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When It’s Hard To Say No

If you’re a people-pleaser like me, you’ll know how difficult it can be to say “no”.

“Can you just help me with this?”

“I know it’s not your job, but can you just do this for me?”

“Please can you just come to the party? It’s only one night!”

We people-pleasers get great joy from being able to help others or to fulfil their every wish, and the requests themselves might not be particularly big or time-consuming. However, when we keep saying yes to those “can-you-just”s, they can quickly add up and become overwhelming.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with helping people or taking on an extra task or two if we have the time, energy, capability, etc. But it is important to maintain a healthy balance; if we say yes to every request we receive, chances are we are pushing ourselves too far and we risk burning out.

When It's Hard To Say No (

I wanted to start reclaiming my right to say no, but the prospect of actually saying “no” in the moment felt impossible. When confronted with a request, my immediate reaction is to say yes; whether it’s out of a need to please, a fear of “disappointing” people, or anxiety about potential confrontation.

I needed to ease myself into this new mindset gently.

Having pretty much instantly picked up on my people-pleaser personality, my CPN and I discussed potential strategies in my therapy sessions. She helped me to come up with some really useful alternatives to an instant, definitive yes or no, that would help me start to manage my boundaries in a healthier way.

I’m a big believer that “no” is a complete sentence, and we shouldn’t feel the need to give excuses or to justify why we don’t want to, or can’t, do something. However, I also know that it’s so much easier said than done, and these techniques can help to buy us some time to build up the reserves we need to deliver the “no”, rather than feeling like we have to say “yes” because we’ve been put on the spot.

Here are some of the ideas we came up with:

  • “I don’t have my diary on me at the moment. I’ll take a look at my schedule and get back to you”
  • “I’m just in the middle of something at the moment, can you email/text me the details, please?”
  • “I’ll have a think about it and let you know tomorrow.”

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Of course, these techniques don’t fully deal with the issue – they simply delay you having to give a response.

However, that ability to step away and take even just a few minutes to consider whether or not you actually can, or want to, accept their request can help to take the pressure off for long enough for you to make a decision based on facts, rather than the urge to people-please, at the expense of your own health and wellbeing.

Once we’ve given ourselves that break, we can come up with a response that feels comfortable to us. We can also use a more detached method of communication to give your answer, such as email or text. Using these methods can help you to word your response in the way you really want to, rather than getting flustered and ending up feeling pressured to agree because you’re struggling to formulate your response in the moment.

Like I said before, a simple “no” is completely valid, but if you’re like me, this felt too difficult to start doing straight away, so I came up with a few vague but firm qualifiers or comfort-statements to support my “no”, including:

  • I have another commitment that day – maybe next time?
  • I can’t commit to another project at the moment, but I’d be happy to chip in as and when I can.

Declining the original request whilst adding the offer of a smaller, more manageable contribution is a useful way to tentatively start establishing your boundaries. It’s far less likely to lead to a confrontation but still protects you from having to take on more than you can cope with.

This is not the end of the journey.

The ultimate goal is to get to a place where saying “no” to protect and maintain your health and wellbeing feels comfortable and natural.

But for now, this is a great first step.


Do you struggle to say “no”? How do you manage your need to people-please? Let me know in the comments.


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