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The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Saying No

The People-Pleaser's Guide to Saying No


Mark is in over his head. He’s a high school math teacher, stays late every afternoon to give extra help, and leads his son’s cub scout troop. And since no one else volunteered, he agreed to head up a fundraiser for new library books. His neighbor asked him to tutor his son in geometry. Mark was about to say yes when his wife gave him the “death stare.” You know, that look that says, “If you take on one more activity, you’ll have hell to pay.”

Mark really had no idea why his wife was so mad. He felt good about being able to help others and he was so used to being busy that he really didn’t how many commitments he’d taken on. Volunteering does wonders for both the volunteers and those they serve. The problem was that Mark and his family were suffering because of his inability to say no.

Underneath the anger, Mark’s wife was hurt. She felt neglected, as if Mark didn’t care enough to prioritize their relationship. Mark didn’t want to let people down, but he was letting his wife down. And he was tired – physically and emotionally. He was neglecting his health by eating poorly, staying up late correcting assignments, and not exercising. He was also neglecting his own interests. He hadn’t played the guitar in months.

Like Mark, we all have so much time. We need to spend it on what matters. Being over-committed, running from place to place, and neglecting ourselves, leads to burn out and resentment. For people-pleasers who get their self-worth by always saying “yes,” it’s really hard to set boundaries.

Saying no is an essential form of self-care

Saying no sets a boundary. Boundaries preserve our physical and emotional well-being and our relationships. Boundaries ensure that we are taking care of our own needs.

You’ve probably been told that “no” is a complete sentence; that’s all you need to say. Well, it’s not quite that simple, is it? I don’t know about you, but I’d feel rather rude if I just said “no” when asked to bake something for my kid’s brownie troop or it might be downright stupid to only say “no” when my boss asks me to take on a new project.

Let’s try some softer ways to say no:

  • I’m sorry I’m busy.
  • Thanks for thinking of me. I really wish I could.
  • I’d love to, but I’m already over-committed.
  • Unfortunately, that’s not something I can do at this time.
  • No thanks.
  • I’m already booked.
  • Maybe next time.
  • I wish I could, but I just can’t.
  • I don’t think I’m the right person to help with that.
  • Sorry I can’t help you this time.
  • Sounds fun, but I just can afford it right now.

A few other considerations:

  • Be aware of your body language. Try to present a relaxed and warm expression.
  • Don’t say, “I’ll get back to you,” when you know you really want to say “no.” This just drags it out and gives the person asking false hope.
  • If there is a lesser commitment or a piece of the request that you do want to take on, you can offer that as an alternative.

If you’re going to say no, even in a gentle way, first you are going to need to believe that you deserve to care of yourself ahead of committing your resources to meeting someone else’s needs.

You have limited resources. Saying “no” means you are saying “yes” to something else such as your own health, spending time with your children, reaching your own goals. We all deserve these things.

Benefits of saying no:

  • It’s a reflection of your self-awareness and self-worth.
  • Protects your physical and emotional health (more rested, improved mood)
  • You spend time on what matters to you.
  • Use your time, money and other resources wisely.
  • Allows others the opportunity to participate.
  • People respect an honest answer.
  • Sets a good example.

Now it’s time to practice. Practice, practice, practice. If you’ve always been a yes man (or woman), people will need to adjust to your new boundaries. You may get some resistance. Remember why you’re saying no and it will get easier.

Want more help setting boundaries? Join my mailing list below.





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Why Your'e Saying Yes When You Mean No

Why You’re Saying Yes When You Really Mean No








6 Big Problems with People-Pleasing and How to Fix Them


The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Saying No

Sharon Martin, LCSW

Sharon Martin is a licensed psychotherapist and codependency expert practicing in San Jose, CA. She is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.  

To learn more, visit Sharon's website. And please sign-up for free access to her resource library HERE (worksheets, tips, meditations, and resources for healing codependency, perfectionism, anxiety and more).

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APA Reference
Martin, S. (2018). The People-Pleaser’s Guide to Saying No. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 1 Jan 2018
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.