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Why is saying “No” Difficult and Why Does it Make Us Feel Guilty?


Some of us may derive our sense of self by doing things for others. When this becomes extreme and we cannot say “no” for fear of not being liked, we lose our own identity. People pleasing or caretaking are learned behaviors to take care of other’s needs at the expense of their own. The inability to say no may be linked to the self-esteem you think you earn by doing things for others. Since your self-esteem seems to depend on the things you do for other people, your reluctance to say “no” is understandable. Saying “no” probably makes you feel guilty or selfish because you equate it with disappointing and letting others down. After years of saying “yes” we have taught others that we will “take on” whatever it might be, after all, it is expected that we comply.

Some examples of caretaking are: doing what isn’t our responsibility and what we don’t want to do, doing what people are capable of doing – and need to do – for themselves, meeting people’s needs without them asking for help, getting involved in what isn’t our business, doing more than our share when someone asks us to help, facing people’s consequences so they can avoid them, taking care of people’s feelings or problems; and neglecting our own and giving more than receiving instead of mutual giving.

When it becomes time to “change the rules”, it is necessary to inform and gently let our friends and family members know that we have decided to take time for ourselves. When you are faced with any request or invitation from another person, your immediate response will be to say “yes”, however, delay your response. In order to break your habit of giving an automatic “yes” response to requests from others, you need to delay your answer in order to think through your options carefully. You can simply say “Let me get back to you after I check my calendar”, or “This is a bad time right now, let me get back to you”. You have every right to think before you commit yourself to doing anything and this requires some thinking prior to responding. Your intention is to gain some time so that you can make a good choice instead of giving your usual people-pleasing “yes” response.

You have become accustomed to thinking that there is only one option – saying “yes”, when someone asks you for something, however, you have other options. You can respond with a “no” or modify what they are asking. For example, someone might ask you to help out for an entire afternoon and you can respond with “I would be able to help for two hours”. Establishing healthy boundaries will not only help you but help others. What we do not realize is that the more we do for someone else, the more dependent and needy they become. Rather than it being a help, it becomes an enabling behavior. It then leaves us feeling frustrated, resentful, overwhelmed, and wondering why others always come to us for their needs. Learning to balance our needs and others takes time and practice.

At the Hellenic Therapy Center, located 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey we strive at enhancing healthy self-esteem and establishing healthy boundaries in relationships. We have a team of professionals who offer individual, family, and marital/couple therapy. We have day, evening, and weekend hours. Visit or call 908-322-0112 for further information.


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