Feeling unable to say “no” when you know you should is no way to live. People-pleasing is exhausting.

Your life doesn’t feel like your own if you’re too afraid to decline projects, invitations, or even other people’s responsibilities for fear of disappointing them or being otherwise unpleasant.

You do have the right to refuse whatever you wish. You may just need some help shoring up the courage to practice a bit.

How Do You Say “No” Like You Mean it and Ensure that You Follow Through?

Value your own opinion.

You know yourself best. Those making demands and requests think you like or want to take on what you’ve agreed to. Look inside. If you don’t want to do it, give yourself permission to not want to do it or to obligate yourself. Prioritize satisfaction with your choices, desires, and behavior.

Accept that “No” comes with some anxiety.

Incorporating refusal into your life will be a transition for you. It will feel unnatural and maybe even a little mean. You may be nervous and worry that others may not understand. All of that is normal. Just don’t give in to the idea of giving in. Stick to your “no.” The discomfort will lessen with practice.

Preempt undesirable situations.

Prepare to say no by giving thought to what you definitely do not want to do any longer. Then make that clear to those concerned.

Don’t want to go on long hikes with your sister-in-law? Let her know now that hiking isn’t for you. Then you won’t have to repeatedly feel forced to oblige for the sake of family relations. Do you hate Indian food? Share that with your generous coworker now. Then you won’t feel compelled to eat the leftovers she brings “just for you” out of politeness.

Simply clarifying what you do and do not want to do can lessen your anxiety considerably and build authentic relationships.

Now, How Do You Ensure Other People Believe Your “No” Means “No”?

Minimize explanations and apologies.

You aren’t doing something wrong. Saying “no” is perfectly okay, and you are well within your rights to ask that people go elsewhere to get their needs met. Sometimes you’re unavailable, sometimes you’re too tired, sometimes you just don’t want to say “yes.”

It is all up to you. Feel free to say no or “not this time” with a smile and a kind word or goodbye. Use tone and inflection to put a vocal period after your “no.” Nothing else is necessary and signals that you know your own mind. People will be less tempted to cajole you into changing your mind if they sense that your mind is made up.

Practice being assertive

Learning a more assertive communication style may be necessary. Confidently and convincingly saying “no” is often a function of being believably in charge.

Do you struggle with self-esteem issues, social discomfort, or just tend to let others drive your circumstances? You may want to consider time with a counselor. Individual therapy is a good way to develop an understanding of your current communication style and improve it with expert guidance. You can also obtain an objective perspective on your reluctance to say “no” in a safe place while working on your nonverbals, too.

Remember, Saying “No” isn’t Mean! You’re Simply Making Space for Yourself

To say “no” is an act of self-compassion for a people-pleaser and an act of self-care for someone who simply needs more downtime to be themselves.

Most of all, mutually satisfying, authentic relationships require the freedom to say “no”, “not now”, or even “never.” It’s a sign of respect and a desire for each other’s mental health and emotional safety. You never know, the space created by your “no” could open doors to something much more fulfilling for you down the line.

Take the first step…

If you are struggling with how to say “no” and be more assertive, I would like to help. Please contact me via phone or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Linda K. Laffey, MFT