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with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Why Is It So Hard to Say No?


Most people assume the process of saying “no” is an easy process, however, for some people this couldn’t be further from the truth. Research on the topic of saying “no”, “stop”, declining an invitation/offer, and asserting oneself is not that easy. Saying yes when we really want to say no is actually a socially learned coping mechanism that can, with a little time and attention, be unlearned.

One of the main reasons we have such a hard time saying no can be attributed to our fear of not wanting to hurt the feelings of another person. However, by simply going along with something because you do not want to hurt someone else’s feelings you run the first of hurting yourself, suppressing your needs, and not being true to yourself. In my work with patients that have difficulty saying no, many insist they feel “compelled to put themselves in the shoes of the other person”.  Persons that have difficulty saying “no” often insist “if I was in that situation I would want someone else to help me out in the same way I am helping him/her out”. The truth of the matter is most people will often put themselves first when there is a choice to be made about their needs vs your needs. Unfortunately, we live in a self-serving world, a world that encourages us to get ahead no matter the consequences or expense to others. So, the notion that everyone will think as you think, inconvenience themselves for the sake of another is simply and painfully untrue.

Saying no and disentangling yourself from the unwanted demands of others is a crucial skill to learn. Once learned, long term success in familial, social, and romantic relationships is possible. Fortunately, these skills, once learned, can be applied in multiple areas of your life, leading to great success and rewards.

8 Reasons Some People Have Difficulty Saying No:

·         Fear of hurting someone’s feeling

·         Fear of not being liked

·         Fear of being perceived as selfish or mean.

·         Insistence the need to “place themselves in the shoes of the other person”.

·         Prior socialization to be nice

·         Fear of being perceived as combative

·         We do not want the other person to be mad at us

·         Boundary issues/boundaries are too flexible

By engaging in behaviors, we do not want to engage in we run the risk of participating in a process called enabling. You are enabling someone else’s dependency, fostering their sense of entitlement, or inconsiderate behavior. If meet most of the items listed above, you more than likely have significant issues related to your personal boundaries. Persons that have difficulty saying no, often feel trapped and selfish. Negative emotions surrounding asserting oneself can be mitigated through both individual and group therapy.

If you continue to have trouble saying no, remind yourself you do not have to say yes. Openly explore why you are unable to do something or do not want to do something, so you can maintain your boundary. Once you get out of the pattern of doing things you do not want to do or things that cause discomfort, you will be free. When you understand how to say no and mean it, you, ironically, increase your confidence, reduce the number of disingenuous people in your life, and create an opportunity to build better relationships. Once you’ve mastered the skill of saying no, the less you’ll need it, because others will begin to recognize you mean what you say and say what you mean.  

Why Is It So Hard to Say No?

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2016). Why Is It So Hard to Say No?. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Oct 2016
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