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A Few Thoughts About Accepting “No”


You will have many opportunities to practice accepting no. You may be turned down for a job you wanted, the person you asked to have dinner with you will refuse, the person who owns a house you want to buy will not accept your offer, and your spouse will not agree to allowing your poker group to play at your house.

Some weeks it may seem like “no” is all you hear. The way you react to hearing no can add to your suffering or be a gift to your relationships.

Accepting refusals with grace is a skill. Practicing acceptance of no will improve your friendships and your romantic relationships. When those close to you know you will love them and not devalue them if they do not do as you ask or suggest, they will feel accepted.

Feeling accepted just as you are is a powerful relationship builder. In addition, accepting no without arguing, withdrawing, or judging yourself or the other person will add to your own sense of mastery, personal security, and freedom.

Some refusals will be more difficult to hear than others. When you feel vulnerable asking, then hearing no is likely to result in unpleasant emotions like hurt, shame, embarrassment or anger. When what you are asking for is very important to you, a no may hurt, like you’ve lost your best friend. If the no is from a boss or a business partner, you may think of yourself as inadequate or perhaps a failure. Or you may be angry at the person who said no, judging him as selfish or some other negative characteristic.

Sometimes hearing no feels hurtful because it seems unfair. Maybe you never or rarely ask for anything from the people who love you and so it feels like they should say yes when you do. But the person responding to your request is only answering your question. They aren’t responding to whether it is fair to ask the question.

Black and white thinking can trap you into believing that getting whatever you are asking for is the only possible way you could be happy. You can think your way into a frantic state. Sometimes you can be so desperate that you attempt to control the other person and react in ways to get them to concede to your request. You might believe that if they just understood how your request means to you, they would grant it. Or if they just loved you enough, they would do what you are asking.

Sometimes you may be upset over hearing no because you are asking the other person to do something for you that seems critical to your well-being. Maybe though, you are asking them to do something you aren’t willing to do for yourself.  If that is the case, then learning to do that something, whatever it is,  for yourself is a gift to you and the other person.

One of the most difficult situations is accepting no from someone you care deeply about. Sometimes people have the idea that if someone loves them, then that someone should say yes to whatever they want, as long as it is within reason. Sometimes there is a fear that if the loved one says no to a simple request, then they might say no to something that really matters.

This can happen over mundane requests such as getting a glass of water.  A “no” to that request could be interpreted as rejection or lack of caring. “You don’t love me,” is a response that many emotionally sensitive people think when a loved one refuses their request. They are hurt and fearful. They may tell themselves, “That’s the last time I ask for anything.” That may come from fear that the person won’t be there for them when they need them.

By reacting in a negative way to someone saying no, you limit the other person’s freedom to say no. The person who says no is just answering a question about whether they will do something.  They didn’t hear, “Do you love me?”  They heard, “Will you get me a glass of water?” or “Will you go with me to visit my mother?”  They don’t see the question as meaning how do they feel about someone. Over time they learn to be careful in how they respond to requests. They may avoid answering directly or make excuses and not being honest in their responses.  When this happens, part of the intimacy in the relationship is lost.

When you give other people the freedom to say no, you build trust and safety in the relationship. You give them the freedom to say yes or maybe, or whatever their true response is.  You allow them the freedom to be truthful and not have the truth threaten the relationship. That’s part of accepting the person you love for who they are and that’s part of loving them.

It’s also part of learning to trust yourself.



Creative Commons License photo credit: Kurt Komoda

A Few Thoughts About Accepting “No”

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2012). A Few Thoughts About Accepting “No”. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 23 Mar 2012
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