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The Simple Truth Why You Say Yes When You Really Want to Say No

Say Yes

Do you say yes a lot?

Even when you find yourself thinking “no, no, no.”

Do you still usually end up saying yes?

If your answer is yes, you’re not alone. As women, we seem to have this excessive need to be agreeable. To please people. At the expense of ourselves. Click To Tweet

Why do we feel this need to please everyone? To the point where we feel resentful and stressed simply because we say yes when we really just want to say no. We give of ourselves until it feels like we have nothing left to give. And then we give some more. 

We say yes when we mean no. And those few times that we do say no, we feel guilty about it for days, even weeks. Setting boundaries is uncomfortable, so we bend ourselves backward to accommodate every person in our lives.

Why You Say Yes

The reason most people say yes when they would rather say no is a fear of rejection. You worry that saying no will disappoint or upset the other person. This may make the person feel angry or hurt. And these negative thoughts or feelings towards you feels like rejection. You fear that this rejection means that you’ll lose the person.

Although the fear of rejection is a big factor, there may be some other reasons why you say yes:

  • You follow the golden rule and help others because you’d want help if you needed it, even though you probably rarely ask others for anything.
  • You’re a person of your word and feel like you’re not allowed to change your mind or you’ll come across as irresponsible.
  • You have a caregiver-type personality and people always come to you to help put out the fires in their lives.
  • You worry about causing arguments or about upsetting the people in your life who usually rely on you.

Each and every reason why you say yes when you want to say no is fear-based. Saying yes has been ingrained in us. Specifically in women. And it takes immense strength and courage to learn how to say no. A helpful way to think about saying no is that you’re setting healthy boundaries.

Setting Boundaries

Saying no doesn’t mean that you’re a selfish person. It means that you know your own value. This is a healthy way to set boundaries. Being able to say no gives you more control over your personal time and energy.

The truth is, you can be compassionate, kind, reliable, and respected without saying yes to every request that comes your way. 

People will respect you even more for setting healthy boundaries. At least they should. And if they don’t, then you need to learn how to tolerate or detach from their negative reactions. Usually, it has nothing to do with you saying no and everything to do with their own sense of frustration. Often, people will be upset because they expect you to say yes to all their requests; especially if you have been a people pleaser for a long time. It’s likely that a no from you will be unexpected which may cause a negative reaction. Don’t allow this to sway your decision.

Here are some ways to stop saying yes when you want to say no:

Honor Yourself

It’s important to be a person of your word and honor your commitments. But up until what point? Where do you draw the line? When do you say no more? That’s why it’s even more important to honor and value yourself. Will saying yes conflict or align with your own priorities and goals? The answer to this question should determine your answer to the request being made. Sometimes enough is enough and you simply need to give yourself a break. You deserve it.

Keep Your Time in Mind

The reason why saying yes can be such a burden is because we have limited time each day. If you say yes to every request, then it intrudes on your time. This can be difficult to manage, especially if you already have a full load of tasks to complete. Ask yourself if you really have the time to complete this additional task. Also, whether doing it will make you feel uncomfortable or resentful. If you don’t have the time and it will make you resentful, your answer should be no. On the other hand, if you have the time and the task will be rewarding, you can say yes. The choice is yours but it is a choice.

Don’t Justify Yourself

No is a full sentence. End of story. It doesn’t require an explanation. You don’t have to give reasons why you can’t do it. There is absolutely no reason to defend yourself or justify your decision. You also shouldn’t feel the need to apologize for saying no. I know you feel uncomfortable and have an urge just to say yes but you are allowed to say no without explaining yourself. The more you try to explain yourself or give reasons, the more likely you are to go back on your decision and end up saying yes. Rather, say no politely but with conviction. People will understand and respect your decision.

Say Yes

Not Right Now

No can also mean not right now. And that’s perfectly fine. Just because you can’t assist someone immediately doesn’t mean you can’t help them at all. You have the right to think about your answer, weigh the consequences and answer them at a later stage. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into saying yes now when you can’t do something right now. Instead, say “no, please let me think about it”. This gives you time to consider how it would affect you and leaves space for you to say yes later on. Plus, you get some much-needed practice saying no.

Self-Care

Saying no is about learning to put yourself first. As a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister you’ve probably spent a lot of time putting others first. Although there is nothing wrong with caring for others, you need to care for yourself too. Saying no is a form of self-care. It helps to keep your to-do list simple and create more space in your life. If you say yes when you want to say no, you create unnecessary stress for yourself. So, practice saying no as a way of taking care of yourself. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Refill your own cup by setting boundaries so that you can more easily give to others.

Tips for Saying No

If you often find yourself saying yes simply because you don’t know how to say no, then you might need some guidance. The way you say no makes all the difference. Use these tips to boost your confidence:

  • Be direct about your decision by saying “no, I can’t” instead of “maybe.”
  • Don’t say that you’ll think about it when you know you want to say no as it prolongs an uncomfortable situation unnecessarily.
  • Don’t apologize for saying no – remember there is no need to justify yourself.
  • Don’t lie as this will cause you to feel guilty when you’re actually trying to avoid feeling guilty when saying no.
  • Remind yourself that it is better to deal with the discomfort of saying no now than it is to deal with feelings of resentment later.
  • Be polite when saying no but still be firm about your decision.
  • Practice saying no in advance by imagining scenarios where you need to say no or by practicing with a friend. The more you say no, the more comfortable you’ll be saying no in the future.
  • Remember that your worth is not determined by how much you do for others or how much you please people.

Polite Ways to Say No

If you’re still feeling apprehensive about saying no after reading these tips, then you may need some help with wording. The way you phrase saying no is important. You need to be polite yet firm about your decision.

Here are some polite ways to say no to something clearly, without apologizing or explaining yourself:

  • “I’m honored, but I can’t”
  • “I wish there were two of me”
  • “Unfortunately, now is not a good time for me”
  • “My schedule is fully booked”
  • “I have a full plate and I’m unable to fit this into my schedule”
  • “Sadly, I have to attend to something else”
  • “No, thank you”
  • “I’m not taking on anything else right now”
  • “Thank you so much for asking me, but I can’t”
  • “I have another commitment”

All of these are acceptable ways to say no. Combine these ideas with the tips I shared if you need some extra help. 

Examples

You think to yourself… “No, no, no, don’t do it. Don’t say yes…”

But still, you end up saying yes to something like this:

Example 1: Saying yes to being on the PTA for both your kid’s classes even though you have a newborn baby to care for and no help at home.

Example 2: Agreeing to host a party even though you’re low on funds and struggling financially.

Example 3: Having weekend guests when you’re exhausted and need time to relax or take care of responsibilities that need your attention.

Afterward, you think to yourself… “Am I out of my mind? Who am I kidding? I don’t have the time/energy/funds for this.”

Say Yes

Summary

Allow this guide to empower you. Next time you find yourself feeling like you should say yes, you’ll be able to say no with confidence.

This is the ultimate form of self-care. Saying no means that you have enough self-wroth to respect your own precious time and energy.

Say yes to the requests that feel right and that you want to say yes to but say no to the things that just aren’t acceptable.

Do you have trouble saying no?

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Comments 24

  1. So much of this post rings true, and it’s a common topic with my clients. I’m finally getting to where I enjoy saying “no” to things I really don’t have time for, or just don’t want in my life. It’s kind of exhilarating, actually. I’m not sure what the tipping point was, but certainly practicing has helped (along with reading good reminders like the ones you have here)!

    1. Sara,

      Thank you for your support. I thought this post would resonate with many. It’s a hot topic for me too.
      Saying no has become much easier as I’ve gotten older. As we grow, we become more aware and confident. What other people think isn’t as important or our ruling guide.

    1. Sabrina,
      Saying no is empowering. It’s a firm way of standing up for ourselves and saying our choices are important and should be valued.

  2. I can honestly say that I say “No” much more often than I say “yes.” I’ve just learned that I am happier when I am choosy about my commitments. I take at least 24 hours to pray about most requests, especially those that will require an ongoing sacrifice of time.

    I once heard someone give another phrase to try: “Well, if you want someone who has no margin or time and will do a terrible job, I guess I could do it.”

    Might get a laugh and get your point across.

    1. Seana,
      I am so impressed and I am not at all surprised that you can easily say no. I know that you are true to yourself and your commitments.
      I really like your strategy, that you give yourself at least 24 hours to pray about most requests. That’s so smart because it gives you a chance to reflect and make a smart decision.

  3. This is a masterpiece, Ronni. Do you have a white paper of this post? It’s so necessary to remember (or memorize) all the parts to this post. Saying no is really and truly difficult. I am one of those people pleasers and can find myself in situations where I have said yes to some things I knew in my heart I should have said no to. Thank you for putting this together.

    1. Diane,
      Thank you so much, that’s really nice of you to say. Many of us have been trapped in this yes-no dilemma. I just know that when we say yes when we want to say no, we feel horrible, angry at ourselves. That’s never a healthy way to feel.

      I also know that when we stop pleasing people, people become displeased.

  4. I LOVE this, Ronni and as serendipity would have it, am currently reading “Essentialism” (Greg McKeown) where he talks about this too. Something that has helped me say no is to remember that when you say no to something, you’re saying yes to something else. So, not just slamming a door, but rather allowing a different door to open.

    1. Lucy,

      Thank you for those thoughts. When you say no to something, you’re really saying yes to yourself. Being aware of what we can and cannot do and honoring those limits is taking care of ourselves.

      It’s wonderful how much you love to read and share.

  5. Saying no is really hard when you want to help out and you respect the work that someone is doing. I love these suggestions of how to say no when the time is just not right.

    1. Jonda,

      Timing is everything. Something I might say yes to at one time may need to be a clear no at another time, when I’m just not able to meet someone’s request.

      Balancing our lives is so key. Nobody wants to feel stressed or overwhelmed and feel enormously short of time.

  6. Wonderful advice! Something I was thinking of as I was reading this is that by saying no appropriately, especially to another woman, you can actually set an example of how to say no, since it’s something we all struggle with.

    1. Sheri,

      I love what you said and it’s so true. By having clear boundaries, we set an example for other women. No one wants to feel taken advantage of.

      My daughters have strong boundaries. At least they know how to say no to me.😊

  7. Very good advice to put yourself first. Love all the examples and suggestions. I am definitely a ‘yes’ person and it takes being very outside my comfort zone to say ‘no.’ I never regret when I set the boundaries and have learned to avoid being asked by expressing clear boundaries when I can.

    1. Melanie,

      Sometimes it gets easier as we get older but that’s not always the case. Just like you, I feel better when my boundaries are clear.

      Women are caretakers and we always want to help. It’s just as important to be true to ourselves and our own feelings.

  8. Ronnie, I definitely have trouble saying No but am getting much better at it as I age. I am guessing this is probably true for most women. I absolutely love the illustration of that screaming woman and will use that mental image when I need to say No in the future!

    1. Jill,

      You are not alone. I often feel the same way and I hear this from women everywhere. When we feel strong about saying no then it becomes easier. The hardest part for me is with my kids. I can be a softy (and they know it!)🤷‍♀️

  9. This reminded me of a Friends episode where someone asked Phoebe to do something and she said, “Oh, I would, but I don’t want to.” Everyone laughed, but I think that that should be an acceptable answer. No, I don’t want to volunteer for a committee that doesn’t mesh with my goals. No, I don’t want to schlep across town in traffic to eat at a fancy restaurant when I’m trying not to spend money and would prefer a PB&J. No, but I support what you’re trying to do and am willing to offer X, instead. I’m good at guarding my boundaries; so good, that I think sometimes my instinct to to say a life-preserving no while giving myself permission to give a surprise-yes later on.

    This is essential advice!

    1. Julie,

      I like your boundaries. Respecting other’s boundaries is showing respect for who they are. I’ve gotten much better at saying no. I often said yes when I really didn’t want to. My brother taught me that I didn’t have to give a reason for saying no. That was valuable. I didn’t have to explain myself, which felt good.

      As my kids were growing up, my first reaction might have been no when I should have just said yes. I guess I got it all backwards.😊

  10. This is such an important topic- the art of saying no! I love all of the suggestions you gave for saying no and why we (as women) have a hard time using that two-letter word. Boundaries are a key to this, and knowing what your personal boundaries are. I’ve gotten better with saying no, but there are still times when I get caught up in the yes. Each time I say yes when I really wanted to say no, I use it as a learning experience.

    1. Linda,

      I relate to everything you said. I too have gotten a lot better with saying no. Realizing, it’s not always easy. I just don’t like feeling overwhelmed or being taken advantage of. Knowing I have full control over that is empowering.

  11. How can we turn down an invitation without hurting feelings? Saying we’re busy just makes them choose another date.

    1. Always be polite. You don’t have to go into detail why you’re unable to attend the event or make dinner plans. Let them know that you already have plans or you’re staying close to home these days and thank them for the invite.

      You can circle back to them at another time, which will give you a chance to think through what you want to do.

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