Sorry, I can’t go out tonight.
Aww, you sure?
Laura stares at her phone when the new message comes in. She wonders if she should go anyway — even after her 10-hour shift at work.
She’s exhausted, but she hasn’t seen her friends in a while and she doesn’t want them to feel like she doesn’t want to see them. But even the thought of going back out is making her cringe.
Yeah, sorry, not tonight.
She responds and collapses face down into her bed, still feeling guilty about not going out.
Like Laura, here, a lot of us feel guilty when we say no to people — especially the people we care about. Whether that is saying no to hanging out with friends after a long day of work, taking on more responsibilities or hours at work, or to someone who needs help, saying “no” for a lot of people brings up tremendous feelings of guilt.
Why is this?
The simple answer is because we care.
Let’s look at this a different way. Imagine someone you just met asks you if you want to go out for a drink and you have no interest in doing that so you say “no” and move on with your evening. But why doesn’t that “no” make you feel guilty?
Well, imagine that the person who asked you out for a drink was an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. There, that’s where the “no” guilt starts to creep in. It is because you care about the person you are saying “no” to.
But you can’t always say “yes” to everything. No one has the time, energy, or ability to do everything they are asked. Sometimes you have to decline something — even if it is for someone you love, and even if it makes you feel guilty.
This is where boundaries come into play. While it can be scary to set boundaries and make you feel like you’re closing part of yourself off to the people you love, in reality, boundaries help us to be more open and honest with ourselves and others.
Without healthy boundaries, we may feel pressured to accept any new tasks, work, or obligations coming in and because of that overexert ourselves. This can lead to us even becoming resentful of certain relationships because of all of the obligations we take on from them.
And in the long run, this lack of healthy boundaries can hurt not only ourselves but also our relationships.
But, setting boundaries is just one part of reducing the guilt of saying “no.” The other is becoming comfortable with telling people when you can’t do something.
Tips for Saying “No”
Saying “no” is difficult for a lot of people. And like all things, you’re not gonna get any better at it unless you practice. The more you practice, the less “no” guilt will haunt you when you can’t do something.
Without further ado, here are a few tips for saying “no.”
If you know right away that you’re not going to do what someone has asked you to do, say “no” right then.
Waiting just gives the person false hope that you are going to do what they asked, which could make you feel even more guilty when you decline.
Offer an Alternative
Alternatives allow you to still provide some help while not committing to the task that someone wants you to do.
For example, if someone asks you to help them move around some furniture but you just got off of work and you’re exhausted, you could say “no” but offer to help them over the weekend when your feet aren’t so sore.
Being empathetic doesn’t mean being guilty about declining something. The goal is not to make yourself feel bad about not helping, but to show the other person that you have really heard and understood their request and you’re not just saying “no” without hearing them.
For example, “I know you are working so hard planning this party, and I would love to be of more help, but I just can’t right now.”
This could be something external or something internal. Something external could be your schedule, workload, or something else that is out of your control.
Something internal, on the other hand, would be something individual to you. For example, when someone asks me to go skating or skiing I say “I’m gonna have to pass, me and snow sports don’t get along — I’ve broken too many bones that way.”
Be a Broken Record
Giving the same answer over and over again may get boring, but it will get your point across. This is especially useful if someone is continuing to try and push you to do something even after you’ve declined.
Making (and sticking to) boundaries and becoming comfortable with telling people “no” can be incredibly difficult — especially if you’ve spent so long being the person who would answer the phone at 3 AM for any issue. But the reality is that we need boundaries to keep our relationships healthy.
Whether you are working on setting up any new and much-needed boundaries, saying no to the people you love when you just can’t take on any more responsibilities, or wanting support in coping with “no” guilt, you do not have to do it alone. We at Love Heal Grow are here to support you through this process. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to talk to a therapist or even just ask some questions!