how to say no hand

Validating other’s needs over your own can be damaging.

Do you ever wonder: why can’t I just say “no”? Are you the classic people-pleaser? Do you avoid conflict at all costs?

Many of us struggle to say NO, stemming from a very human keenness to please other people. We worry about what will happen if we do say NO, and enjoy being the one person that others can rely on. 

But it all comes at a cost to our mental wellbeing, bearing behaviours that aren’t particularly desirable when we do need to protect ourselves. 

In this article, we’re going to explore the benefits of – every now and then – going against our natural instincts and saying NO for a change. And we’ll examine what happens when we finally DO say no. [Spoiler: the sky doesn’t cave in]. 

Why can’t I say NO?

We’re certainly not born with an inability to utter an objection. Let’s face it; kids say no all the time. Most children have the inherent ability to be stubborn, selfish, and objectionable; demonstrated by point-blank refusals to abide by the wishes of their parents. And they often choose the most embarrassing moment to express their individuality in this way.

So, if we’ll all effectively cut from the same cloth, why do we grow into adults who lose the confidence to refuse?

The conclusion has to be that our inability to say no is learned behaviour. Perhaps we had unusually strict parents who rejected us when we refused to tie the line. Maybe if you didn’t adhere to expectations, you got the silent treatment. 

So, you may have learned that love is conditional and, if you ever assert your own needs, some form of punishment is never far behind. 

In other words: you’ve learned to let go of what YOU need, in favour of what people who control the love require of you. 

Am I a people-pleaser? 

Perhaps you struggle to recognise what you want and need, and you find it challenging to make decisions that affect other people without making sure that they’re completely happy with the situation first. 

But that usually means they get what they want, and you don’t. 

Check down the list and see if you recognise any of these behaviours:

  • You feel guilt and shame. All the time.
  • You’re averse to conflict, so you go along with what other people want.
  • You’re known as the “peace-keeper”
  • You’re overworked. You take on new projects or demands, even though you don’t have the time. You work late and often; neglecting your own needs.
  • You feel continually torn between the needs of your employers and the needs of your family; negating yourself from that equation altogether. 
  • You poll the opinions of others before you make a decision. 
  • You find yourself in relationships with dominators or those who are emotionally unstable. 
  • You agree to things ALL the time. 
  • You’re passive-aggressive – you use the silent treatment, you play the victim, you give backhanded compliments.
  • You’re a social chameleon – you blend in seamlessly in any social situation
  • You’re a “great listener” – you’re there for everyone, but feel totally drained afterwards
  • You feel like you’re still not “good enough”, no matter how much you try

What are the benefits of saying NO?

You’re a great guy/gal – that’s indisputable. But when is enough ever enough? 

The problem with “yes” is that you become what everyone else wants you to be (even though they probably don’t even realise it). 

What about what you want to be? 

What is your true, authentic self?

Saying no gives us the option to regulate where we focus our time and energy. Sure, we can still be there for our pals, but reserving a bit of time for ourselves means that you we take back the control that we’re so willingly giving away. 

The moment you finally learn how to say no is the moment you regain control over your existence. Reserve time for you, and – ironically – you’ll probably have more energy to give to others. 

How do I say NO?

You’re going to feel guilty at first. You know yourself well enough to predict that this isn’t going to be easy. 


When the guilt inevitably rears its needy head, acknowledge it for what it is: just an emotion. 

And move on. 

We always overestimate the negativity we’re set to receive when we say no. But you might be surprised. 

Maybe people will appreciate your honesty, and – actually – you might just gain a little respect for your clarity. 

Perhaps your amenity makes THEM feel bad – perhaps they feel awful for dumping everything on you all the time. Have you ever thought of that?

A few ways to say NO

If you’re wondering “why can’t I say no”, here are some ideas on approach:

  • “It sounds brilliant, but I’m sorry – I’m busy.”
  • “I just can’t take anything else on at the moment.”
  • “It sounds like a marvellous opportunity. Thank you, but I’m going to have to pass on this occasion.”
  • “Thanks for thinking of me. However, it’s not for me this time.”
  • “I’d love to. But I just don’t have the time, I’m afraid.”
  • “I can’t fit it in.”
  • “I just can’t help this time.”

Well, that’s easier said than done

Sure, we make it sound simple. And it is. 


Sometimes, we need a little extra support. 

Just saying no isn’t always going to address the issue – there are likely root causes for your passive behaviour and talking to a therapist might just help you manage the situations that are holding you back. 

Remember, you’re never alone. 

SupportRoom offers a wealth of supportive opportunities; from a friendly, qualified ear to approaches to relearning negative behaviours. 

If you feel stifled by your own amenity, don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

How SupportRoom can help

SupportRoom is a digital, behavioural healthcare company, connecting clients with a network of licenced therapists. 

Our web-based platform is easy to use and super-convenient – accessible on the web or our mobile-first platform. Our therapies and web-based services are fully HIPAA-compliant and offer 24/7 support from qualified therapists. 

Access our friendly, confidential services via text, video- or voice message at any time of the day or night; from anywhere with an internet connection. 

SupportRoom offers therapy where you need it; when you need it: realtime treatment from skilled, experienced, qualified therapists. 

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