Why Saying ‘No’ is so Hard

By Psychologist & EPC Director, Paula Lorimer

Do you find it hard to say ‘no’ or get angry when you end up doing things you don’t really want to? Do you find yourself overcommitted in both your work and social life by saying ‘yes’ to too many things? Why is it so hard to say ‘no’?

There are several reasons we have difficulty saying ‘no’ at work, home, or in social situations. It can be emotions based, such as a fear of hurting someone else’s feelings or letting them down in some way. Other times it’s to avoid feelings of guilt or potentially angry reactions from others. Saying ‘yes’ to too many things can be a sign of poor time management by not realizing our calendar is already overcommitted or recognizing how many ‘yes’s’ we’ve already agreed to. Saying ‘no’ can also be difficult if we don’t know how to be assertive, which is the ability to negotiate our needs as well as others needs.

Avoiding Feelings

Saying ‘yes’ when you really want to say ‘no’ may avoid guilt in the short run, however it creates resentment in the long run. The possible guilt of hurting someone’s feelings or letting them down is avoided yet the build up of resentment begins. Guilt is like a fire, it burns quick and intensely. Resentment on the other hand is the burning embers. It burns much slower and continues long after the fire has died down. Resentment is a poison only you swallow. At the crossroads of guilt (saying ‘no’) and resentment (saying ‘yes’) – choose guilt. With practice it will pass sooner and you won’t end up taking on a bunch of commitments you would truly rather not. You also won’t carry resentment.

Avoiding saying ‘no’ to spare another’s feelings is in vain. Others are entitled to their emotional reaction, whether angry, disappointed, or hurt and try as you might you can’t actually control their feelings. Aren’t you disappointed when you hear ‘no?’ So am I! That’s a normal reaction and people can deal with their feelings. Let them.

Time Management

Saying ‘no’ is a time management strategy. We all have limited time and resources, so we need to prioritize and select what we will actually agree to and be able to complete. Saying ‘yes’ to each project, task, and social event will lead to an over booked calendar. It will also lead to poorly completed, late, or unfinished work. It is impossible to say ‘yes’ to everything and get it all done on time, and well. Trying to attend every social event will spread you too thin and likely result in fatigue and a lack of enjoyment at the event.

Check your calendar before agreeing to something. Look at the whole week or several weeks to ensure you have enough time to get everything done and some time for yourself. Prioritize your needs in your calendar as well. If you don’t put yourself on your list, you can be sure nobody else will either.

old school alarm clock. time for me.

Assertiveness is a skill (which can be learned at any age), which recognizes your rights, wishes, and desires as well as respecting the same in others. This is not the same as aggression, which is only about one’s needs, or passivity, which is swallowing your own needs. Assertiveness considers both. Your needs are a priority among other priorities, including other people. Saying ‘no’ is a form of assertiveness as it respects your rights and needs without trampling the rights and needs of others. It doesn’t mean the person hearing ‘no’ will like it, rather that their needs were considered and so were yours.

Saying ‘no’ gets easier with practice, and in time you will see how it can greatly benefit your well being. To your health and wellness.