How to Say “No” Without Feeling Guilt

December 7, 2020

Dear Achona,

“How do I stop feeling bad when I have to say no to someone?”

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for this question; a lot of people struggle with feeling like they let others down when they have to say no to a commitment, event, or additional responsibility. When you have to say no to someone, make sure you do so in a timely, respectful manner while explaining your reasons for saying no. By doing this, you can be sure that the person asking you for something understands where you are coming from and has ample time to find a replacement for you. The next step to take would be to offer help in any other capacity; for example, if you can not help on one day, try to offer your assistance on another day. 

After making sure you have responded to the person asking for something and offered support in an additional way, you need to recognize your guilt is likely self-generated. Most people who ask you for something are fully prepared to receive an answer, regardless of whether it was the answer they wanted or not, and will not resent you for saying no. Oftentimes what matters to that person is not that you said no, but rather how, when, and why you said no; Saying no — respectfully, timely, and kindly — does not mean you have done anything wrong, and you should not let yourself feel serious guilt because of it. We often have to say no if we are stretched too thin, have other commitments, or are simply unequipped to do something; none of these reasons should make you feel guilty, since they are all valid reasons to say no. We may feel like saying no is inherently selfish, but in reality, saying no is a healthy act of respecting your own boundaries and limitations. Lastly, be patient with yourself; saying no is an essential skill that takes time to build, and it is ok if you struggle with it from time to time. 

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