According to Manuel J. Smith’s book “When I say No I feel Guilty”, saying ‘no’ is a basic human right and one that should be relatively straightforward.

Unfortunately, however, many women, and particularly mothers, find themselves saying ‘yes’ to things they don’t really want to do.

This can lead to feelings of resentment and anger toward those close to them and a build-up of stress that can be exhausting.

For some this need to say ‘yes’ may stem from what is known as unassertive thinking and beliefs about what it means to say ‘no’.

Examples of unassertive thinking include statements like:

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  •  People will think I’m unkind, uncaring and selfish if I say no.
  •  The other person will be upset, hurt and feel rejected if I say no.
  •  If I say no to somebody they won’t like me anymore.
  •  My needs aren’t as important as other’s needs.

Recognising these types of underlying beliefs is the first step to more effectively saying no.

It is crucial to understand that these beliefs exist within yourself in order to change them.

The second step is to acknowledge that these statements are not truisms or facts – only opinions. You have the right to acknowledge these opinions within yourself and also modify them.

Here are some suggestions for more helpful ways of thinking about saying no:

  • It is the right of others to make a request of me and my right to say no.
  • Other people are resilient and can handle being told no. I trust that they can cope. It is not my responsibility to shield other adults from disappointment at a high cost to myself.
  • I am saying no to a request not rejecting the entire person. It doesn’t change my feelings toward them.

In taking on more helpful ways of thinking about saying ‘no’ it may also become easier to hear ‘no’ from others in return.

For example, if a friend said no to going to the movies with you, you could handle the situation thinking:

  • It was my right to ask her to the movies, and hers to say no.
  • I will ultimately cope with her saying no even though I feel disappointed now.
  • She is saying no to going to the movies not telling me she doesn’t want to be my friend.

Saying and hearing no doesn’t have to be a complicated and layered situation with personal meaning that gets subjected to extended analysis.

By recognising unassertive beliefs and replacing them with more helpful statements that are de-personalised, saying no can become the relatively straightforward activity it should be.

Do you find it difficult to say no, have you tried to handle situations differently? Why not share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • My husband gets annoyed because I never can say no. I guess I just don’t want to disappoint people.


  • Sometimes is incredible difficult to say “no”!.But we all learn , do we ?


  • I can’t say NO to anyone. I will always put others first and miss out on things myself because I can’t say no.


  • sounds awesome and looks great


  • I cant say no to others! this is an incredibly well written article…thanks for sharing


  • I always find it difficult to say most recently i have had a friend living with me because he got kicked out of his girlfriends place and was living in his car but after 3 months he did not help with rent all bills or food and yesterday i had to politely ask him to leave. I am now recognising more when people take advantage of me and it was getting too much .. Thanx, beautifully written article.


  • well i am a sucker when it comes to saying no to my family!


  • I can say no to other people but if my sons ask I have great difficulty saying no even when I put myself at a disadvantage.


  • I hate saying No, but I hate resenting people or situations because I said Yes when I really wanted to said no…. I’m still practicing


  • Yep, I am totally like this.


  • I think I’m getting better at being kinder to myself and saying yes or no when it best suits me. This takes time and confidence in my friendships/relationships, too. I’ve learnt (and am still learning), not to overload myself. It doesn’t make for a happy family/happy life.


  • It is hard to say no, even though we all know we need to sometimes.


  • I was asked to change a shift at work the other day and after working 7 days straight i didnt want to do the shift they asked that i change to so i said no…….well worst thing i ever did, i was told i was selfish and needed to think about others and not myself, people can be nasty so i think thats why most times we say yes. feeling sad !(

    • That is very sad :( I’m sorry to hear that. Try to remember that their reaction was most likely one based in stress – they were trying to get themselves out of a bind by trying to make you feel guilty! That is aggressive behaviour as they really didn’t respect your right to say no. Unfortunately this is very common in high pressure workplaces and shouldn’t be acceptable. I would go as far as saying that repeated behaviour like that from them is workplace bullying. Don’t get down on yourself about this!

      • You poor thing. It sounds like they think you are an energiser battery or something! Everyone needs time to rest – especially after 7 days! It is definitely very overt bullying. Don’t feel one bit guilty. It’s great that you drew the line in the sand, otherwise people will just keep pushing you until breaking point for their own gain. It is sad, but unfortunately this kind of bullying over shifts etc is all to common in the work place. Some people take on the passive aggressive stance, which can be just as bad as open confrontation, such as how you were bullied. In any case it is all bullying and unacceptable. I just wish that workplace employers and managers that indulge in this sort of behaviour would realise that it leads to more sick days, burnt out, emotional distress and even long term anxiety issues that end up being work cover claims.


  • I have learnt over the last couple of years to say no to others more. Occasionally I feel a bit guilty, but I just remind myself I’m not superwoman!


  • Yes saying no is difficult. I find it is easier to just say no and try not to offer a reason because otherwise people will try to wheedle you into stuff still.


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