6 Steps To Saying No Without Feeling Guilty

Many of us are pleasers. I know I’m one! We don’t want to disappoint our family and friends and we don’t want to seem unhelpful to our colleagues and boss. And that feeling of guilt when you do say no is just killing… But when saying yes so often to others that it becomes a mental burden to yourself is not helping anyone.

I used to say yes to many things, socially and at work. Even when I actually wanted to do something different (ie: chill on the couch on Sunday afternoon), when I didn’t have a legitimate excuse to say no, I would go to whatever I was being invited to. The same goes for work. If I didn’t have any plans for that night, I would say yes to take on extra work or a late call. Even if it wasn’t critical for a project, just to accomodate other people’s schedules.

I’ve learned to better listen to myself and accomodate to what I need to keep myself energized and charged. I’ve learned how to say no more often to things that are not helping me at all and only drain me.

When you say yes to others, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.

– Paulo Coelho

I’m not saying that you should only do whatever YOU want. I also strongly believe that life is giving and taking, and this means that you sometimes will go to parties you don’t feel like going to. Or you will take that conference call at 8 PM, but there might also be times you will need to ask someone to return the favor.

I also believe there is a clear difference between a healthy ‘giving and taking’ and the pressure to say yes to everything, causing you to feel exhausted and overwhelmed. That’s why everyone should be able to say no to things that does not positively contribute to their life.

So ask yourself: does this make me happy/fulfilled? Do I know that even though I don’t feel like going there/doing this right now, but once I’m there I will enjoy it/don’t mind it? You know yourself best and you also know how much you can take.

For example, I try to keep my Sundays free of any activities, no matter what. Sundays for me are to spend quality time with my boyfriend, do laundry and prepare for the week ahead. I will make exceptions for family and good friends but other than that, Sundays are off limits.

say no without feeling guilty

There are a couple of things that help me to say no to asks more easily, without feeling guilty.

1. Listen to yourself

Most of the time you will know immediately if you want to say yes or no to a request. Listen to yourself and follow whatever your body is telling you. You will feel if it’s a yes or no.

2. Time your no’s

What I mean with timing your no’s is that you can either buy yourself time to tell someone you’ll get back to them later or to text/email you with their ask. However, I find that this can also lead to delaying the decision, which makes me feel more uncomfortable every day. I rather rip off the band aid and take a decision straight away than postponing my answer. Because to come back to the first point: 99% of the time, deep down you will know what your honest answer is.

3. Keep your response simple & don’t make up excuses

If you’re a pleaser, you’ve probably been guilty of trying to say no to a request, but you start rambling and in the end you’ve either said yes anyway or you’ve apologized a million times. I have done this so many times you don’t want to know.
This is also the rule that’s the hardest for me to adhere to. Be clear and firm in your answer and bodylanguage(!) and reply with a short sentence (“I really can’t make it today.”). If you don’t do this and you start making up vague excuses, you open the door for people to change their request. Then it becomes almost impossible to say no, which brings you right back at the start of it all.

say no without feeling guilty

4. Don’t over-apologize

You’re not asking for permission to say no! You are totally entitled to say to whatever request comes your way, so there’s no need to keep apologizing. I usually say a quick “Sorry, can’t make it” but even that is not necessary.

5. Offer a compromise

This one definitely helps with the guilt. When you want or have to say no to a request, think about the compromises you can offer. Don’t do this though for things you really don’t want to do – like catsitting if you hate cats. However, this can be really helpful if you’re invited by friends to hang out but actually you need some time for yourself, or it’s just really unconvenient to meet but you haven’t got a 100% waterproof reason not to go. Offering a compromise in this case will make you feel less guilty and will give your friends the right message; you do really want to see them. Just not on that day!

6. Differentiate between refusal and rejection

Remind yourself that you’re saying no to a request, not to a person. Once I started being more open to good friends about my reasons to say no sometimes I was surprised by how understanding they were. Most of them said things like “I should also do that more often” or “I’m the same way”.

I hope this was helpful. It definitely took me practice and time to get better. But once I decided to put effort into this, my life has become more calm and I have more time to focus on the things that I would like to spend time on.

Are you a pleaser or do you find it easy to say no? I’d love to hear your tips on how you say no more easily without feeling guilty. Share them below in the comments!

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  • I love this post. Some great tips on how to step more fully into your own personal power and say “No” more.
    I am learning how to do this slowly, slowly. I don’t say no to everything but I say no to what doesn’t make me feel good when I think about doing it. This way it keeps my energy for the things and people and opportunities I want to say YES to. I’m bookmarking this for sure, I know it’s going to be so helpful as I build up my confidence around saying “No” more. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks Rhiannon – glad you found it helpful! Saying no isn’t easy. I’ve also become better at it with time, and there are still moments where I should’ve said no but didn’t. But slow progress is still progress right πŸ™‚

  • Very good post. Saying no is sometimes very difficult. However, I find it is becoming easier as I am getting older. Having children changed lots of things for me too because I am more aware of my priorities now.

    • I can imagine that knowing your boundaries gets easier when you have a family because your main priorities are crystal clear. Good to hear you still found my article helpful!