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How to feel good about saying no

by Stephanie Mitton

Do you struggle with saying no? Are you worried what people will think or how they will react? If you are a people-pleaser, saying no can be agony. Recently, in one weekend, I helped host an event at church, participated in a fundraiser in my community, drove my kids to activities, and packed and prepared for a solo trip to Florida with my kids. For me, that was too much. Clearly, I struggle with saying no.

While not all women struggle with saying no, in many ways, women are raised to be people-pleasers. Julie de Azevedo Hanks PDD, LCDW, a licensed social worker and author of The Assertiveness Guide for Women, says as women, “We are socialized to feel responsible for the feelings and well-being of those around us.” I feel this responsibility, and I can fall into the trap of feeling guilty if my “no” lets someone else down.

To help combat all this useless guilt, I have learned a few tricks that have helped me feel good about saying no.

1. If it’s not a Hell, Yes! It’s a no. This is the decision-making filter that Jen Hatmaker, an American TV personality and podcast host, was given by her agent. She shares, “So that medium yes, that I-feel-like-should yes, that guilty yes, that coerced yes, that I-actually-hate-this-thing yes, that I-guess-so yes, that who-else-will-do-it yes, that careless yes, that default yes, that resentful yes, that I-probably-shouldn't-but-struggle-with-boundaries yes?” The answer is NO. This concept is new to me. Myrrhanda Novak, my partner in WDDT, told me about it, I plan to use it to help filter what is a yes vs. a no, hopefully making future decisions about how to spend my limited time easier!

2. Say no for good reasons. If I say no for the right reasons, it helps ease my guilt of letting someone else down. When my decision to say no is based on a reason that prioritizes my family or my wellness, I feel confident in my decision. I am less likely to feel remorse (or needlessly worry) for making a decision I know is right for me, my family, or my work. For example, in my mind, cancelling last-minute on a planned extended-family vacation because you suddenly don’t feel like it (would likely be a jerk move and selfish because things are already paid for and planned out), is different than saying no or “maybe another time” when the idea of the vacation is initially discussed, and everything isn’t planned and paid for. Another example of a good reason to say no, is a last minute request to meet another family at the local ski hill when your family has already planned a home movie night; commiting to your first plans is always a good reason to pass on later invitations.

3. Don’t over explain. You don’t need to give detailed explanations for your decision to say no. Sometimes a simple, “I am not available this time, but have fun!” is the only response required. For example, if you are invited out for drinks but know that you need some self care, just say you are not available. It can be easy to downplay the importance of time to yourself and feel like that isn’t a good enough reason to say no, but much needed self-care is just as important as other reasons!

4. Remember that most people will understand. Sure, some people may get mad or be disappointed in the moment. But the truth is, people who want the best for you will understand and get over it. If they don’t, you may need to consider if they are a positive influence in your life. Remember that someone being disappointed because they wanted to spend time with you is not the same as someone being mad you didn’t do things their way. For me, if it’s the latter, I do my best to remember I haven’t done anything wrong by asking for what I need. Their reaction isn’t reasonable and it does not benefit me to spend time worrying about it.

5. Give yourself some tough self talk. After the decision had been made, even before I get a reaction to my response, I can feel the anxiety start. So I give myself some tough self talk. I tell myself things like, “you are confident in your decision, you have the right intentions, there is no reason to feel guilty, forget about it and move on.” I continually do this and try to distract myself. Over time, I find it takes less continued self talk to refocus my energy.

6. When you say no to one thing, you can say yes to something else. And that something else may be some much needed self care, to have some down time as a family, to prioritize choices in your life. These are all things you need to consider to live a life that is more balanced and present which will make you happier and healthier. For myself, remembering that saying no is not a lose-lose scenario gives me perspective and makes it easier to say no in the first place.

Final thoughts

I am not suggesting that you don’t think of other people's’ needs, I actually truly believe in “loving thy neighbour”. The reality is you have limited time, you need to prioritize, and if you and your family are not balanced and healthy, you can’t even begin to put on someone else’s oxygen mask, and that’s the truth.

I hope these lessons will help you feel good about saying no. Learning to say no and feel good about it will take time; it’s a mindshift, but give it a try - you can do it! It does get easier over time.


Do you have other advice you can share with us for saying no? I would love to hear it. Leave a comment below.

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