Social gatherings can be a lot of fun, especially when they involve people you love and activities you enjoy. Yet, accepting every invitation that comes your way simply isn't practical. Maybe you need "me" time or want to keep others safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps the proposed event just isn't your idea of a good time. Whatever your reason, it's totally valid—but it's natural to worry about disappointing family and friends.
The question on everyone's minds is how do you respect your boundaries while politely saying no? To help you navigate the process, we tapped mental health experts for tips on declining social functions with kindness and confidence.
1. Avoid elaborate explanations.
If you're nervous about declining an invite, you may be tempted to cover all your bases by way of over-explaining. But in this case, simple and sweet is the way to go, as short responses will effectively communicate your decision while leaving little room for interpretation. Moreover, "the clearer you are in your [boundaries], the better it will feel not only for you but for the people you are saying no to," says Jenny Walters, M.A., M.F.T., therapist and founder of Highland Park Holistic Psychotherapy in Los Angeles.
2. Ditch the white lies.
On that note, avoid cloaking the truth in white lies. Not only will fibbing make things more complicated, but it can indicate that you're not at peace with your decision, says Yasmine Saad, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and founder of Madison Park Psychological Services in New York City. If you are struggling with the decision, it's worth reminding yourself that following your gut and setting boundaries is a form of self-compassion. Besides, "it's confusing for everyone when we dance around the truth instead of just coming out and saying it," notes Walters. Instead of telling white lies that you may need to keep up in the future, practice speaking your truth. Your conscious will thank you.
3. Be positive.
All too often, the concept of saying "no" is cast in a negative light. But what if it didn't need to be that way? Try highlighting the feel-good aspects about the scenario, which will make your response more positive. This shows the other person that you care, says Allyssa Dziurlaj, M.Ed, LPC., therapist and founder of Crooked River Counseling in Akron, Ohio. For example, express gratitude for being invited or send well wishes for the event. "It can be as simple as saying 'I'm not able to attend next week, but thank you for thinking of me,'" says Dziurlaj.
4. Offer an alternative.
If you're open to socializing at a later date or in a different setting, suggest another method for connecting that works within your boundaries, Walters suggests. For example, let's say a friend you haven't seen in a while invites you to a party, but you'd much rather have one-on-one time. You can respond with something like, "I'll pass, but thanks for inviting me. How about lunch next weekend?"
5. Don't wait until the last minute.
Once you've made the choice to decline an invite, give the other person a heads-up. Putting it off (or worse, ignoring the invite) will only add tension to the situation. Plus, notifying others sooner rather than later allows you to communicate in a respectful manner, especially if the event requires a head count or food prep.
6. Let yourself feel guilty.
It might sound strange, but if you experience guilt for turning down an invite, allow yourself to feel it. This gives you a chance to find "an opportunity to grow some resilience around the discomfort, knowing that you're strengthening your boundary-setting muscle in the process," says Walters. Dziurlaj suggests reframing your guilt by reminding yourself: "I'm prioritizing myself and my boundaries by not attending this social event." In turn, you can hone your confidence in saying no, making it easier to practice the tips above.
After turning down an invite, pause and reflect on how you feel. If you experience relief, you'll know that you did the right thing for your mental health. And if you do attend an event out of guilt or pressure? Take note of how you feel, too. By comparing the effects of each scenario, you can better understand what's best for yourself—and no one else.