend to say no to things out of stress and irritability.

In infancy and toddlerhood, fostering healthy attachment means responding promptly, generously, and consistently to cries. It means trusting the schedule God has built into your child for sleeping, feeding, and comforting and not making your child “cry it out” at night, or cry for long periods as a matter of habit during the day. Crying is never good for a child. It always means he needs help in regulating some system in his body (Sunderland, 2008). God gives parents the responsibility to attend to those cries promptly, just as he tells us He does in Psalm 34:4. “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

As your child matures through childhood and adolescence, his needs become more complicated to meet. Parents should, as much as possible, use the “qualified-yes” technique in responding to these needs unless the request is for something that is truly contrary to the child’s well-being. For instance, if a child asked for something the parent couldn’t afford, the qualified-yes technique would have the parent say, “I can afford to contribute only X toward that, but let’s talk about ways you might be able to earn the difference if it is that important to you. Otherwise, this is what I can do. What do you think?” This would be as opposed to saying, for instance, “You want me to spend $250 on a pair of sneakers? Are you crazy?”

With the qualified-yes technique, the child learns that the parent is always someone to whom he can turn to get help in meeting his needs or making a plan by which those needs could be met. Because of this, even when the parent can’t supply what the child wants or needs, the child still feels attached because he has been heard and helped to come up with a plan. And, if the child decides that having that thing really isn’t worth the effort after all, it is he who makes that decision, and not the parent who makes himself an obstacle to achieving that need or want.

For more on how to use the qualified-yes technique as a way of fostering attachment through childhood and adolescence, check out our books Parenting Your Kids With Grace and Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace!

 

Quick Links and Resources:

Parenting Your Kids With Grace

Parenting Your Teens and Tweens With Grace

Discovering God Together

“I Can’t Believe You Said That!”  How To Respond When Words Hurt

Sharp words can cut deep. Sometimes when others say hurtful things to us, we can feel so hurt or be so caught off guard in the moment that we don’t know how to respond. Why are words so powerful and how do we respond effectively in these difficult moments?

The Theology of The Body reminds us of the power of words by pointing us back to Genesis and how God created the world. Specifically, God spoke the world into being. Words have creative power, and God shares that power with us in the hopes that we will use it to build each other up and be co-creators with him as we work to cooperate with his grace and encourage each other to be the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled people we were created to be. But we can also use those words to destroy each other and we often do.

As Christians, we are called to use words carefully; to have a well-trained tongue. That involves both making sure we are using words to build others up and setting appropriate boundaries when someone we are in relationship with is using words destructively. Good boundaries begin trying to explain what are and what aren’t healthy ways to engage you. But if that fails, setting good boundaries means trimming back the relationship to the point where you can still feel safe if the other person is going to continue to act as they have been. Sometimes figuring out what that looks like can be difficult, and we need to seek to figure out what that looks like in practice. But as long as our goal is to work for our good, the other person’s good, and the good of our relationships, it is never wrong to set a boundary to encourage healthier and holier interactions.

Although setting boundaries is healthy, it can certainly be difficult. Here are a few practical steps to setting effective boundaries:

1.  Be Confident And Be Clear–No one ever deserves to be spoken to disrespectfully or hurtfully. Even if the other person accuses you of doing something that they found hurtful or offensive, no matter what you may or may not have said or done, you don’t deserve to be spoken to cruelly or disrespectfully. Be clear about this and be confident in your right to insist that, while you are willing to listen to anything the other person wants to say, you cannot listen to anything that is said in a cruel or hurtful manner. Being clear about this doesn’t only benefit you, it benefits the other person and your ability to address whatever the problem might be. If there is a problem that needs to be discussed, it deserves to be discussed respectfully and effectively. Be confident and clear about the need to insist that “respect is the price of admission” to any conversation a person may want to have with you.

2.  Use Do-Over’s--If you feel attacked in a conversation, resist the temptation to just lash out or shut the conversation down completely. Instead, assume that, given the chance, the other person will be able to say what they are trying to say respectfully.  Give them that chance by asking for a do-over. Say something like, “I’m feeling really attacked right now. I want to hear what you’re trying to say, but I need you to be less aggressive about it. Tell me again what you’re trying to say.” Often, when we hold up a mirror like this, the other person will appreciate the opportunity to see how they are coming across and adjust their behavior. Do-overs allow you to reset the conversation and move forward in a more respectful and productive way.

3. Don’t Feed the Troll–If someone is saying cruel or disrespectful things to you, don’t defend yourself. Don’t try to talk them out of it. Don’t argue back. Any attempt to argue someone out of their unkind view of you will inevitably backfire as the conversation will begin going in circles with new accusations being hurled and as the previous defenses are overcome. The best thing to do in this situation? Don’t feed the troll. As before, stop the conversation and give the person as chance to do a do-over. If that fails, simply say, “I’m really sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. If there’s something you’d like to talk through when you’re feeling a little less angry I’m happy to hear whatever you have to say, but I can’t talk about this with you this way.” Then be done. If you have to say anything, simply repeat that formula, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I hope you can get past it. I’d love to talk to you when you’re in a different place, but I can’t do it like this.” Trolls don’t like to eat broken records. If that’s all you serve them, they’ll look for other places to feed.

Explore more resources for setting healthy boundaries at CatholicCounselors.com

 

Quick Links and Resources:

God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts!

Having Meaningful (Sometimes Difficult) Conversations With Your Adult Sons & Daughters

How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love

Pastoral Tele-Counseling Services

Spiritual Life Coaching

Resolving Resentment—Understanding The Hidden Message

Resentment is one of those feelings that can sneak up on us, then overwhelm us. It can make us feel powerless, angry, and sometimes trigger fear. With this mix of emotions, what does resentment really mean?

We often feel guilty about resentment and, of course, resentment isn’t something we want to hold on to.  But the theology of the body teaches that God designed our bodies to work for our good and the good of those around us.  If we learn to listen to the ways God is speaking to us through our bodies–including our feelings–we can hear him guiding us on how best to take care of ourselves and others. All of our emotions–including feelings like resentment–are part of our body’s response to our environment. When united to God’s grace, our emotions can give us important information.  But what could God possibly be saying to us through resentment?  Well, Theology of The Body tells us that healthy relationships are mutually self-donative.  That is, a healthy relationship can only exist when both people are doing everything they can to take care of each other.  Resentment is the feeling we get when we feel like we are doing too much–whether that means we are doing more than our share of a particular task or working harder on a relationship than the other person is. 

Resentment is a warning light on the relationship dashboard that asks us to check if our relationship is really still mutually self-donative or, if somehow, we are allowing ourselves to be treated more like an object than a person. Understood properly, resentment shouldn’t lead us to pout or withdraw, it should lead us to do healthy things like express our needs, or ask for help, or clarify the other person’s intentions, or, when we can’t get the buy-in we’d like from others, we can exercise our right to change our approach even if that means letting go of certain expectations or responsibilities that aren’t healthy to hold on to.  If we deal with our resentment gracefully, it will help us make sure that each person in the relationship is giving as much as they can to protect the health of the relationship and doing as much as they can to look out for the wellbeing of each person in the relationship.

Name the Need–The first thing to do if you are feeling resentful is to identify and name the need that isn’t being met.  Do you need help? Do you need a little TLC?  Could you use help getting a break?  Is there a problem between you and another person that needs to be resolved? Resentment tends to occur when a need sits on the shelf too long and it starts to spoil. Instead of beating up on yourself for feeling resentful, bring your resentment to God. Say, “Lord, help me to name the need that is feeding my resentment and help me to address it in a way that glorifies you and makes my relationships healthier.” Once you know what the need is, you can make a plan to meet it instead of letting it continue to spoil on the shelf, feeding that growing sense of resentment.

Speak the Need–Sometimes, even when we have identified a need, we have a hard time feeling like it’s OK to meet it.  We tell ourselves, “We shouldn’t have to ask for help.”  Or, “I shouldn’t have to say anything about this.”  Remember, the theology of the body tells us that the voice of God speaks to us through our bodies.  If you are feeling resentful, God is asking you to find a healthy, godly way to meet an unmet need and make your relationships healthier and stronger. Trying to talk yourself out of meeting that need is like trying to ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit! Once you’ve identified the need that is feeding your resentment, it’s time to make a plan to meet it. Go to the people around you and say, “I really need your help with X.”  Don’t worry if they aren’t receptive at first. Be confident in the need that God is asking you to address. Remember, healthy, godly relationships are mutually self-donative. Sometimes that means that we have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit to work for each other’s good. That’s not always fun, but it’s always good. Give the people in your life the opportunity to stretch themselves a little for you. Don’t let doubts about others rob them of the opportunity to learn to love you as much as you love them.

Get Help to Meet the Need–Sometimes, even when we have tried our best, getting our needs met can be…complicated. If you find that you can’t stop feeling resentful no matter what you do, or if you are struggling to actually identify your needs in the first place, or articulate them in ways that the people in your life can actually hear and respond to, it’s time to get some new skills. Don’t give into the temptation of thinking that there is nothing you can do just because you can’t figure our what to do on your own. Remember, if God is calling your attention to a need, God has a plan for meeting it. Talk to a faithful professional counselor who can help you learn how to cooperate with God’s plan for meeting the unmet needs that are feeding your resentment.  

If you would like additional resources and support overcoming resentment, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com!