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The Power of “NO”



My mother says that my first word was no.

I’m not surprised that this was the first true word that came out of my  mouth.

Many children sing out the joys of no regularly and with enthusiasm. “Would you like more potatoes?” “NO!” “Put on your shoes please.” “NO!” “Time for a nap.” “NO!”

And why not? Children learn very early on that when they say no, something big and important happens. It could be that the food they dislike is taken away, or that they are given a different book. A tantrum of no’s extends the time before they go down for a nap.

If the no turns into a string of screaming no’s, mom or dad reacts strongly, usually with anger or frustration.

No is powerful, strong, and assertive.

It doesn’t require niceties, delicacies, or qualifiers.

What is it about the word no that makes it so hard to say? The answer could lie within yourself.

If you’re like many people, saying no is something you’re not particularly good at.

It could be that you can say no, but with qualifiers: “no, not right now, maybe another day,” when you really meant to simply say no. You do not have a desire to do it another day, but wish to make your no softer or nicer.

It might have been as you grew up, you were not taught empowerment. Maybe you were told that good girls or good children don’t say the word no.

Some kids are brought up with ideas of what no is and isn’t. And if you were a child whose mother or father taught that the word no was not to be said to adults, or whose parents required blind obedience, no isn’t a word that you uttered much. Maybe you were even afraid to say it.

There is a long list of things no isn’t:

It isn’t impolite

It isn’t rude

It isn’t mean

It isn’t bad.

No is simply one word that is a negative response. Its power lies in both its simplicity and its one meaning.

Some people feel the need to add niceties to no: “I’m so sorry, this week has been busy and my mother is coming over at 2:00, then the…” Compare this to “No, I’m busy,” or even just “No.”

If you were taught that nice people don’t say no, then you’ve got some unlearning to do. One word does not make you nice or not nice, polite, or impolite.

It does give you the power of choice.

I generally don’t give my client’s homework to do, but if you’re someone who has difficulty saying no to others, there’s an exercise I’d like you to try.

For the next 24 hours, say no 20 times. At least a few of those times should be times when you would normally say yes or times when it’s awkward and uncomfortable to say

It could be that there is someone in your life who you rarely say no to: a child, parent, or spouse possibly. They may have a strong reaction to hearing you tell them no. 

Consider how this makes you feel and how the other person reacted. Then post a comment here.

Let the Psych Central community support you as you become stronger and more assertive.

My hope is that by learning how to say no you will grow into a person who is strong and assertive instead of passive. We only get to go through this life once. Make the most of it.


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The Power of “NO”

Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Columbus, Ohio. She works with individuals and couples, and specializes in relationship counseling. She's now offering online counseling for residents of Ohio. Stay Connected . Follow her on twitter; and connect with her on Facebook.

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APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2015). The Power of “NO”. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 3, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Feb 2015
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