Tag Archives: saying no

Why saying “no” can be good.

"Gandhi" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Gandhi” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Why do some people agonize over saying no?

Personality Development

Often people cannot say no because they dread disappointing others. As you grow up, you develop different parts of the personality to help you survive and thrive in your given circumstances. To win the love or acceptance you desire or to avoid negative criticism or worse, you end up emphasizing certain traits, such as being responsible, smart, or accommodating. Your “personality” then becomes formed by your primary personality traits.*

Accommodating Personality

Accommodating people learn early on that they thrive best by being agreeable and compliant. Their desire to please others dates back to not wanting to disappoint the people they were dependent on for security and love. When this desire to accommodate becomes excessive, the thought of saying no becomes tinged with a feeling of dread.

As an adult, the fear of saying no is not always reasonable or helpful. But the neural-circuitry developed in your brain in childhood still says, “Don’t disappoint or you’ll have to pay for it.” “If you say no, arguments will ensue, affection will be withdrawn, etc.” Or “If you don’t make her happy, she will be sad and she is too fragile to handle sadness.” That brain circuitry lingers on until you change and replace it.

How to say no, and become more whole

To avoid resentment and depleting your energy, you have to be able to say no to things you don’t have the time or desire to do. When you can be candid about your needs and desires without feeling dread, you will feel more whole and confident. Others will respect and enjoy you more because they will know that no means no, and yes means yes.

1. The first step is to realize that some emotions are habits that are no longer in your best interest.

2. The second step is to practice saying no peacefully, firmly, and confidently, that is, in a neutral, kind way, but without fear or weakness. Tone of voice is more important than the actual words.

3. The third step is to give an honest reason without being overly-apologetic. Don’t sound guilty or embarrassed to say no. And don’t give a litany of excuses. Simple and short is best.


You just got home from work, exhausted, and your partner asks you to clean the garage.

I might have time this weekend. Right now I’m exhausted and would like to relax and enjoy being home.


I’ve been working a lot. I really don’t like that kind of work. We need to hire someone to do that, or let’s do it together.


Your boyfriend/girlfriend asks you to drive him/her to the airport when you have other plans.

I’d love to, but I already made plans to play soccer/finish a work project. Sorry.


Your friend wants you to go out tonight, but you don’t feel like it.

I’d love to see you but I am just not in the mood to go out tonight. Let’s do it another time. Have fun without me.


An acquaintance wants you to volunteer for some good cause or to donate money.

Sorry I can’t. I have too many other obligations.


That sounds like a great cause, but we have already donated to other organizations and can’t extend ourselves anymore.

Note that there are circumstances where a clear, emphatic No without any explanation is appropriate, as for example, when there is a threat to you or those close to you, such as in dangerous or peer-pressure situations.

Once people who have trouble saying no realize how easy it is, they will no longer agonize about it. Moreover, people have more respect for those whose desire to please is reasonable and moderate, rather than extreme and self-defeating. When people know that you can say no, they will truly appreciate it when you say yes.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

*See Dr. Hal Stone and Dr. Sidra Stone’s Theory of Selves.

Read “Overfunctioning and underfunctioning: ‘If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done.’”

Read “Setting Boundaries.”

Read “Too Responsible to Enjoy.”

Making and breaking promises: “I can’t make it after all.”

"Perfect Swing" -- Paula Creamer by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Perfect Swing” — Paula Creamer by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

How many times have you found yourself saying, “Sure, let’s get together this weekend,” without a clear intention of doing so? It’s easy to make such off-the-cuff arrangements. Yet later you often regret feeling obligated to follow through. If, on the other hand, you back out, the other person gets disappointed and starts viewing you as flaky. Either way, it’s not an ideal situation.

People who make and break promises are generally motivated to please other people. Ironically, by pleasing them in the moment without desiring to follow through they cause disappointment.

So how do you respond to someone who wants to get together when you might have other things you would prefer to do?

“I like to keep my weekends unplanned and play things by ear.”

“I have to see what else I have going on.”

“I’m just going to hang out at home and catch up on reading and chores.”

“I don’t have any free time this weekend.”

“I keep my weekends open so I can go windsurfing/play golf when the weather’s good.”

Rather than raise expectations, be honest about not wanting to plan ahead. This allows the other person to make other plans. You don’t have to disappoint them and you won’t dread it when they call.

Buy yourself some time. Interrupt the ‘yes’ cycle, using phrases like “I’ll get back to you,” then consider your options.

~Auliq Ice

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “The courage to say ‘No’: ‘I wish I hadn’t said ‘Yes,’ I just don’t have the time!’”

Read “Disappointment: ‘I’m so disappointed. How could she?’”

Saying “No”:
“Everybody wants me to contribute money or volunteer my time and I’m overwhelmed.”

"Angle of Approach" — Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So what I really meant was…

“This organization sounds intriguing. Unfortunately, we’ve already contributed all we can this year.”


“I’d love to help. It sounds like a great cause. Unfortunately, I have too many obligations right now to be able to contribute any time to this.”

Contributing to worthy organizations is a wonderful thing to do. But if you let yourself become tapped out energetically or financially, you may have nothing left for yourself or those closest to you. It’s important to know your limits, and there’s nothing unworthy about saying so.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Too Responsible to Enjoy.”

“No, you really should not have a second ice cream. Is that okay honey?”

"Fine" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

While we don’t need to be severe when we say “no” to our kids, being afraid to disappoint them can cause more harm than good. Ending a sentence with a question mark such as “is that okay, honey?” shows your kids that what matters to you most is that they like you, not that you parent them well.

Not only does your need to be liked give your children power over you, it also makes them feel insecure, because they sense your insecurity. A parent’s inability to set boundaries with ease can lead the children to become tyrants and/or pushovers themselves.

Children need to learn how to be firm and kind at the same time. They learn this by their parents’ example. Simply say in a matter of fact way, “Ice cream is a treat. One is enough.” Finish. No question mark and no hoping that they like your answer.

Ironically, they will like you more if you stop trying to please them, and instead demonstrate how to set boundaries and practice self-discipline in an effortless way.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Sure honey, I’ll buy you those toys.”

Read “Permissive vs. Authoritarian Parenting.”