How to Say No and Feel Good About It

By Michelle Farris, licensed psychotherapist and codependency expert.

Saying no is an important boundary in any relationship. In codependency recovery, saying no becomes a way to free yourself from obligation and worry. This one word gives you control of your time and energy. And yet, many people cannot allow themselves to say it. 

In dysfunctional families, saying no feels selfish, self-centered and mean. You may have learned that thinking of yourself first wasn’t acceptable, so you put the needs of others ahead of your own. 

As a result, relationships began to feel more like a series of obligations and favors that you can’t stop – because if you do, that voice inside your head tells you that you’re being selfish. 

But what if that was never true?

In this article you will learn how to say no and feel good about it by asking yourself 3 questions to help you say no to the people in your life.

You can still be a good friend and support them even when you are saying no.

Why does saying no feel so uncomfortable?

There are valid reasons why you feel afraid to say no in relationships. Let’s examine three common fears that get in the way of your ability to say no.

1. The fear of upsetting the other person:

This is a common fear that most people have when trying to set boundaries. You assume that you know what someone else is thinking, but you don’t. 

This was a valuable lesson when I started saying no. Most of the time, people didn’t react negatively at all. What’s interesting is that the people who love you want you to take care of yourself. Sometimes, when you take care of yourself, others may be disappointed in the moment, but it doesn’t last. If the other person acts like you are wrong for saying no, pay close attention. Not respecting the “no” is a MAJOR red flag in relationships. This indicates a lack of respect for you and the boundaries that you are trying to set. 

2. You think that saying no makes you a bad person:

Saying no is your right because it helps you to preserve your time and energy. You may worry that you will be perceived as mean or selfish but consider how many times you have heard a “no” from someone else and ask yourself: If it’s okay for others to say no, why isn’t it OK for you to say no? Don’t you deserve the same courtesy? 

Another reason you might not want to say no is that you want to help people, but there are other ways to help. When people struggle with codependency, they assume that the only way to help is to say yes and do exactly what’s being asked of them. 

Here are a few healthy alternatives. Look for other ways to show support that don’t require much time. For instance, offer to do less or brainstorm alternative solutions. Consider listening and validating their feelings. Being a supportive person doesn’t always require saying yes.

3. You’re afraid that if you say no, they won’t love you anymore:

If the other person reacts abusively because you’ve said no, the relationship is likely toxic. In toxic relationships, boundaries feel like a threat. These people often gaslight their partners to get their way. Making you feel like it’s your fault is part of their strategy for wanting something different. 

But it’s okay to want something different.

So, why should you consider saying no?

Saying no does not intentionally hurt you or your relationships. In fact, it contributes to feeling less overwhelmed and anxious. When you can’t control your time, you wind up running on empty and not enjoying life.

When you can’t say no, it becomes increasingly difficult to be authentic in relationships because you’re not being honest. As a result, your truth will leak out in unhealthy ways. You may start to feel resentful and, out of the blue, say something sarcastic. 

Eventually, you may even try to avoid the person when they call. 

Not being able to say no can show up as passive-aggressive behavior in your relationships. For instance, when I used to say yes (but meant no) I felt like I had no choice. I pretended everything was fine, but I couldn’t keep those feelings hidden so I’d end up saying something hurtful. 

Feeling like you have no choice is an old belief that can be changed!  

What Saying No Does for Your Relationships: 

A healthy relationship consists of two people respecting each other’s boundaries. Saying no gives you the power to advocate for yourself rather than assuming that you have no right to ask for anything.  

Think about all the people in your life that love you. If they want the best for you, they will support you in taking care of yourself which is what saying no will do for you. 

How to Say No Politely:

When you say no, keep it short. Don’t over explain. An easy way to avoid this is to write something up ahead of time so you’re prepared. This will make it easier to avoid having to justify yourself. Also, use a friendly tone of voice to deliver the message in a lighthearted way.

Saying no politely is a way to honor your own boundaries. It’s also a way to be helpful without giving in. While some of these suggestions may sound like you are putting them off, that’s not the intention. These statements are meant to give you time to think, instead of feeling compelled to say yes in the moment. 

Here are some simple ways to respond when you want to say no.

1.  Let me think about that. Here’s what I can do. 

2.  Can I get back to you?  That doesn’t work for me.

3.  I appreciate your asking, but I won’t be able to do that. 

4.  Oh, I wish I could help you!  

5. Let me help you find another solution.

Final thoughts:

By allowing yourself to say no, you will notice two immediate benefits. You’ll get more time and energy back for the things you really want to do. Second, you will see which relationships are healthy and deserve your attention. Honoring your own limits sets the tone for how others will treat you. Why not start now?

Learn more about Michelle and grab her free journal prompts for codependency, self-care and setting boundaries:

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