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How to Stop Saying Yes When You Want to Say No

Frustrated Guy

“Live your life for you not for anyone else. Don’t let the fear of being judged, rejected or disliked stop you from being yourself” ~Sonya Parker

I am a sucker for saying yes.

Sometimes I even find myself thinking “no, no, no, no” and then I blurt out “yes.”

Why is it so difficult to say the word “no”? It’s just a word, right?

After feeling trapped for some time by my excessive urge to be agreeable, it got me thinking.

I asked myself why it was so important for me to please everyone, to the point that I would feel resentful and stressed because of it.

I realized I was afraid of saying no because my biggest fear is rejection. I was afraid that every time I did this, I would disappoint someone, make them angry, hurt their feelings, or appear unkind or rude.

Having people think negatively of me is the ultimate rejection. Whether they say what they think of me, out loud or not, does not matter to me. It is the thought that they look down on me.

And so I realized exactly why I found it so difficult to say no.

I realize this is not just a challenge that I face, but one that many people go through every day. It’s a heavy burden to carry because with the urge to say yes also comes a lack of self-confidence and self-value.

If, like me, you’re having trouble saying no, this may help.

Saying No Doesn’t Mean You’re a Bad Person

Saying no doesn’t mean that you are being rude, selfish, or unkind. These are all unhelpful beliefs that make it hard to say no.

Learning where these beliefs have come from is a great way to learn to let go of them.

Did you ever wonder why it was so easy to say no when you were a little kid and why it has become so difficult now? What happened?

Well, as a child, we learned that saying no was impolite or inappropriate.

If you said no to your mum, dad, teacher, uncle, grandparents, and so on, you were most certainly considered to be being rude, and you would have probably been told off for it.

Saying no was off limits, and yes was the polite and likable thing to say.

Now that we are all adults, we are more mature and capable of making our own choices, as well as knowing the difference between wrong and right. Therefore, no shouldn’t be an off limits word, but rather something that we decide on ourselves, based on our own discretion.

But sadly, we hold onto our childhood beliefs and we continue to associate no with being dislikeable, bad mannered, unkind, or selfish. We worry that if we say no, we will feel humiliated, guilty, or ashamed, and will end up being alone, rejected, or abandoned.

Knowing Your Value

The second step to learning to say no is realizing that you are valuable, and choosing your own opinion about yourself over others.

I have learned that if you live your life depending on other people’s approval, you will never feel free and truly happy.

If you depend on other people’s approval, what you are basically saying is “Their opinion of me is more important than my opinion about myself.”

If your opinion of yourself is actually quite low, remember that:

  • Your problems do not define you.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes—nobody is perfect, and everybody does things that they regret; this is what makes us human.
  • What makes a person great is not their looks or achievements, but their willingness to love others, be humble, and grow as a person.
  • You are unique, valuable, and important. No one else in this world can offer what you can.

Is It Really Worth It?

The third step to learning to say no is deciding if saying yes is really worth it.

After committing to something, doubt eventually sets in and you may begin to think of ways you can get out of it.

And if you don’t have any good excuses, you then have to decide if you are going to tell the truth or come up with a lie.

Think about the anguish, stress, and resentment that saying yes has caused you. Wouldn’t it be so much easier and straightforward to just say no in the first place?

I remember this one time that I said yes to something and then later felt so bad about it that I ended up lying my way out of it. I still feel bad that I lied.

My boss called me one day and was asked if I could work the following Saturday. As usual, I blurted out a polite “Yes, of course, that’s no problem at all.” I actually had plans with my boyfriend, which I was really looking forward to.

Later, I found myself feeling absolutely terrible about having said yes and I wished that I had just had the guts to say no from the beginning.

Dreading the idea of having to work that day, I called my boss back with the best excuse I could think of. I told her that I had completely forgotten that it was my dad’s birthday that Saturday and that we had a family get-together (which was certainly not the case).

Looking back, I realize that it really isn’t worth it to say yes when you don’t want to. I have a right to say no and shouldn’t be afraid of letting other people down at the cost of my own happiness.

If you have also decided that it’s worth it to you, and want to learn to say no, try these simple yet effective tips for doing so with confidence.

Helpful Tips for Saying No

  • Be direct, such as “no, I can’t” or “no, I don’t want to.”
  • Don’t apologize and give all sorts of reasons.
  • Don’t lie. Lying will most likely lead to guilt—and remember, this is what you are trying to avoid feeling.
  • Remember that it is better to say no now than be resentful later.
  • Be polite, such as “Thanks for asking.”
  • Practice saying no. Imagine a scenario and then practice saying no either by yourself or with a friend. This will get you feeling a lot more comfortable with saying no.
  • Don’t say “I’ll think about it” if you don’t want to do it. This will just prolong the situation and make you feel even more stressed.
  • Remember that your self-worth does not depend on how much you do for other people.

Learning to say no has been one of the best things I have done for myself. Not only has it challenged me to overcome my fear of rejection, it has helped me to feel in control.

I don’t feel trapped, resentful, or guilty anymore. Instead, I feel empowered and free.

If you want that same feeling of freedom and empowerment, then take control, challenge yourself, and learn to say no.

Frustrated guy image via Shutterstock

Profile photo of Chantalle Blikman

About Chantalle Blikman

Chantalle Gerber is a writer and co-founder of Want2discover. Visit her website for more great articles on self-improvement and how to live a fulfilling and happy lifeBe sure to download a copy of her Free Ebook: 15 Simple Steps Towards Happiness and Success.

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  • I absolutely, wholeheartedly agree with this post Chantalle – thank you for writing it! I always say ‘yes’ to group meet-ups when all I wanted to do was spend time with people one on one or not want to meet them at all.
    Unfortunately a couple of years ago I became unwell and it taught me so many valuable lessons about who I was and what I really wanted and as I began to understand myself more I finally found comfort in learning how to say no once I understood the difference between what I enjoyed and what I felt obliged to attend.
    Great post!
    Toni

  • Hi Chantalle
    This was a great post, and you discussed a topic that is a major source of stress for many people. Our inability to say ‘no’ can really have far-reaching consequences in all areas of our life. Like you said, there is a great fear attached to uttering this simple two letter word.

    As social creatures, our tendency to want to be liked and accepted is natural,but it is easy to take this too far, to a point where we are totally living our lives based on pleasing other people, avoiding criticism and judgment and crafting an image others consider favorable.

    There is a great fear of being labeled ‘selfish’. The ‘Is it Worth It’ section of the post is particularly helpful because it reminds people to think of the ‘aftermath’ of agreeing to do something. It is easy to get caught up in the moment when being asked, whether it is because you feel some sort of pressure to say yes or you are just so used to being that way.

    I’ll admit, like anyone else I sometimes find myself saying yes when I really want to say no, though not about major things. But, in these moments, I own the fact I could have made another choice but decided not to for whatever reason. When viewed in this way, it removes that sense of resentment or feeling like I was forced into doing something because obviously I wasn’t.

    Great post!

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Kelli. Thanks so much for sharing! If often surprises me how such a simple thing (like saying no) can cause such deep feelings of insecurity or fear in people. Sometimes asking yourself ‘is it worth it?’ and really thinking about how it will affect you later, can really help you realize the importance of saying no. Like in the example I gave, I felt absolutely terrible after saying yes (when I didn’t want to) and realize now…it’s so not worth it 🙂 Glad you found my article helpful.

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Toni
    I’m really glad you like my article. Thanks for the lovely comment. Sometimes challenging moments (like what you experienced) can really teach us a lot about ourselves and help us to value ourselves more. Having that new level of self value can also help us to have the confidence to say no and to realize that we’re not a bad person because of it. It’s great to hear that you have found more confidence to do what makes you happy.

  • As you discovered, it’s so hard but so empowering. I’m a psychologist and one of the books I’ve recommended to my women clients for years was Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger which is really about finding our voice, setting limits, saying no and living with the anxiety it may create. I was thrilled to see it was re-released this year.

  • lv2terp

    Wonderful and empowering post! I though you made several good points, this one struck me the most…”If you depend on other people’s approval, what you are basically
    saying is “Their opinion of me is more important than my opinion about
    myself.” 🙂

  • Peace Within

    I’m going to check the book out. Thanks!

  • Peace Within

    This is a great post, Chantalle. I have finally learned how to say no and when to say it, without feeling bad. I feel like we have to be there for ourselves before we can be there for other people. I don’t mean this in a selfish way, I mean it for our own well being. As women we try to be there for everyone, help everyone, not let anyone down. It’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves. I like how you brought up the point of lying. One thing my parents taught me was that once you lie, you have to lie a million times to keep up with that lie. Too much work. I rather tell the truth and have no worries.

  • Marsha

    Question: If I say “No, I don’t want to but thank you” and the other person asks “Why don’t you want to?” or takes offense and says something nasty, should I just walk away? I know one person like this that I no longer want to associate with because of their attitude.

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Marsha.

    I think it comes down to just being honest. I mean, we shouldn’t have to lie or feel like we have to just walk away without giving them an answer. It’s about telling yourself that you have a right to say no because you are important – and then having the confidence to say no without feeling guilty.

    Even if it means telling them why. For example, maybe you don’t want to say yes to something because you’re feeling overwhelmed with other stuff you have to do – if so, then I’d say just tell the truth. Its harder than it sounds though. I’ve been there! And I still have to challenge myself everyday. But it get’s easier with practice.

    The bottom line is, telling yourself that you shouldn’t have to say ‘yes’ and truly believing that it doesn’t make you a bad or selfish person. That makes it a lot easier to be honest without feeling bad. Hope that helps!

  • Daniels

    not every article explains as well as this one. I like the examples given. Good read.

  • Filitech

    Hi Chantalle,

    Thank you for this article, it is something I struggle with myself on a daily basis. It seems so easy and if I am not aware of it, it seems that I don’t have this problem at all. Though reality is different. I have started practicing this not so long ago and it is very difficult to remain consistent, especially if you are asked for things by closed ones, people you normally never refused a thing. Now saying no once is manageable, but saying it over and over again, that is the tough part. If you succumb to your fears, you will quickly find yourself back on your old path again unfortunately.

  • R B

    There are things that can always be imagined>>>… but then here is confusion. To understand the true nature, one of few, a man named DuerF,, that lived in a village, with mountains of snow… Of course minus a few conceptions…

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Holly,
    Thanks for sharing that book with me. It sounds like a great book to read. Finding confidence in ourselves and finding our own voice really is so empowering.

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Filitech.

    I once learned that if you can acknowledge the struggle or problem, then you’re already half way there! That’s because once we are aware of something we need to change, we can actually take steps to towards that change. Even the smallest steps in the long run will make a big difference. Saying ‘no’ really is harder than it seems! But if you keep challenging yourself, you’ll eventually begin to find your voice and the confidence you need. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Daniels.
    It’s great to hear that my article was well explained and easy to understand. Thanks for taking the time to share that with me.

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Peace Within
    That’s a really great point! It’s so important to be there for ourselves and to value ourselves before we can help the rest of the world. If we don’t take care of ourself, then we won’t be as capable of enriching the lives of others. And it’s so true again what you have said about lying. One lie will lead to many more! Thanks for commenting!

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Iv2terp
    I love that point too. It’s something that I try to myself every time I find myself seeking the approval of others. I’m so glad you found my article enjoyable and helpful!

  • John

    Great Post 🙂 Thank You! I am working on the “no” as opposed to the “let me think about it,” or “I’ll get back to you” answer. Upon reflection, it is easier to see that if I just say “no” in the first place, I would have not wasted hours or days under undue stress worrying about offending someone or worse still: doing something I did no t want to do.
    Thank You again for this insight!

  • Louise Watson

    Love this! I used to have a huge problem with saying no and had to learn that the world wasn’t going to end even if the other person was annoyed with me. It was especially difficult when I tried saying no but the other person kept asking me in a variety of different ways until I caved in. Now, after a few years’ practice, I find it easy, and it can be quite fun to see the look of shock on the other person’s face when they don’t get the yes they were expecting!

  • Filitech

    Hi Chantalle,

    Yes you are right on that, though the trap of that is that you can sabotage yourself with the knowledge. Actually this is something that I have been doing and sometimes I feel that it would be easier if I would not be aware of all the things I am aware of, that I would not have all the knowledge that I have right now. If you don’t use the knowledge in the right way, it will get back at you.

    Patience, persistence and dedication are very important to accomplish what you want. It also helps a lot if you have a partner who supports you and sees the things that you don’t see yourself. It’s a real blessing to have a person like that in your life.

    Best,
    Filip

  • Talya Price

    I used to be a yes person, especially when it came to my day job. But now I am a no person. I say no to things that I do not want and things that no longer serves me. I had to stop chasing the money and have the money chase me. I say yes to my passions and to my art. It took a long time to break that bad cycle of saying yes to everything.

    Now that I have learned to say no, I have become a much better person and I am much happier.

  • Asmr

    Hi Chantalle
    Excellent post…. I only wish I read this a few nights ago. Unfortunately I said yes after attempting to enforce no to a young lady who kept on persisting to make advances on me. I was so afraid that she would feel rejected and in turn look down on me. I have been bathing in a pool of regret for days. I have tried to avoid her since simply because I don’t trust I will be able to say no to her. My question is simple; Is there anyway to reject a females advances without making them feel rejected and not having to lie?

  • Sunil

    Thank you so much Chantalle….:) for this beautiful post…will try implying it ..:)
    love peace.

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Louise.

    I’m so glad you have found the confidence to say no. It really is a huge achievement. Because feeling like we have to please everyone can be very stressful and can often make us feel trapped…I’m sure you know this feeling all too well. I know I do! Thanks for sharing!

  • chantalle gerber

    My pleasure Sunil. I hope my tips will help you to say no more easily and without feeling guilty. 🙂

  • chantalle gerber

    Hmm. Good quesion Asmr.

    I do think that it is not always impossible to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. But it’s important to remember that people are responsible for how they choose to respond.

    If you politely tell someone ‘no’…well…that’s your right. You have a right to feel happy just as much as the other person.

    And it someone chooses to take that personally or negatively then it’s something you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about. It’s always a hard thing to do though – saying no to someone. But the truth is, trying to make everyone happy really is impossible.

    I hope that helps Asmr. Just remember…saying ‘no’ doesn’t make you a bad or selfish person.

  • chantalle gerber

    That’s great Talya. I’m really happy to hear that you have learned to say yes to your passions and no the the things that make you feel unhappy!

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi John. I completely understand what you mean. As you have probably read in my article, saying ‘no’ was a big struggle for me and I used to say “let me think about it” or “I’ll get back to you” A LOT. I would then spend days stressing between either hurting someones feelings or doing something I really didn’t want to do. If you keep challenging yourself, and remind yourself that it’s not worth it…then I’m sure you’ll get better at it. 🙂

  • Pradeep Ghuge

    It really amuses me to see people face these kind of problems.

    Saying Yes when one wants to say no..is actually counts as lying to yourself.

    Someone can come up with explanations like they don’t want to break heart by being blunt.

    I do say lots of NO but with reasoning,conviction,understanding..done all at subconscious level.I mean whats wrong in being little observant n honest.

    NO comes n must come smoothly ..naturally..not forced

    People treat me differently as they feel my vibrations.
    my say is take your time..it all takes little bit of pause n mindfulness

  • Poorundewoo Callychurn

    All my life I suffered from the chronic malady of saying ‘yes’, when I should have said ‘no’.I wish I had the confidence and gut of stating exactly how I felt on any given issue. This has in some measure trickled down onto my children as well.I wish I had come across similar articles, which are not only elaborate, but stimulating and inspiring, and people who could remove the fear and complex that hold back someone to call a spade a spade. Thank you Madam for this wonderful post.

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Poorundewoo.
    I’m really happy to hear that you found my article useful and inspiring. Thanks for taking the time to share that with me. I wish you all the best and hope that you will be able to find the confidence to say no more often.

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Pradeep
    Saying ‘no’ seems like such a simple thing and for some people it is…which is great! Like yourself, it’s really great to see that you can confidently say no to people. I think the reason it is so hard for other people is because they experience a deeper insecurity within them. Like myself, I feared rejection from others. I didn’t want people to look down on me or think negatively of me – and by saying ‘no’ I felt as though I was putting myself at risk of that. But like you said, it’s important to pause…and embrace mindfulness. I think that’s a great point because rather than blurting out a yes to someone, we will be able to take a moment to challenge ourselves and our deeper insecurities. Thanks for sharing!

  • chantalle gerber

    Hi Filitech,
    That’s an interesting point about how having a certain level of knowledge can feel like a bad thing. The more you know, the more responsible you become and sometimes it can feel easier to know less. Although, as humans we’re always looking for answers and want to understand everything. It’s a tricky one.

  • David Figueroa

    Thanks for the info. I am currently struggling with saying no. I feel an obligation to say yes. Especially when it’s family members. I feel bad when I say no to people for instance just the other day I said yes to a neighbor of mine for some reason and I ended feeling guilty later on. I just find it hard to say no because of the same reasons you said above. Actually I am more afraid of getting hurt and yes as you said rejected because I feel people have an influence on me and if I say no they will feel hateful towards me or resentful and I could feel that and then I’ll end up feeling bad. I don’ t know. I am currently struggling with that. I don’t want to be like that the rest of my life. I know I have to do something sooner than later because I can’t live pleasing people. Thanks for this article and I hope that in the future I am able to feel more freedom and feel more in control rather than having someone be in control of me.

  • raychil

    Amazing article thanks 🙂

  • Cho Zin Thet

    One of my best friends asked for me a help. I said yes. But, now I don’t want to bcoz I have car-sick and she asked me to go with her for a 18 hours journey. I feel guilty of saying no. How should I do? I’m afraid that she will annoy me.