December is here, which means it’s a time of celebration for some people. December can be
such a busy time with workplace events, parties, family gathering and making time to see
friends. It can be joyous and happy for some and for others there’s a feeling of dread and
overwhelm in the air that comes along with a pressure to say “yes” to all of the things the the
holidays have to offer. People often feel guilty about saying “no” to upcoming events in
December because somehow there’s an expectation to do everything- join the Secret Santa at
work, go out with friends, make food for a potluck, find an ugly sweater, host a dinner for your
family, stay out late, have a drink…have another drink. We get caught up doing things the same
way we’ve done them in the past, because that’s what we’re used to; when we want to say
This month I wanted to focus on letting yourself off the hook and to learn how to say “no” to
things that don’t feel good to you this year. Let’s boss back the guilt and learn to say “no”.
Marsha M. Linehan is an American psychologist and author. She is the creator of dialectical
behavior therapy (DBT), a type of psychotherapy that combines behavioral science with
concepts like acceptance and mindfulness. One of the tools that she talks about using in her
Interpersonal Effectiveness Module is a skill called DEAR MAN, which is essentially a skill for
saying “no” to someone or asking for something that you want.
In this case we’ll go through an example of how to use the DEAR MAN skill to say “no”. It can
be super helpful to write your script down and then you have something you can use for the
D (Describe): Use facts to describe the topic you’re wanting to discuss. Remove judgement.
You invited me to a party this Saturday night.
E (Express): Tell the person how you’re feeling using an “I” statement.
I am feeling really overwhelmed this year and I feel sad to miss out on events.
A (Affirm): Say no, or ask for what you want. Make it clear and simple.
I’m not going to be able to come this Saturday.
R (Reinforce): Explain the positive impacts of saying no, or something the other person might
get from it.
It sounds like a fun time, but I need some me time. I’d love to attend your NYE event and I’ll look
forward to that.
M (be Mindful): Stay in the moment, focus on this one conversation at a time, don’t multitask
(phone down, TV off).
A (Appear confident): Eye contact, shoulders back, stand up, head up.
N (Negotiate): Know your own limits. What will you accept, what will you negotiate on? In
some conversations there’s room to negotiate and for some there isn’t.
Saying no, and sticking to it
- Broken record- if you have to, continue to repeat your DEAR MAN script over and over
again until the person gets the point.
- Don’t over apologize– sometimes it’s appropriate to say “sorry” once, if you do feel bad
about what you’re saying. Avoiding over apologizing where you’re repeatedly saying
- If guilt shows up acknowledge it and validate it– this would look like “It makes sense that
I’m feeling guilty because I hate saying no and letting people down. It’s okay that I feel
this way and I can tolerate it.”
- Listen to your gut and go with that– attempt to connect to the part of you that really
knows what you want and what you don’t want when making plans this season.
- Plan to get together in the New Year– if December is too busy, plan ahead for another
time to get together.
- You can role play your DEAR MAN script with your therapist/someone you feel safe with
to practice having your conversation. Plan for what you might say if the other person
isn’t being understanding. How would you cope through that?
Wishing you a happy and safe Holiday Season with good boundaries and the ability to say no to
the things that you don’t want to do. Good luck!
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Manual (2 nd ed.). Guilford Press. New York. NY.
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training: Handouts and Worksheets (2 nd ed.). Guilford Press. New
Marsha M. Linehan. (November 6, 2022). In Wikipedia.
Day Six – Moving From the Me to We
Team Building: Your family is a “We”. End of story. Even when you disagree, you...
Reframing the Pandemic as a Positive for Your Family
As many families are focussed on moving out of the pandemic uncertainty and are...
Men’s Mental Health and the “Silent Crisis”
Men often struggle with mental health concerns in silence because of public,...
Ambiguous Loss- and what to do about it
Ambiguous Loss- and what to do about it. Rebekah Laferriere MSW, RSW This...