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Learning to Say “No”

stock-vector-no-16887904There is no reason why you have to say “yes” to everything and everyone. By agreeing to do things that you don’t want to shows that you are a people pleaser, which is not a bad trait, but can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. People pleasers think about other people’s needs, worry about what other people want or think before they think about their own needs, or what they want. They rarely do things for themselves and feel guilty when they do. They hold back from saying what they feel or think because they feel that the other person will be upset with them. It is very draining to trying to please others and it can have a detrimental effect on your health often feeling anxious, stressed, worried and unhappy.

People pleasers feel obliged to help and they do not always do things because they want to. People pleasers have been taught that their worth depends on doing things for others and rarely focus on themselves. It is likely that people pleasers were raised in environments where their needs and feelings were not valued. They were often expected to respond to or take care of other peoples needs or have been neglected and silenced thus learning that their feelings and needs were not important.

Many people pleasers believe that nobody will like them if they say “no.” If someone stops liking you because you don’t do what they ask, then you probable wouldn’t want them as a friend anyway. People will like you for who you are, not for what you do.

Learning to say “no” is is about setting boundaries. Every time you say “yes” to someone, you say “no” to yourself and your priorities and needs. It is far worse to say “yes” then to feel your anxiety building up. Forget about pleasing people. It is more important to please yourself so that you can stay calm and relaxed.

Here are some tips that can help you to say “no.”

1) Practice saying “no.” Say it aloud so you can hear the words come out of your mouth. Say phrases with “no” in them, such as, “No, I can’t do that.”

2)Try saying “no” to simple things first and then build your way up to harder situations. Take a pause before responding to the person’s request. Never say “yes” on the spot. Tell the person “I will get back to you,” “Let me check my schedule,” “I’m not the best person for this, why don’t you ask X to help you?”or “Let me think about it first and I’ll call you back.” This helps you not to make on-the-spot decisions that you may regret. Use a phrase that feels comfortable to you.

3)When you say “no” don’t feel that you need to give a long list of excuses. You know what is good for youself and your health. If you feel that you need to give an excuse you can tell the person that it would not fit into your schedule.

4) You do not need to say “yes” just because you are capable of doing something. You should say “yes” only if you considered your time availability, other commitments and what you may need to give up to complete the job.

5)Have the courage to follow through on how you feel and make choices that are true to who you are. If you feel what the person is asking you to do is something that goes against your belief or simply does not fit into your schedule, you need to listen to yourself and your needs. You will live in harmony with yourself thus reducing the amount of stress, anxiety and unhappiness.

6)Make a list of the things you would like to say “no” to. If you could say no to someone or something, knowing that there will be no negative consequences, who and what will you say no to? This can help you to have a clear picture of your needs and also it helps you to see what your boundaries are.

7)Put your self-care above anything else by spending your time on things that make you happy and on decisions that you want, rather than on what others want. If you don’t set boundaries to what or whom you will say no to, your health is at stake. If you neglect yourself, you will not be able to help your family or those that care about you.

8)By saying “no” to someone you are telling them that you have boundaries and you respect yourself.

9)People will see you as more dependable if you say “yes” only to things that you have time to do. You will most likely do a better job having more time and true ability to complete the job.

We all have a hard time saying “no” to things and to people sometimes. It is important to listen to yourself, your needs and your wants. It is also important to set clear boundaries for yourself. Once in a while you may say “yes” to someone or something when you really wanted to say “no.”  Acknowledge the decision you made and look at why you said yes (instead of no) and how you can respond  differently to a similar situation in the future.

Learning to Say “No”

Helen Nieves

Helen Nieves is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Attention Deficit Consultant Specialist. She teaches ADHD on line and is on the Advisory Board at The American Institute of Health Care Professionals. She also received advanced training in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and in Grief Counseling.

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APA Reference
Nieves, H. (2015). Learning to Say “No”. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 16 Apr 2015
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