Learning how to say no to the people you love can feel near impossible, especially if you’re used to being the person who always ends up—when all is said and done—saying yes.
Do you ever feel that your time is not your own because you’re doing so many things for others?
Do you worry about what others think of you and want them to think only good things?
Are you convinced that they will leave you if you don’t say yes? Or have you convinced yourself that saying yes makes you a loving, caring person?
Welcome to the “Gotta Learn How to Say No” Club. There are A LOT of members.
And I get that you believe you’re saying yes for a good reason. We don’t want our partners, children, family members, or friends to see us as the bad guy. We want to be there for them! We want to be the hero they can come to whenever they need anything.
So instead of asking ourselves if their request works in our schedule or even taking the time to think if it supports our needs, we focus on helping others meet their needs and find ourselves becoming a people pleaser.
We can get so focused on being there for others that we can completely forget we also need to be there for ourselves. We worry: Will my friends forget about me if I don’t go to the party? Will my kid still think I’m cool if I say no to ordering pizza? Will my friends and family still love me if I turn them down?
So how do you say no in a smart way that doesn’t let others down or hurt the people you love?
Great question. And you’re right—it’s not easy! Let’s dig into why it’s so difficult to say no, how to say no more effectively, and strategies you can practice to get better at saying no to the ones you love.
Why Is It So Difficult To Say No to the People We Love?
Why is it difficult to say no to the people we love? Because we LOVE them! We want the people we love to have everything they need, and if we can provide it, all the better! This desire to care for and protect our loved ones from even the slightest inconvenience causes us to say yes again and again, until we’re saying yes before we’ve even heard the full question.
Truth be told, it’s hard to say no if we want to avoid any feeling that could crop up if we did say no.
We worry our son will be embarrassed—and us too—if he drives our old station wagon to the football game, so we buy him a car when it really isn’t in our budget.
We don’t want our daughter to feel left out of the school dance—or be blamed if she misses it—so we fork over money for the most expensive dress in Macy’s because we want to be seen as the parent who cares.
We agree to babysit our friend's kids even if that means giving up tickets to a play we’ve been dying to see for the last six months and, if we don’t go tonight, we don’t get to go at all. But being seen as giving and caring is more important than potentially being called or feeling selfish, so we give up the ticket and put on our yoga pants to play legos instead.
Yep. Those feelings that we don’t want to feel give us full permission to say yes when we really want to say no.
You Place More Value on Others Than Yourself
Now you may be thinking, “Wait a minute… Isn’t it a good thing to put other people before ourselves? Have religion and superhero movies been lying to me?”
Putting others before ourselves makes us heroes and saints, right? And who doesn’t want to be somebody’s hero? We all want to be the perfect mother, the perfect brother, the perfect aunt, the perfect friend, the perfect grandparent—we want to be the person the people we love can come to when they really need something. We want to sacrifice for the people we love because, well, WE LOVE THEM! And loving someone often means putting their needs above our own.
Self-sacrifice and altruism are beautiful aspects of our personalities, and I’m not asking you to change that about yourself. But that doesn’t need to be who you are 24/7. Think of it this way, the ability to sacrifice your wellbeing comes in handy in emergency situations, but it’s not essential—or healthy—in our day-to-day living. Same with altruism. It’s important to remember that you have needs too. Needs that are very important because they are yours.
When We Get Our Value From Helping Others
When we get caught up believing we’re the least important person in the room, it can be nearly impossible to say no. As soon as someone needs us, we drop what we’re doing, and we’re immediately at their disposal. Need me to babysit? I’m there! Need me to host the family gathering? My house is yours! Need to borrow my car? Take it! I’ll take the bus to get my groceries.
Hey—I’m not knocking doing things for others. But you’re a person that has a schedule and priorities and goals and needs too, and if you never place any value on your own schedule, priorities, goals, or needs, nobody else will either. In fact, the ability to set boundaries is an aspect of any healthy relationship.
So if you really want to feel valued and appreciated, learning how to say no is a requirement to being seen as an equal partner in any relationship.
You Fear Rejection or Other Consequences
We all have a deep desire to be needed. Who doesn’t like to hear “we couldn’t have done it without you,” or “you’re my hero,” or any number of other positive statements that affirm we’re a good person who is loved and appreciated and important?
If we say no, will we still be the person that our family and friends can come to when they need something? Will we still be their dependable hero? Will they still appreciate, value, or deem us important? If you say no, will your friends and family still love you?
Fear of rejection is one of the most common types of fears! We want our friends and family to love us in return, and it’s only natural to fear losing that love. Sometimes we get trapped in a cycle of always saying yes because we fear that if we don’t, the people who are used to hearing that yes won’t see us the same way and will stop loving us. We worry that if we don’t fulfill their needs, they will find someone else to fulfill them.
This is no way to live! And I also know that being loved like this doesn’t feel much like love at all.
If your friends and family only appreciate you when you bend over backwards for them as soon as they need something, you’re being used, not loved. I know that’s tough to hear, but if your family is like my family, it’s a common occurrence to only earn their love by saying yes. You and I must remember that love—real love—is a two-way street.
You Believe the Show Won’t Go On Without You
“If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”
Do you agree with that motto? If so, you definitely have a hard time saying no because literally, in your eyes, every situation requires your oversight.
Let’s say some friends invite you over to have some tacos one night. You were looking forward to taking some time for yourself, but then you think about how two of your friends don’t get along unless you’re around to referee. It might be awkward for them if you’re not there. And what about your shy, meat-free friend? Will they speak up, or will they go hungry because you’re the only person who remembers their dietary requirements when organizing and preparing the meal? So you say yes because you believe their relationship—and the tacos—will fall apart if you’re not there.
But wait a minute! Is it the end of the world if the get-together is a little bit awkward or the meal isn’t to everyone’s liking? Are you sure your friends—who have families and careers of their own—can’t figure this stuff out for themselves? Your friends aren’t children, even though you might think they act like it sometimes.
Instead, show them a little more respect and let them handle it without you. Let them “figure it out” on their own. You may be surprised at how well the evening goes without you.
And maybe, secretly, that’s the reason you really want to skip your alone time. You don’t want to feel left out or not be needed. If that’s true, admit it. The sooner you do, the easier it will be to be a more authentic friend and gain the courage to say no next time.
As much as we may want to believe we are the glue that holds the universe together, the show will absolutely go on without us.
You’ve Built a Habit Around Agreeing Automatically
Is saying yes just automatic for you at this point? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes…
When was the last time you said no to a friend or family member? When was the last time you even thought about saying no? Habits are hard to break, and if you’ve built your persona around always being there for others, it can feel like a betrayal to your innermost self to say no to the people you love. Saying ‘no’ is for selfish people!
The thing is, you’re not a robot that’s programmed to serve humanity. You’re a human being with needs of your own. Important needs of your own!
So before you ever say yes, stop, take a nice deep breath, and give yourself some time to decide if yes is the answer you want to give or if no is what’s true.
So start saying yes to yourself every once in a while by learning to say no to others. Your answer shouldn’t be an automatic “yes” because every situation and circumstance is different. Notice these tendencies in yourself so that you can begin to break the habit.
Now, let’s talk about some reasons why you might want or need to say no.
Reasons You Might Need to Say No
There’s saying no to an evening out with a friend because you don’t like the opera, and then there’s saying no because the request could cause you physical, mental, or emotional harm. It’s also possible that a friend or family member could ask you to do something that violates your own morals and values or breaks the law. In these cases, it’s not about choosing between convenience and inconvenience—you absolutely must say no in order to preserve your safety or personal values.
If you want to be the type of person whose actions align with their values, then there are some “no’s” you gotta get good at.
Say no if:
- You are asked to break the law.
- You are asked to do something that violates your moral code or values.
- You are asked to do something that risks your job and livelihood.
- You are asked to do something that could endanger you physically or mentally.
- You are asked to do something that could endanger someone else physically or mentally.
Reasons You Might Want to Say No
Saying no shouldn’t only be reserved for times when you need to say no because of the law or a deep personal belief or value. There are many scenarios when you might say no due to your personal preference, scheduling, and your own workload. And your reasons are VALID.
You might want to say no if:
- You are asked to participate in an activity you are not at all interested in.
- You are asked to go out, but you would prefer to stay home.
- You are asked to go out, but you have a big project due for work tomorrow.
- You are asked to do something that pushes you way outside of your boundaries.
- You are asked out on a date by someone you’re not attracted to or dislike.
- You are offered a piece of cake baked by your loved ones, but you’ve sworn off sugar.
- You don't have room in your schedule for anything else.
- You already have plans, whether those plans are with yourself or someone else.
- YOU JUST FEEL LIKE SAYING NO!
Okay, so you’re ready to start using that lovely word “no” more frequently in your everyday life, especially with those people who refuse to accept it. (Yes, you do have to practice saying no to those folks too!)
So how are you going to say no? Let me share some tips with you.
How to Say No to the People You Love
So we’ve covered some reasons why you might want or need to say no and why it can be difficult, but how do you say no to someone you like or love when those people have grown to count on you? Well, I’m not about to pretend that it’s always easy! It’s freaking hard to say no to our loved ones. Especially the first, second, or even third time you try. (It will get easier the more you practice. Promise.)
Let me share some strategies you can implement and habits you can practice that will help you stop automatically saying yes to everything and everyone.
1. Take Time to Consider Before Committing
I’m sure you've felt this before… someone asks for something from you, and you automatically say yes only to realize later that you’ve overcommitted or really don’t want to do what you agreed to. It’s easy to say yes in the moment without putting any consideration into it, especially in social situations when we’re already feeling bubbly and sociable. What’s one more thing?
DO NOT COMMIT TO ANYTHING WITHOUT TAKING TIME TO CONSIDER IT.
When someone asks something of you, don’t reply right away. If the social situation demands an immediate response, say you need to consult your calendar or that you have to confer with your family first.
This brings me to number two.
2. Consult Your Schedule and Be Realistic
As much as saying yes or no may seem hypothetical, there is a practical resource you can consult—your own calendar. Before saying yes, you MUST see if you actually have the time and availability.
Saying yes without checking your own schedule first may feel like the kind, respectable thing to do, but you’re actually doing more harm than good by saying yes to something you might not have the availability to commit to. If you have a dentist’s appointment to get that painful root canal taken care of during the hour you’ve been invited to lunch, you need to keep your dentist’s appointment! Saying yes blindly will only lead to letting people down in the end—which is the whole reason you said yes in the first place!
I get it—you want to be the perfect daughter, the ideal partner, the favorite parent, the friend everyone can count on, etc., but don’t let these desires cloud your judgment. Before you say yes, check and see if you’re even able to say yes.
Ask yourself: Do you have time to add something else to your schedule? Even if your schedule is open, is the activity something you really want to participate in? Do you actually want to spend more time with the people involved?
Take the time to really consider what is being asked of you and if you have the space in your schedule or your brain to commit and say yes.
So what is the easiest way to learn to say no?
Repeat after me: Your yes means nothing if you can’t say no. Again. Your yes means nothing if you can’t say no. One more time. Your yes means nothing if you can’t say no.
Okay, good. Let’s try some ways to say no. Repeat after me:
- Thank you for asking. Let me check my schedule and get back to you tomorrow.
- Oh, that sounds great, yet I’m already booked during that time.
- Thanks for thinking of me, and I have to say no this time around.
- It means a lot that you thought of me. Sadly, I have to decline due to previous commitments. Feel free to ask me again. (Say that last bit only if you mean it.)
- I’m honored, but I am not able to help you/attend/join you.
- I wish there were two of me, but alas, there is not. Darn it.
- Unfortunately, it’s not a good time.
- Sounds great, but right now, it’s just not something I can add to my calendar.
Now, what if you use a polite refusal like the ones above? And what if they don’t accept it? They bug you, prod you, nudge you. If they do, it’s MORE of a reason to say no.
For instance, if I use one of the statements I shared above and the person starts to pressure me by saying, “I can’t wait 24 hours for an answer,” I always tell them then the answer is no. If you feel pressured, say no. It’s proof they aren’t thinking of you, including your needs, or honoring your feelings. Instead, they are only thinking of what they need and want to solve their problem.
You’re not responsible for solving the worlds’ problems, even if you love the person who’s asking. Remember, saying no puts you on equal footing, thereby raising your confidence and self-esteem.
3. Think About Your Own Needs and Goals
Your needs matter just as much as everyone else’s. And they must matter even more to you because you are the only person who can make sure you get your needs met. If you don’t get your needs met, well, then you’ll walk around like an old sour puss or get resentful of the world or find yourself feeling victimized and blaming everyone around you. None of those things you want to experience, right?
Needs are THAT important.
Let’s take a step back for a second. Before you can consult your own needs, you need to know what your needs are. This is a whole lesson in itself, so you’re not alone if you’re not totally sure what your own needs are outside of food and shelter. If you’re unsure where to start, here are some common needs that might resonate with you.
Look over that list. Do any of the words stand out to you? Anything you feel like you’re missing in your life? Which of your needs is being ignored? How would your life be different if your needs were met on a daily basis?
Here’s one of the secrets to peace of mind and increasing your self-respect: Your needs equal my needs. Yep. Your needs are as important as anyone else’s needs. No one else’s needs are more important than yours, and yours aren’t more important than theirs. They are equal. They have a right to say yes or no. And you have a right to say yes or no. If you keep that in mind, you will soon see that ensuring your own needs are met isn’t being selfish—it’s respectful, honoring, and an act of self-love.
As I always say, you are 100% responsible for getting your needs met.
But what about goals?
Of course, this doesn’t mean putting your own goals ahead of absolutely everything and everyone in your life, but you will never make any progress on your own goals unless you prioritize them and learn to say no.
4. Be Clear and Direct—No Wishy-Washy Language
Don’t say maybe when you really mean no. This just confuses the other person, and it can make the whole situation more difficult for everyone involved. While some people in your life may be able to interpret your avoidance techniques of “I’m not sure” or “maybe,” it’s better to be clear to ensure there’s no misunderstanding.
If you know you don’t want to do something, don’t lead the person on by suggesting you’re open to the possibility. Even if you are theoretically open to the possibility, be realistic and honest with yourself. Say your friend asks you to take a dance class with them this Friday. In theory, you’d love to learn to dance one day. Is that day really going to be this Friday? Be honest and direct. “Thanks for the offer. While I do want to learn how to dance one day, this Friday is too soon. I need at least a couple of weeks to mentally and physically prepare myself to be seen in a leotard.”
You might be unsure of your ability to commit because you need to consult your calendar or family members or your own heart. This is okay, but you still need to be clear about your intentions, and when you are ready to respond, get back to them with your clear and firm answer.
5. Always Lead With Empathy and Understanding
Remember your own fear of rejection? Well, that’s not that uncommon, and there’s a good chance the people you love are facing similar fears—which could be a huge part of the reason you feel compelled to say yes.
Don’t spare someone’s feelings at the expense of your own. When you say no, empathize with how the other person may be feeling. Reassure them while being as honest as possible about your own needs.
The best way to do this is to make sure you are rejecting the idea or event, not the person. Acknowledge their needs as you acknowledge your own.
“I wish I was able to help you move this weekend, but I don’t have any availability right now. Can I help you set up your new garden in a couple of weeks instead?”
“Thanks for thinking of me for this event. It means a lot being invited, but I, unfortunately, won't be able to attend.”
“Sorry! I had this weekend blocked off to finally tackle an important personal project. I know we haven’t been able to see each other in a long time, though. How does your calendar look to get together next month?”
Being clear and direct doesn’t mean you need to be harsh. You can be honest about your own schedule and needs while keeping the other person’s needs (and emotions) in mind too.
How Do You Get Better at Saying No?
Try It—You Need to See What Happens
Sometimes we need to see that the world will go on without us to believe it can and will. People may rely on us, but that doesn’t mean they can’t rely on themselves or someone else too.
The first jump is always the hardest, and sometimes, you just need to take it, even if you don’t fully know what the outcome will be. Reassure yourself that the world won’t end if you kindly say no or decline a request. You need to see this play out in your own life to truly believe you’ll be okay if you say no, and that takes trying it for yourself.
If you’re struggling to take the first step, try committing to yourself that you will say no to the next thing someone asks of you. Of course, there will need to be exceptions, such as emergencies or if your child needs something important from you, but in general, release yourself from saying yes automatically—say no to whatever that next request may be.
Get Comfortable Missing Out
I get it! FOMO is real! Saying no more often does mean you’ll miss out on some things. You may not be at every event, but the trade-off is you’ll have more time to focus on your own goals.
Accept that you can’t be everywhere at once, and get more comfortable missing out now and again. Time is a precious commodity, and once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. You can’t do everything and be everywhere—and that’s okay. The show will go on without you—and that’s okay too! Taking some time for yourself is much more worthwhile than dealing with a little bit of FOMO every now and again.
Plus, when you’re not around, your friends and family members have a chance to form their own bonds with each other independent of you. While this can sometimes feel like a scary prospect (hello fear of rejection, is that you again?), let your sister be the favorite aunt for once. Let your scattered friend be the one to organize the dinner. Hopefully, your loved ones can discover new strengths about each other and themselves—and if not, they’ll be ecstatic when you say yes and come to the rescue in the future!
Practice Letting People Down Easy
Saying no is a skill. It’s not easy to politely decline the request of a loved one. How do you find the right words when delivering what might be seen by them as bad news?
Just like any skill, you need to practice to improve. Don’t expect that reading this article is going to automatically make you someone who doesn’t feel guilt when turning down a friend’s request. If you’re used to being a people pleaser, you’re going to feel guilty about saying no—even though you’re not doing anything wrong, it’s going to feel like you are until it doesn’t.
But the more you practice polite refusals and letting people down easy, the better you’ll be at it, and the more you’ll realize saying no isn’t the end of the world.
Practice saying no and letting your loved ones down easily so that you can start building yourself back up. Once you realize you don’t have to be there for everyone all of the time, you can start being there for yourself.
And that, my friend, is a step toward freedom.
Get the Push You Need
My 10-week Fearless Living Training Program is based on decades of learning how to crack the secret code to fear, including the all-too-common fear of rejection. With Fearless Living, you’ll learn how to identify and manage your own needs while still being there for the ones you love. My Wheel of Fear process will give you the push you need to say no with confidence. Let’s get started!