Do you have trouble saying “no”?

I do, and I am not alone in this. I was talking to a friend the other day about this issue and she told me, “saying no to them was like a knife in my gut!”. Why do some people have such an issue with a tiny two letter, one syllable word?

You can call it the “disease to please”, people pleasing personality or full-blown codependency or “interconnected”.  Not being able to say no can come at great personal expense. Have you ever found yourself up at 2 AM writing someone else’s assignment? Making cupcakes for a party you were not even invited to? Packing for someone who needs to be at the airport at 6 AM? Come on! Let’s be honest here!

When you say “yes” to everyone and everything presented to you, your life gets off track. You become like that the little train on the stump. Stuck and going nowhere fast…

Why don’t you ( or I) exercise our right to say “no”? For me it boiled down to fear. I was afraid to say “no” because, 1. I didn’t want to make anyone angry with me 2. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone.  3. I love fixing things and if I take on your problem I will be your hero, right?

Well that may be true, but most of the time I felt more like a doormat than a hero. I felt like a train off my tracks and out of control.

Being up at 2 am doing someone’s else’s project did not one thing for my own self esteem, my need to rest. I often felt resentful and angry that I was doing something I did not want to do and in many cases should not have been doing.

As a codependent, saying “yes” immediately was an anxiety reducing behavior. I got a little satisfaction from playing “girl Friday” and fixing other’s problems, but that immediate relief was short-lived. I had no boundaries. What is a boundary? The dictionary defines a boundary as “something that set limits”.

Now in 2017, let’s get very real and very honest There are limits to what you can do.

Your time and your health are your two most valuable possessions. Spend them wisely. Survival is not selfish.

You must make good decisions with your time to make it to your own finish line. So you must know and respect your own personal limits and have a boundary line around your time.  Take a deep breath and think of the last time you flew on an airplane. The safety speech from the flight crew, even if you have never paid attention to what they are saying you could not miss the little oxygen mask part. If that thing pops out you put yours on FIRST, before you help anyone else. Even a child…

So as a codependent, people pleaser, whatever your label is, how do you say “no” without the crippling fear, anxiety and guilt?

It just takes practice and knowledge about what is really going on. Do you say “yes” out of fear? Are you afraid of the anger of someone being told “no”? Why are you afraid of their anger? Why are they angry at hearing a tiny two letter word, really? Give yourself some time to think this through. Do you always say “yes” out of guilt? Why does saying “no” make you feel guilty? Sit down with a journal and write out answers to these questions and give this some serious thought.

There is a Chinese proverb: “Give a hungry man a fish you feed him today. Teach a hungry man to fish you feed him for life.” Think about what you are doing. Do you have teenagers who can’t work a washing machine? Who is going to wash clothes for them when they go to college? Do they have a clue that this is a lifelong chore that needs to get done so school and work clothes are ready for the week ahead? This is a reality of life, so while it may make YOU feel good to take such wonderful care of your little darlings are you really helping them?

My first successful boundary was in the laundry room. When I went from being a stay at home mom to working two jobs post divorce I did not have the time or the energy to do all that extra laundry. I showed my kids how to use both machines, got them each a basket and that was that. Everyone was responsible for their own laundry. My kids resisted this, they had  never thought about clean clothes, how clothes get clean or folded and returned to their closet.  I held my ground, and had to hold my nose a couple of times, but everyone takes care of their own laundry now. It’s a wonderful thing!

Back to our little nemesis, NO. If just reading that word, saying it, is causing your heart rate to rise and your stomach to tie up in knots, let’s say in 2017 we are going to say YES to LESS! There! We can DO THIS!

I have noticed that back in my no boundaries days I would get attacked. I’m serious, I had one friend who would drop her kids off on my doorstep and be in her car pulling out yelling out the window what time she was going to pick them up when I opened the door! Or you are in the carpool line and “We need 6 dozen cookies for home room tomorrow, I appreciate it.” You’re in the parking lot at work and someone runs up to you and breathlessly says, “Hey! I need you to cover my shift at___”.

I call this the ambush ask.

But you can still say no. You are never backed into a corner until you agree to do something.

Take a deep breath and say, “Hang on, I need to check my schedule before I agree to that and I will get back to you with an answer.” Then do check and get back to them with an answer. If someone gets angry with you for making them wait until you can check your schedule is that someone you want to give your valuable time to? Think about that…

So when ambushed like this, take a breath and give yourself time. Put your hand up if you have to.  Once you do this a few time the ambushers will likely stop this approach.

If you are asked to do something you already know you cannot do but you feel guilty for saying “no”, and you are about to cave in, shift the focus. State, “I would like to help but I already have a commitment at that time to kids activity, work, spouse…” whatever, take the focus off of you saying “no”.

Or you can say no with a compliment, “I am so pleased you thought of me for this project. I am flattered but I already have plans for that weekend.”

If a person is insistent that they need you for this project, and you will run into this from people who are accustomed to you always saying “yes”– offer an alternative. State, “I cannot help on that date but if you still need help on ___ I could pitch in then.”  OR “Is there something I could do that does not include___?”

Please in 2017 let’s resolve to respect ourselves. Respect our limits and set boundaries that ensure our emotional integrity. Don’t allow yourself to be backed into a corner. Do not be afraid of a two letter word or the person who needs to hear it. You can say “no”! Start small and practice. In time saying no will be as easy as saying yes, then you can say yes without guilt or resentment. In time you can say yes to things you truly want to do and can give 100% of your best to.

Let’s get our train off the stump and back on track!

Remember the oxygen mask? Put yours on first because if you pass out NO ONE is left! One more time: Survival is NOT Selfish!

2017 has a motto: Say YES to LESS!





Alana is a nurse with 26 years of experience in caregiving. She is also a copywriter, copyeditor and creative writer who believes our words should always inspire, encourage and delight. Visit her online at

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