October 13

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How To Say NO – A Christmas Special!

By Zoe Clements

October 13, 2020


In my twenties I use to be known as a bit of a Christmas grump...

From the moment I saw the first mince pies being sold I would start my own grumpy Christmas campaign. I could rant for hours about the pointlessness of Secret Santa and it was best not to get me started on those bloody adverts with the perfect families, with their perfect presents and their perfect lives. 

Cut to a few decades later and my twenty year old self would not recognise the woman who, on Saturday 1st of December, cheerily dragged her other half to get a Christmas tree whilst singing Christmas songs (out of tune, that hasn't changed) and merrily munching her way through a box of mince pies. 

There are a three reasons why my attitude towards Christmas has changed over the years. I'm not gonna lie, the first was down to pure luck, I met my partner and that certainly helped. The second was down to pure hard work in my own counselling, I explored my grumpy defence mechanisms and the sadness I carried around for not having a family like in those poxy adverts. The last reason however is why I continue to enjoy Christmas, and why I am writing this blog, I learnt how to take responsibility for what I needed over Christmas & say No. 

In nutshell I have learnt how to:

  1. Think about what I really Need over the Christmas period. I think about my health (physical, emotional; mental); my bank balances health (!); my need for safety etc
  2. Evaluate and prioritise my needs so I can decide how, & with whom, I want to spend my Christmas
  3. Express my needs to my loved ones (& not so loved ones) which includes saying No when I need to
  4. Defy the urge to feel guilty for not conforming to the traditions or doing what everyone else expects
  5. Stick to my guns! Not being persuaded to change my No to a Yes by the well meaning (and less well meaning) people around me!

If these steps sound familiar then it's because they are the same steps as 'The NEEDS Method', the 5 steps to saying no which we explored in my last blog: Learn how to say No (and how to avoid the common pitfalls that lead you to say Yes!

It turns out The NEEDS Method not only helps you to say No, it also helps you create the Christmas that you need. So without further ado, let's work out what you need over this festive season and how you can say No.

Let's begin with...

When people talk about being stressed at Christmas they are often referring to the extra strain the season places on their needs. Whether it be the financial burden or an emotional or physical drain, you can always rely on the Christmas season to throw up some challenges.

So let's take some time to figure out what do you really need this Christmas. Here are some questions to get those brains cells stirring...

Now you have thought about your needs it's time to work out your priorities over the Christmas period. Identifying your priorities will help you set up the Christmas you need and help you spot when you need to say No!

This isn't as easy as it sounds so let's run through some very common scenarios:

Health Needs

If you are currently feeling physically, mentally or emotionally unwell then who you spend Christmas with, and how you spend the time, could have a massive impact:

  • Health Needs v Connection Needs - Picking who we spend Christmas with is very complex. When you weigh up your need for connection with your heath needs it's helpful to identify: Who supports you? Who drains you? Who values you? Who devalues you? Can you say no to spending time with people who drain you? If not can you limit your time with them to give you the balance you need? Or can you make sure you get regular breaks by taking yourself off for a walk or a sneaky Netflix binge?
  • Health Needs v Cultural / Spiritual Needs: What traditions do you usually get caught up in? Which energise you? Which drain you? Is the 2 hour stint at Midnight mass going to exhaust you for the next day? Is the sherry guzzling marathon surrounded by 16 of your seconds cousins going to be fun or overwhelming? You are not being selfish by saying No or excusing yourself from certain activities to look after yourself. You are valuing and prioritising your health.

Financial Needs

If you are struggling with debt or your bank balance is far from healthy then you need to think about:

  • Financial Needs v Connection Needs: If you do want to be around lots of friends and/or family, but are struggling financially, then make the decision not to put yourself in more debt. Those family and friends who value you (rather than your bank balance) will understand if you explain. 
  • Financial Needs v Cultural / Spiritual Needs: What are you being asked to do this Christmas? What is the cost £? Don't feel guilty for saying No if it's going to put your bank balance at risk.

When we are expressing our needs / saying No it's helpful to remember:

  • Clear is kind - say what you need clearly
  • Explain why you need it / why you are saying No - people are more sympathetic when they understand why you have made a decision
  • Acknowledge people may be disappointed 
  • Consider offering something an alternative which you can manage. Vouchers for babysitting duties or providing alternative dates to meet can go along way

Example: Expressing needs to your other half about where to spend Christmas:

Example: Saying no to your brother when you can't afford the present he wants to get Mum:

If the 3 wise men were here today they would tell you to...

Three tips from a wise(ish) woman (me):

  1. Tis the season to be jolly....tis not the season to feel guilty or ashamed. If you explain why you can't do something then those who matter won't mind and those who mind don't matter.
  2. Looking after yourself is not selfish, it's soooooooo important!
  3. Don't get yourself into debt or affect your health for the sake of pleasing others. 

Last but my no means least, stick to what your need. If it's a No, it's a No. People will try LOADS of tactics (some passive and some downright aggressive) to get you to change your mind. Don't fall for it. The cost of changing your mind is that you are teaching them how to treat you and they will just do the same next year. Have faith in yourself and your No, defy the urge to feel guilty and stand your ground. 

If they offer you a compromise, or a alternative, don't respond straight away, take some time to reflect on how this will affect your needs. If it's still a No, it's still a NO!

And finally...

Whatever unfolds this Christmas, at the very least, give yourself the ultimate gift by being kind to yourself. Keep that voice in your head compassionate, give your body some fresh air and your brain a few moments to escape and relax. All these little things can make a big difference.

As the 'Learn How to Say No' blog series was inspired by my pooch Paddy, and my need to say No a lot on his behalf(!), it seems only fitting that he should have the final words on Christmas...

If you need help with saying No then get in touch at: hello@zoeclements.co.uk

Alternatively follow me & The Padster on Facebook and Instagram:

Zoe Clements

About the author

Zoe Clements is an experienced BACP Accredited Counsellor and Author specialising in overthinking, anxiety, people pleasing and pesky self doubt.

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