The struggle with saying NO

Recently life has been — how shall we say? — delightfully FULL these past few weeks, keeping me well out of the blogosphere. So much happening around these parts and one thing I’ve been aware of lately is just how often I’ve had to say NO to things. Fun invites out with friends, dinners, get-togethers, classes, outings. I’m still (eagerly) waiting to do my annual fall rock-climbing trip up in the mountains before it gets too cold… if I could just find a free day to block it in! 🙂

Saying no isn’t something I have much of an issue with nowadays (in fact, over the last year or so I’ve become a little bit of a ’NO’ extraordinaire as I get better and more comfortable with setting clear boundaries for myself). However, this is an issue I used to struggle with constantly in the past and there is definitely a lot I can say on it. Inspired by a convo that I had with some girlfriends just recently, I thought I’d delve into this topic more. Saying no is such a huge problem for so many of us… WHY is that?

Why is it so hard for us to turn down invites to things, to forgo helping out a friend or family member, etc, if we genuinely don’t want to or don’t have time?

WHY do we struggle with saying no to others?

To answer this question, I think it’s helpful to ask: What bad thing would happen if you said NO?

If you ask yourself this question and really go within, you’ll find that the answer is deeply rooted in fear. And usually the fear has to do with one of these below:

– we’re afraid that saying no makes us look selfish – and being selfish is bad
– we’re afraid that by saying no, we’ll lose opportunities
– we’re afraid to say no and cause conflict

And then there’s the big one: We’re so deeply afraid that by saying no, people will ultimately reject us and we won’t get their love and approval.

Often we’re faced with the decision to either do something we don’t want to do to be loved & accepted OR do what makes us happy and be rejected as a “bad/selfish person.” So we commit ourselves to things that we don’t have time for, don’t light us up, and feel like a burden or drag. We say yes to things out of guilt and obligation.

In the end this tends to backfire though, as we end up feeling massively resentful. This resentment is sometimes directed at the very people we’re helping ironically, even though they weren’t actually FORCING us to do anything… they merely asked or put it out there. Deep down, we’re really resentful towards ourselves and the fact that we somehow aren’t able to hold our ground and deal with the massive amount of guilt we’re plagued with by saying a simple, “No, I’m sorry, I won’t do that right now.”

Does any of this resonate with you?

At the heart of it, we all just want to be loved and approved of.

Unfortunately, going about life seeking to get approval from others sets you up for a life to be lived FOR others.

To test this with yourself, think for a moment about something that you’ve committed to, either in the past or present – maybe it’s helping someone with something, running an errand, hosting a friend, going to an event, etc. Now ask yourself this question: If I did this thing and the person I was doing it for did NOT say thank you and give me approval… would I still feel happy that I did it? If the answer is no, that’s a good sign that you’ve entered into an “approval transaction.” You feel upset or resentful because you did not get the love & approval you were hoping to receive in exchange for your self-sacrifice.

It’s all a transaction.

Some real life examples here: Recently I had a friend from out of town come stay with me for several days. When she left she thanked me profusely for allowing her to stay over and save a ton of money and I remember being surprised by that. There was no need or expectation for a thank you… it was genuinely fun for me, I loved having her around and I was happy to be in a position to do something nice for her.

On the flip side, I remember once going to a friend’s art show in support of his work. I was tired and not really feeling up to it but I promised I would go and busted my ass to get down to where it was. It turned out a lot of people he knew came out for the showing and his attention was more than occupied for the rest of the night. I remember leaving that show and feeling a bit off because I didn’t feel that it mattered much whether I was there or not. I was upset because I wasn’t there for the right reasons. I realised that by going out to support his work, I was hoping to get the validation that I was in essence a ‘good friend.’

This kind of ‘approval transaction’ sets us up for a lot of heartache and disappointment since we really can’t control how others respond to us. Whenever we fail to get the response we so desperately need, we can’t help but feel shitty.

When I first had this realisation a while back, it hit me BIG time. The approval trap has been such a huge issue for me, one that I wasn’t even aware of for most of my life. One that I now recognise has been at the heart of so much of my over-achieving, over-working, over-socialising in the past. A few years ago, this approval chase actually landed me in bed with adrenal fatigue — I had literally overworked myself to the point of exhaustion, riding on the highs of praise and appreciation.

I’ve spent a ton of time working on healing this in myself and where it ultimately comes from. But I’m also glad – because knowing this quality so well in myself allows me to so clearly recognise it in others and teach what I’ve learned from it.

purple fall leaves


So how can we get better at saying no and establishing good boundaries for ourselves?

I’ve found that it really comes down to two things: (1) checking in with yourself, and (2) cross-referencing your priorities.

1) Checking in with yourself

When something comes up, I find it really helpful to ask myself this question before taking anything on or agreeing to something: If I get zero validation for doing this, will I still feel good about it?

If it’s yes, then great! If it’s no… don’t do it! You might feel wracked with guilt as you think of the consequences of saying no to something but I encourage you to get a bit curious here and ask yourself where it’s coming from. Are you afraid that you’ll look like a bad person? Perhaps there’s a way to say no with love so the other person knows that you still care. Are you afraid to miss out on other opportunities? Again, perhaps there’s a way to say no with gratitude and appreciation. Are you looking for approval? Work on giving this energy to yourself instead of getting caught in the vicious cycle of searching for it elsewhere.

Remember: when you don’t NEED someone to say thank you or give you validation, that’s when you know you’re on the right track.

2) Cross-reference your priorities

The other thing that’s been helping me immensely is getting crystal clear on my top priorities. I came to this conclusion last year when I realised that I have too many things going on! There’s honestly too much I want to do and it’s impossible to fit it all in. I’ve got some big dreams and goals and it’s important to keep them in mind on a regular basis so they don’t get lost along the wayside. I do this by making a list of no more than 4 top priorities. For example, here’s my current list below:

My Top Priority List
+ ample selfcare time (daily exercise, meditation, journaling, 7-8 hrs sleep & eating foods that make me feel my best)
+ self-growth & raising my vibrations
+ work (managing + coaching)
+ writing & developing The Wellness Explorer

When anything outside of these priorities comes up, I cross-reference it with this list to see if it fits and is in alignment. And I very rarely say yes to anything that conflicts!

This might mean that sometimes I have to turn down a dinner with a friend in order to finish my writing for the week. Or conversely, it might mean that I carve out time to have a nature day with a bestie because I KNOW this will skyrocket my vibrations. It’s not completely cut & dry but more of a guideline that I’m continually checking in with.

This means that I often have to say no to tons of other things that I genuinely want to do and this makes me sad. However, it also ensures that I’m living and growing in a way that makes me feel my best.

Everytime you say YES to something you don’t really feel up to or can’t fit in, you’re essentially saying NO to yourself and your priorities.

Despite what the world teaches us about being selfless, this is not a good quality to have – more of a recipe for exhaustion and depletion! You must fill your cup up first before you can give to others.

Your time is precious and life is short. Don’t waste it by saying yes to things that don’t fully light you up.

Just say NO


I invite you to experiment with this and see how it works for you. Is there something in your life right now that you have said yes to that you’re feeling less than 100% about? What if you did things differently?