Personal Development,  Strong Mind

How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Are you struggling to say no? Does it make you feel guilty? Read along to find out how to say no without feeling guilty.

Saying no: it sounds so simple, but in reality it can be such a struggle to actually do it.

You want to say no and you try your best to come up with a reason for it, but your mind comes up blank. And so you end up saying yes to something you don’t want to do or to someone you don’t want to spend time with. Afterwards you can’t help but wonder: ‘Why did I say yes?’

Aaah, it’s frustrating right? I know perfectly well how it feels. And I also know that sometimes it feels like you don’t really have any other option than to say yes.

But the real reason why it feels like we don’t have another option and why we have a hard time saying no, is because we don’t want to feel guilty, selfish or unkind. And we definitely don’t want to hurt or disappoint someone else. We want to avoid those feelings and the easiest way to do that is by saying yes.

Most of the times, it’s easier to say yes to something we really don’t want to do in order to avoid those feelings, then to say no and deal with the guilt.

Worry no more!

I’ve put together my best advice for you to help you say no without feeling guilty about it. Let’s get into it!

Why it’s so important to say no

If saying no is hard for you, you may be taking on more than you can handle. You might feel stressed, overwhelmed and have low levels of energy from saying yes all the time.

The thing is that saying yes to other people, usually goes at the cost of time for yourself. Saying no to someone else, means more time and energy that you can spend on other things that are important to you. To do the things you’re passionate about, to follow your goals and dreams and, most importantly, to recharge. Especially as an introvert, having time for yourself is necessary to keep your battery full, and saying no is one way to do it.

Saying no is a gift to yourself and a way to show yourself some love. And no, you don’t have to feel guilty about that.

You deserve it!

1. Delay Your Response

When someone asks you to hang out, to help them with something or to go somewhere, you might feel the pressure to respond to their request immediately. You say yes in the moment, even though you don’t want to.

And when you’ve already said yes, it’s even harder to say no later on when you’ve had time to think about it. Chances are that you will feel guiltier too.

To prevent that, give yourself some time to think about it and to consider whether you really want to do it or not. Tell the other person that you need to check your calendar first and that you’ll get back to them. Or that you’ll think about it.

It takes off the pressure to respond and gives you some space to feel what you need and want.

2. Think About What it Is Costing You

When we want to say no to someone, we often only think about how it affects the other person:

  • ”If I say no, she’ll need to find someone else to help her or do it all alone. Or perhaps she can’t do it at all.”
  • How will it make her feel when I say no? Angry? Mad? Hurt? Disappointed?

There are so many thoughts that might cross your mind, which can cause a wave of guilt. And that makes it even harder to say no. But so often we forget to look at it from the other side. What is it costing YOU when you say yes? How is it affecting you? What are you giving up?

When you say yes to someone, you’re putting in your valuable time and energy. Asking yourself what saying yes is costing you, helps you think about how much of your time and energy you are ‘giving away’ and what the consequences are for you. It also lets you see how you would personally benefit from having that time that you would otherwise give away.

For example, when you say yes to help your friend out on the weekend, you won’t be able to get your household chores done. That will give you more stress next week. Or when you say yes to go for a drink with a friend on a Wednesday evening, you don’t have time for yourself to recharge from a busy day at work. As a result, you’ll be more tired or have less energy tomorrow.

See how it works?

Asking yourself what it is costing you, helps to put things into perspective and to feel less guilty about saying no to someone or something.


3. Get Clear on Your Needs and Priorities

We feel guilty when we don’t do something when we think we should have done it, or conversely, when we do something when we think we shouldn’t have done it. That’s because our actions are not aligned with our feelings.

As a recovering people pleaser, I used to say yes to almost anything and anyone. I was acting on what I thought people expected of me or how I thought they were going to feel. Saying no was difficult for me, because that didn’t align with what I thought I should do.

But deep down I also had this gut feeling that was telling me what to do. A lot of times, I was quick to say yes, even though my gut feeling was telling me to say no.

Your gut feeling is essentially a reflection of your true feelings and needs. But I didn’t listen to it and waved it away because other people’s feelings and needs mattered more to me than my own.

When I started to pay more attention to my gut feeling and got clear on my needs and priorities, it gave strength to my inner voice. I started to see what I truly wanted and needed. It became easier to stand up for my wants and needs and to say no to things that didn’t align with that without feeling guilty about it.

So what I’m trying to say is that, once you start to listen to your gut feeling and get clear on your needs and priorities, it’s easier to say no (or yes) to something because your answer is in alignment with what you want and need. That’s when you can say yes to something with confidence, because you mean it and feel less guilty as a result.

4. You Don’t Need to Explain Yourself

You might panic or feel guilty when you want to say no to someone’s request, but don’t have a good reason to do so. Or perhaps you do have a good reason, but you don’t want to tell the other person that you’d rather cuddle up on the couch under a blanket with a book than to hang out with them (yup, introvert problems).

And that’s perfectly fine. You don’t need a good reason to say no. And you certainly don’t have to feel guilty about not having a good reason.

When you don’t have a good reason to say no and you feel like you need to explain yourself, you might try to come up with an excuse. I’ve been in this situation many times before where I wanted to say no to something because I needed time for myself to recharge, but I felt too ashamed about it. I didn’t feel like it was a good enough reason to say no, and so I made up an excuse.

But excuses usually only make things worse. You’ll feel guiltier about saying no, because now you said no AND made up an excuse for it.

Honestly, just a simple ‘No, I can’t’  will do when you want to say no to something. You don’t have to explain yourself, make up excuses or feel bad about saying no without having a good reason for it.

5. Sometimes Being Honest Can Help

I’ve noticed that sometimes, especially with very close friends, it’s hard to just say ‘No, I can’t’ without giving a reason. So instead of making up an excuse, I try to be honest about why I’m saying no.

I’ve found that people I’m closest with actually appreciate it when I’m open and honest about it and that their responses are generally positive.

Being honest creates connection and also opens a door for the other person to let their guard down and open up to you when they don’t feel like going somewhere or doing something with you. And by giving them the reason, they’ll know that it’s not because of them that you said no.

If they’re true friends, they’ll understand and accept it.


6. Explore the Guilt

Still feel guilty about saying no?

Don’t ignore that feeling. Explore where it is coming from and be curious why you feel that way. Then ask yourself if it is something that you should feel guilty for or not.

You might, for instance, feel guilty about saying no to someone because you know or feel that the other person has certain expectations of you and will be disappointed or hurt if you don’t say yes. But is this something you should feel guilty for?

Even though this person might have expectations of you, it’s not your responsibility to make sure they are met.

You don’t have to say yes, you can CHOOSE to say yes. If you don’t, it’s their responsibility to deal with the feelings they have about that. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about it.

So, asking yourself if you should feel guilty about it or not, helps you to see the situation for what it is, so that you can let those (unnecessary!) feelings of guilt go.

Just one more thing…

Hopefully, I’ve made it a little bit easier for you to say no without feeling guilty.

As with a lot of things, saying no is difficult at first, but it will get better and easier with practice. Especially in the beginning, you might still feel guilty when saying no to someone, but that’s because you’re not used to it. Don’t let that discourage you.

Just feel the guilt and say no anyway!

How to say no without feeling guilty

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