personal growth

Written By: DiveThru Team

Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW


How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

PUBLISHED Oct 22nd, 2020 & UPDATED ON Dec 23rd, 2022

There are two small words that we use to guide our actions every single day. Yes and no. In this article, we’ll teach you how to say no without feeling guilty…and that’s the really hard part.  

Yes has been acknowledged as an opportunity-inducing, people-engaging, relationship-building, risk-taking, open-minded kind of word. 

It’s linked to adventure and adrenaline-fuelled escapades because life is short so let’s carpe the heck out of this diem. Yes makes you wanna belt out “I CAN DO IT, PUT ME IN COACH.”

Yes has been so well covered that we are all very familiar with the contexts and sub-contexts of the word. We love the ambition yes draws out from us and we love the empowering mindset that comes with it. 

But its antonym, no, is equally as powerful. In fact, we’re going to argue it’s so powerful that it’s actually really hard to master. 

If you don’t have trouble saying no, then maybe this post isn’t for you. But if you’ve ever struggled to speak out that one tiny little baby syllable, stick around and give this a read. 

Oprah said it best: No is a complete sentence. 

Why Is It So Hard to Say No?

You see, our bodies and brains are so incredible at protecting us. No is hard to say because no is hard to hear. 

This way of thinking has a name in the world of psychology and it’s called negativity bias. What it refers to is this reaction we have to negative experiences, where the feeling is deeper and stronger than the reaction we have to positive events. 

Negativity bias is the reason why embarrassing events, negative experiences, or hurtful insults get amplified and endure for so long. 

So when we have to say no to others, we anticipate it’s going to hurt them. And since most of us want to be liked by our peers, we get the squeamish uneasy feeling that pushes us towards the yes instead of the no

Oh, and guilt. Guilt also usually tags along with the squeamish uneasy feeling. Yay.

Why Is It Important to Say No?

Whether we say yes to avoid conflict or because we’ve been moulded into being people-pleasers over the years, the truth is that it takes a toll on our mental health. When people don’t respect our boundaries or continue to take advantage of our good nature, we can feel hurt and disrespected by their actions. 

So, it’s a really simple answer, honestly. Saying no to commitments, requests, or conversations that you don’t want to be a part of will set boundaries that keep you from getting drained and/or burning yourself out. That applies to work, friends, family, relationships, you name it.  

The same little word helps you set your internal boundaries as well. We call this “self-discipline” and it’s the no we tell ourselves. 

And if we’re being honest (which we always are) …we all struggle with no in different ways. Whether it’s a relationship with food, a lack of work/life balance, or a harsh internal critic, at one point we’ve all crossed that line we drew for ourselves.

Which is why we’re diving thru this! We’ve got your back, sweet baby angels, and we’re here to guide you through the muck on your journey to mental wellbeing.

How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Saying no takes strength so we’re going to work our way up. Don’t stress, we would never just push you out into the world armed with nothing but a word!

We had a chat with our in-house mental health professional, Natalie Asayag LSCW, and developed 10 tips to help you say no, and to do it without the guilt that accompanies the word. 

1. Take a Look at Your Own Personal Limits

Natalie highlights how important it is to draw clear boundaries for yourself when it comes to work, family, romantic relationships/dating, finances and your social life.  

So how do we actually do this? We start by looking at the limits we have in place and then expand on them. 

Take some quiet time to think through and even journal about the boundaries you would like to define. Start by asking yourself these questions: 

What would life look like if I did maintain these boundaries? 

Are there any challenges I have to work through to do so?

What support do I need? 

Thinking through these will help you to stay clear and less emotionally reactive.

2. Be Clear About Your No

Sounds easy enough, right? Except we sometimes get lost in the niceties. It’s helpful to think through what would logically happen if you say no vs. saying yes. Would you feel overwhelmed if you take on yet another task or commit to going to an event you don’t want to attend?

If you politely decline, will the individual be receptive and respect the boundaries you are drawing? Play the scenario all the way through. 

3. Be Prepared for the Reactions Of Others

We’re gonna be honest, not everyone is going to be as happy about your ability to say no as we are. Some people will look at you and say, “Good for you! Do what you need to do,” and support you endlessly. Others… well, not so much.

Some might feel entitled to you, your space, your energy, and your time. They might see you as holding some kind of obligation to them where your boundaries don’t apply. These people, when you tell them no, are probably going to be angry. Unfortunately, you have to mentally prepare yourself for that.

The word no is like a magical sword you can wield to protect yourself. When you see people coming your way with “a favour to ask,” get ready to draw a line in the sand. Because while saying no may leave them slightly disappointed or temporarily upset, it will establish a concrete boundary for the future. So, the next time your boundaries are challenged or pushed, stand your ground and flash that shiny [s]word.

4. Journal Your Progress

Take some time to reflect on the responses, the reactions, the whole process. Ask yourself these important questions. 

Where / how did I learn that I can’t draw healthy boundaries for myself? 

What’s the story I’m telling myself about what would happen if I work on my boundaries? 

Am I worried that maintaining my boundaries says something negative about me?

We all want to be loved and accepted by the people around us, but the most important thing is that we are showing ourselves that same kind of love by being true to what we need.

5. Stick to Your Decision

When you stick your boundaries, you will begin to feel more control and comfort in your everyday life. Sticking to boundaries will help you improve your self-esteem while also feeling calmer, and more sure of yourself. 

Often, people don’t feel as though they can say “no” because of what they have internalized about themselves. They fear they are creating conflict by disappointing someone, or that they are taking the easy way out. Pay attention to that little inner voice that whispers one or more of these fear-based statements and work to reframe these thoughts.

6. Repeat Reassuring Phrases

This will help you remember that it truly is ok to say no. You can repeat things like:

It’s ok for me to ask for what I need.

You’ve got this. Stand your ground.

What I need matters. I matter.

The DiveThru team believes in me.

Whatever you need to say, say it! You don’t necessarily have to repeat these mantras out loud either. You can journal it, put up sticky notes around your home, or even make it the background image on your laptop. Whatever you need, do it!

7. Take a Step Back From Your Emotions

This can be a SUPER hard thing to do. Remove yourself from your emotions? You’re probably reading this and thinking, “They think that I can DO that?” Yep. We do!

Taking a step back emotionally can help you re-evaluate the situation you’re in. Doing this allows you to try to outline the kind of relationship or environment you would want if you could create it on your own, away from all other influences.

What’s your ideal situation? Think about it and work to create it by keeping yourself and your boundaries strong.

8. Don’t Forget Self Care

Saying no can be stressful. If you’ve said no to a highly reactive person, you’re probably VERY stressed about that interaction.

Taking care of yourself isn’t always like it appears on Instagram or Pinterest. It’s how you treat yourself. Are you speaking to yourself kindly? Are you giving yourself space, grace, and forgiveness? And are you trusting yourself to create space for things that bring you joy?

The more you care about yourself and the more self care you practice, you’ll begin to find more balance and happiness within yourself and your life. It won’t always be easy to practice self care, but it will get better with time.

9. Remember Why You’re Saying No

If you keep your ultimate goal in mind, you’ll remember why you have to stay strong and stick to the decisions and boundaries that you’ve made. Creating a better situation, relationship, or environment is why you needed to say no in the first play, right?

It might be hard not to waver or give in to people who don’t respect your no’s, but remember why you had to set this boundary in the first place.

10. Trust Yourself

Trust your gut. Listen to what it’s telling you. From our experience, it’s rarely ever wrong. Listen to what it says yes and no to. You can trust this inner voice because it’s trying to take care of you.

If you allow this to take care of you, your stress levels will go wayyyy down and you’re happiness will go wayyyy up.

You might not feel this shift immediately, but we promise it’s coming. The more you trust yourself and practice saying no, your life is going to look completely different in the best way possible.

Even if you’re doing all the right things, and you do them REALLY well, your boundaries will always be challenged. It’s not always going to be easy, but we know that you can do it. You have the tools that you need to say no, and you’ve got the strength to make it happen.

Now, go get ‘em, tiger! Go say no to people!

Read More: How to Have Difficult Conversations with Your Loved Ones, How to Make Sure Your New Year Goals Are Mindful Resolutions,