Self Care

Why Learning to Say No is Crucial for Your Happiness and Self-Esteem

Posted on 19th Dec 2018 by

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“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious.  You get to choose how you use it.  You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept.”
Anna Taylor  




Do you struggle to say no to people? Are you feeling like you are stuck in a habit of trying to please everyone around you? When you do say no, do you end up falling into a pit of guilt?


Saying no can be tough, some people really struggle with it. It is very often linked with anxiety and low self-esteem.


Being able to decline an invitation, refuse a task and change your mind is a skill you need for this life – well it is needed if you intend to be happy.


Pleasing everyone and doing everything is just not possible. Other people cannot cope with saying yes to everything and neither can you.


If you are in the habit of saying yes, don’t beat yourself up, the fact you have acknowledged this is great, it means you can do something about it. And do not fret, saying no will not turn you into some unhelpful, selfish monster.



Why don’t people like saying no?


It is a human need to belong and fit in. Belonging gives you a sense of identity and makes you feel safe.


We have a constant desire to be accepted by those around us, especially friends and the people we look up to.


That all sounds pretty fair… I mean, who doesn’t want to be liked?


It can come at a huge price when you think the only way to be liked is to never, ever rock the boat. To be agreeable, passive and say yes to everyone and everything. All in a bid to avoid conflict, judgements and anyone thinking bad of you.


The few times you do find the courage to say no, you become fixated on it and feel an unreasonable amount of guilt and worry. You might even change your mind and say yes again, just to reduce the chances of not being good enough.



Why it IS OK to say no


Everyone has the right so say no. Because EVERYONE has the right to look after their own well-being. In fact everyone HAS to look after their own well-being, no one else is going to do it for you.


It doesn’t take a genius to work out why we have to say no (sometimes!!). However, here are four (of many) simple reasons why it is perfectly acceptable to say no:


  1. If you say yes to everything, you will end up stressed, anxious and no fun anyway.
  2. You won’t be able to do a good job of one thing. You are doing so many half-hearted jobs rather than a few REALLY good ones.
  3. Other people respect you more when you can say no, they wish they had your courage. I mean that – it’s admirable when people are able to say no in a kind, healthy, assertive way.
  4. You will be happier. You will say yes to the things that are important to you, you will be available to help when actually needed and you won’t have so much on your shoulders, which all equals, happiness.


Also it’s OK (yup – a fifth point for good measure) because this is life; it’s some kind of wonderful, strange, unique experience. You don’t know how long you are here and you absolutely deserve to be able to say no when you don’t want to do something.



What about the guilt?


Saying no comes with guilt because you are so hard on yourself about it. You will criticise yourself for not being good enough to juggle it all and for letting people down. The way you talk to yourself is what makes you feel guilty.


You are a good person and it’s not nice saying no. In an ideal world we would say yes to everything and feel wonderful. This isn’t an ideal world, saying yes to everything does not feel wonderful.


I would like to tell you to just say no and forget about it, no need to feel bad. But I can’t even do that myself. Let’s say we are saying no to something we wish we were able to do, like helping your colleague out with a project because you can see they are struggling. The problem is, you are struggling to cope yourself. On this occasion you can’t take it on, so you say no. Yes you feel bad for your colleague, yes you consider other ways you can help, yes you worry your colleague thinks you are selfish. You are going to feel some guilt for saying no – but please know, you do not have to and you do not have to go over and over it.


Saying no means having to let some people down. Remember the same goes for the person you are letting down, they need to let people down from time to time too.


Let go of some of the guilt by looking at your intentions. You are not doing this to be a bad person (are you?), you need to look after yourself too. Have more faith in the person you are trying to please, they will cope.


Initially, the guilt, worry and anxiety may feel intolerable. The more you practice this, the stronger you will become.


Guilt is an emotion, it comes and goes. You won’t feel the guilt forever; remember that.



The problem with always saying yes


The demand on us increases when we take on too much.


Stress is what we experience when the demand on us gets too much.


Saying yes to everything = Stress.


Too much stress leads to anxiety, depression and being run down. Contrary to how today’s society seems to function, you are not designed to be in a state of stress all the time.


Seth Godwin

Just saying yes because you can't bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work


When you take on too much you will not feel at ease, you will not show up to the important things in life, your relationships will suffer and you are wasting the opportunity to feel happy, to feel good and to live your life.


But isn’t saying yes the good, kind thing to do?


No one is saying you have to say no to everything. Sometimes if you really want to push yourself you can say yes, if it is for a short amount of time and something you can handle. Perhaps you need to prove yourself for that promotion, or perhaps the person you love is struggling more than you and needs a shoulder.


Being kind is good for you. Sometimes saying yes is the kind thing to do. HOWEVER, helping others will lead to resentment and is not going to make you feel good if it causes you stress and overwhelm.



What will other people think?


“What other people think of you is none of your business” – unknown


Part of me doesn’t even want to entertain this idea; however, it is such a huge part of why you say yes, we have to cover it.


Let’s talk about the people who do actually care when you say no.


People don’t really like change, especially if the old way suited them.


They may be fearful of your change, what if you become so strong you don’t need them anymore?


What if they have to start doing the things you used to do?


You might even find, in order to stop this change in you, they will touch on your sore spots and tell you they don’t like this new you, “you’re so cold”, “you only care about yourself”. All the things that scare you most, they will point it out.


Some people will look at you and wish they could say no the way you do. You know that feeling, don’t you?


Some people won’t care.


Sometimes, people might be temporarily annoyed and wish you were able to attend their house warming. If it is a good, healthy friendship, they will get over it pretty quickly.


Everyone is allowed to say no, you will also have to be ok if people say no to you too. Everyone should just be able to say no to things they don’t want to do, because everyone deserves to be happy.



When it seems like everyone around you can cope with everything


If you are comparing yourself, and someone is doing much more than you. Well, they might be able to handle more stress than you (we can all handle different amounts of stress, that’s just the way it is).


OR they are struggling too and also pretending to cope. Just because they choose to struggle, doesn’t mean you should too. Actually we need people to stand up and be honest. We need to share that saying no is part of a healthy lifestyle, just like eating your greens.



When to say yes and when to say no


I have to be honest, saying no isn’t something I have struggled with. I seem to have developed that skill naturally, I’m not sure why or how. I do tend to have quite a direct nature. I’m sure there have been times I’ve annoyed people with that, but that’s not to mean I don’t say yes. I say yes a lot. I just don’t feel the need to do anything I really don’t want to or that is going to cause me stress and upset.


I have a good balance, people will still ask me to do things because they know I will say yes if I can do it. I’m not known for this skill. I guess people would only notice if you always said yes or you always said no. A balance – people just get it, I think.


I’m mindful of how I feel, I don’t allow myself to be taken advantage of and I am conscious of my intentions in life. A combination of these things means I know when to say yes or no, and I am quite aware of whether the guilt is justifiable or not.


So ask yourself WHY you do or don’t want to do this. Are your intentions good? No one can ask for more than good, kind intentions.



How to start saying no


This is new to you, so it won’t happen overnight.


Sometimes you will get your approach wrong. When you start out you might be aggressive when you don’t mean to be. You might feel quite defensive, especially as other people don’t like this new you. You might think you should go back to your old ways.


Stick with it, find a way that works for you. You don’t have to be mean. You don’t have to be cold. Just be true to who you are. Other people will catch up.


Expect to feel uncomfortable, you will need to tolerate some anxiety and guilt, especially at the beginning. Go with it, it’s just part of the process.


Start small. It can be useful to start out where there is less fear. Perhaps say no to someone that it feels a bit easier with. For example, you might find it easier to say no to your partner than your best friend.



Ways to say no


Here is a short guide of different ways to say no. I’m not actually sure who came up with this but I use it regularly with clients and people seem to find it really useful:



Only go with the solution that suits you, there is no point offering an alternative if that too will add to the problem.


So…just to reiterate, it is not easy to say no. You are not on your own. Saying no is not mean, it does not make you a bad person. It is just something we all have to do from time to time.


Saying no is a key component for happiness and it is a sure fire way to show yourself the love and respect you deserve. The relationship you have with yourself deserves the same attention and focus you show everyone else, and sometimes that means saying no.


Click HERE to join my Facebook Group for support, inspiration and tools on how to love yourself and live a Happier life.


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Carly Ann xx


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