A guide for people pleasers: How to make saying no easier

The word 'no' is tiny, so why does it so often feel overwhelmingly impossible to say?


It's about boundaries

Our ability to set a boundary - or to be on the receiving end of one - may come from a belief we're not even aware of. It might be tapping into experiences from when you were a child. You may feel that you aren't good enough, or fear you'll be rejected if you say no. You worry that other people will think you're not a good person (when being your true self with healthy limits) and that you'll lose them. 

We need to be able to speak up for what we need. Constantly putting all your energy into worrying you're letting other people down and that they’ll somehow think less of us is exhausting and gets us nowhere.

Weak boundaries can feel like: 

  • You’re giving a lot and not getting much back.
  • You’re exhausted, tired, burned out.
  • Feeling misunderstood or unheard.
  • Feeling taken advantage of.

Humans are social beings. We worry that by saying no, we’re upsetting people. We have a fear of missing out (FOMO) and we often want to be doing what it feels like everyone else is doing. Decision-making is hard, so it feels easier to say 'yes'.

So no wonder saying 'no' is so difficult.

You want to say yes, not necessarily because you want to say yes, but because it feels rude to say no. The problem with being a people-pleaser is the only person you aren’t pleasing, is yourself. It’s time to start putting yourself back in the central position in your life.

Remind yourself that you are not powerless anymore. Use your voice and exercise your boundary muscle. And if someone gets angry that you’ve said no, it doesn’t mean that you should have said yes.

Have some ‘go-to no’ phrases you can use

Starting with 'thanks' can make it feel easier. Such as:

  • ‘Thanks for thinking of me… but I won’t be able to come.'
  • ‘Thank you, that sounds lovely, but I won’t be able to… maybe next time.'
  • 'Thank you. Let me think about that and get back to you...' (This buys you some more time, so can be handy in you understanding how you really feel).

Or how about a simple, 'No, thanks'?

Boundaries are good for you and the people around you. No doesn’t mean rejection, it just means ‘not now’. It reflects your current situation, not how you feel about them.

Keep practising!

Boundaries can be hard to set, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. And if things don’t go as you might have wanted them to, then that’s OK too. Taking one step at a time is often all it takes to feel unstuck.

If people aren’t used to you saying no, that’s OK too. They’ll get used to it.

When you feel like you want to say no but don’t speak up, consider this a chance to learn. What might you do differently? Were you wanting to just say no but it felt too overwhelming? Practice in your mind what you would say differently if you could turn back the time. Don’t beat yourself up!

The thing is, saying yes can come at a cost to you if you don’t want to.

It may be you’re stuck in a pattern of avoiding your feelings and needs. And the result of this can be a cost to your mental health and wellbeing. You can feel stuck in the moment and it might be easier in the short term to say yes.

Think of some of the consequences of saying yes to something you don’t want to do… Will this lead to me feeling resentful, angry, anxious? Or that the other person now ‘owes’ me. Will it make it more difficult for me when this person next says no to me? How will saying yes when I’d rather say no, impact the other person and our relationship? Is it really worth it?

If you see saying no as a way to help to strengthen your relationship, it might make it easier to do. It also means the things you do say yes to you’re likely to enjoy – quality over quantity - which will help us feel calmer, happier and better able to engage and be present with people. This means, that it’s easier to really be there when our loved ones need us to be there for them.

Think of being able to say no as your superpower!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25
Written by Jennifer Warwick, MSc Psych, BACP Registered | Counsellor and Parenting Expert
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25

I can help you form and manage healthy, positive relationships with the people
who are important to you and allow you to get on with your life.
Contact me today for a free chat by phone to start your journey.
I am a BACP registered counsellor working online via Zoom.

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