Traumatic Stress

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other staff.


I don't know how to say no to peers and adults. My father beats me and molested me when I was young and my boyfriend wants to have sex with me. I want a method of saying "no" to people.


My first response is in regards to you stating that you are being abused or have been. It is very important that you let someone know what is happening, or did happen to get the help you need. Since you are a student, let your teacher, counselor or school nurse know, now. Abuse is a crime and you need to be protected and the abuser needs to be stopped and get help.

Your question about saying "no" is a very important one and many young people, both young men and women, are asking about how to let someone know you like them and what is and is not okay. You have every right to make your own decision of when and with whom you will have sex. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to making this decision.

Traditionally, young men may believe that when women say "no" they really mean "yes." Therefore, they are to pursue more strongly and act in ways that go against that "no" they hear from you. Women have been encouraged to be coy and play hard to get by saying "no" when they mean "yes." All of this makes it very difficult to know when "no" means "no" or when "no" means "yes." However, having sex against someone's wishes is rape.

The most important guideline is to say "no" only when that is what you mean and listen to "no" believing that that is what is meant. This way the risk of rape or being accused of rape is reduced.

Another factor that can lead to confusion is that communication has two main parts: body language and words. Research finds that about 90% of our communication is our non-words and about 10% is our words. So, if one is saying no in words and being affectionate, there may be confusion with thinking the non-words of affection are saying yes while the words are saying no. Since the non-words are less clear, the guideline to follow that is the safest, to take seriously the words in this situation and to state boundaries with examples like: "I'm okay with kissing and hugging but that is all I want to do."

There are many ways to say No, and here are three:

  1. The Hole-Punch No! "No, I can't because...." This type of a No doesn't work very well because every time you give a reason why you can't, your listener will find a reason why you can say Yes.
  2. Put Down No! "No way, and how dare you even ask me, you jerk!" The bottom line here is that we all have the right to ask for whatever we want. When we put people down for asking for what they want, then we take away this right. This No may work but you may never see them again.
  3. The Assertive No! "No" or "No, that won't work for me," or "No, I don't want to." This No is clear and when stated in a calm and serious way consistently, it is the most powerful.

People who respect your right to boundaries are the people who indicate they are safe to be with. Anyone you pressures you into doing something you don't want, or tries to convince you to do something you don't want to is not ready for a serious relationship with you.

Good luck and let us know if this helps. There are many more ideas please let us hear some from you. Look for the article in the trauma department on date rape.


Connie Saindon, M.A., MFT, has been a Licensed Marital and Family Therapist since 1979. In addition to providing services for Individuals, couples and families, Ms. Saindon is among the few specialists in the field of violent death bereavement. Founder the Survivors of Violent Death Program and volunteer faculty at the University of California Medical School Department of Psychiatry, she is author of The Journey, Violent Death Bereavement: Adult Survivors Workbook and contributing author of Violent Death: Resilience and Intervention beyond the Crisis. To reach her, please see this page.


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