Learn When to Say No

Learn When to Say No, Learning How and When to Say No

When we think of stress, it often involves work demands, obligations we can’t ignore, sudden life changes, and other external factors. But sometimes people contribute to our stress in recovery, too, by wanting or asking more than what we’re capable of in the moment. So knowing how and when to say no while reinforcing boundaries matters to your mental health and key relationships. 

Why Is It Hard to Say No?

If you grew up in an environment where boundaries were lax, or you were taught obedience over all else, then the permission to say no might be a foreign concept. In an article for Psychology Today, psychotherapist F. Diane Barth outlines a few reasons why many of us feel this way.

  • Fear of conflict 

This attitude often stems from childhood. Barth writes, “We are taught not to go against authority. We are supposed to do what parents, teachers, and others in power tell us to do. We obey because of fears of being punished, but also because of a desire to please and be loved by these people who are very important to us. We carry this worry with us into adulthood.” This also might create a “people pleaser” mentality because we don’t want anyone to be mad at or critical of us. 

  • Don’t want to hurt or disappoint anyone

Barth also noted that we’ll sometimes say yes or do things just “to make others feel better.” Certainly having compassion and empathy for others are desirable human traits, but there’s a fine line between them and always giving in to not disappoint someone. Clinical psychologist Dr. Emily Anhalt indicates that we might also not say no because we don’t want to be perceived as difficult, especially in our desire to belong in certain social groups and relationships. 

  • Ingrained social norms

Barth said she’s worked with many men who often have difficulty saying no in work and personal situations because they don’t want to “rock the boat,” but a lot of women have greater challenges. Caitlyn Collins, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, stated in a USA Today article that “women have been socialized into understanding that what is most important is that they be perceived as likable and agreeable…In dating, in marriage, in friendships, in their hobbies, in the way they parent their kids, the way they operate in the world of paid work—this idea that what it means to be a good woman is to subsume your own needs for the sake of others around you is a hallmark of femininity.” 

Learning How and When to Say No

At Willingway, we often counsel families on how to set boundaries with an addicted loved one, because many individuals within that network struggle with vital aspects such as maintaining self-care, recognizing manipulation, reducing stress, and resisting guilt and blame tactics.

Now, let’s consider your perspective. It’s critical to know that you always have a right to refuse if:  

  • Your safety is in jeopardy.
  • Your physical, mental, or emotional health is threatened. 
  • Someone is forcing you to do something that goes against your ethics and values.

If you feel unsafe, we list some resources below you can turn to for help. 

In your daily interactions, practice saying no politely, but firmly. Barth references a colleague who “suggests that you stop and breathe before saying ‘yes’ to give yourself a little space and an opportunity to assess and respond to your own needs.” Although people and situations are unique, over time, it’ll be easier to reinforce your boundaries respectfully. 

Here’s one approach. Let’s say someone at work asks you to take on another project. You won’t get into trouble if you don’t accept, and you’ve always tried to be a team player, but you simply don’t have time right now: 

  • Express gratitude. Begin with appreciation for the opportunity or the request. This sets a positive tone and shows you value the relationship or the consideration.
    Example: “Thank you for thinking of me. I appreciate it.”
  • Provide a brief explanation. Be honest but don’t make excuses or over-explain. Keep it simple and to the point.
    Example: “Unfortunately, I have prior commitments I need to prioritize.”
  • Offer alternatives. If possible, suggest other solutions or offer assistance in a different capacity. This demonstrates your willingness to help while still respecting your boundaries.
    Example: “Although I can’t commit right now, I’d be happy to help you find someone else who might be available.”
  • Use assertive language. Be firm in your refusal while maintaining a respectful tone. Avoid overly apologetic language that indicates uncertainty.
    Example: “I’m afraid I have to decline this time, but I hope we can find another opportunity in the future.”
  • End on a positive note. This leaves the door open for future interactions. Reaffirm your appreciation for the relationship or the opportunity.
    Example: “Thanks again for considering me. I appreciate your trust.”  

To permit ourselves to communicate our true feelings—and do so politely—is valuable for our continued growth and confidence. 

Discover More Life Skills at Willingway

Detoxification is a viable starting point in any comprehensive substance or alcohol use disorder treatment. But after 50 years, the board-certified professionals at our Georgia and Florida addiction rehabilitation locations also understand that in evidence-based, whole-person care, helping you recognize your full potential is a vital approach to long-lasting wellness. Our clinical team provides essential access to many therapeutic techniques that empower you to direct life choices with purpose.

Additionally, here are some critical free resources to help you stay safe.