“When I say no, I feel guilty”

File:Lightmatter paperwork.jpg

This is probably the best title for a book after, “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Difficulty saying no is such a common occurrence, it probably only ranks second to visiting the doctor and when asked how you are, you respond, “very well thank you.” In other words, for many, saying “yes,” is an automatic response.

Do you find that you end up doing things you’d rather not be doing? Are you easily talked into things? Do you always put others before yourself? If so, then it might be time you learned how to say NO.

Why do we feel so guilty saying no anyway? There are probably a number of reasons for this, but the most common  is that we don’t want to offend the other person. There are, of course, those people who go out of their way to say yes and probably have never said no in their lives! In psychology circles this type of person is known as a, “people pleaser,” such individuals usually have low self esteem and thrive on the praise gained by doing things for others. The origins of such chronic low self esteem usually lies in early childhood experiences.  I would recommend that they have a few sessions of CBT to discover the origins of their behaviour and then begin the process of change.

I mentioned the automatic response, this is what psychologists call a conditioned response. A conditioned response is also known as a learned reflex response. In classical  conditioning,a conditioned response is where you learn to do something in response to a situation.

An example of this would be the smell of a delicious plate of food. In response to the smell you begin to salivate, this is an un-conditioned response, it is a natural  biological response, the only cue being the smell of food. If now I bang a dinner gong before you come for the food then your response to the sound of the gong is the conditioned response. In other words you begin to associate the sound of the dinner gong with food and you begin to salivate. You could look upon it that the delicious food is the reward and reinforces the conditioning. Saying yes when asked to do something, perhaps with praise as the reward is very strong conditioning. Learning to say no, will probably mean that you need to reprogramme your responses.

From a therapeutic perspective, many phobias arise as a consequence of conditioning. For example, as a child you have a bad experience when being given an injection. As a consequence you feel upset and cry. As an adult the very sight of a doctor wearing a white coat results in your blood pressure rising (white coat syndrome) as you recall in your mind the image of yourself as a child and you imagine the pain of the injection.

When you first start to say no, do so with something small. Gradually build up your confidence.Remember, saying yes, is not banned and you don’t have to start saying no to everything.

It is important to know that the consequence of always giving in to others requests. When you always say yes, the other party will come to expect you to do everything they ask. When one day you decide to change your ways, not only will it be a shock to the other party but they will stop and acknowledge you, what you have said, and the response you give. Note I said, “they will acknowledge you,” in other words they will not take you for granted. Believe it or not, it is only by saying no sometimes that you gain respect. You know the old maxim, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Why is that person overwhelmed and snowed under with work? Because they can’t say no. Learning to say no, when you are busy or when you do not want to do something is a mark of self- respect. It is an example of what I call self-caring“. It means that you are a worthwhile person and not simply a servile robot. It sends a powerful message to the other party that you have worth and that you know your own mind.

Here are a number of techniques you can use which will help you:

Make a direct refusal – Simply say, “No, I’d rather not.” This avoids ambiguities and right from the start people will know your wishes. No hinting, no hoping the other party will guess what you really want. No mind reading required!

No excuses or apologies – Think about how do people sound to you when they make a lot of excuses. It’s OK to apologise if necessary, but do not keep apologising over and over again.

The broken record – Just repeat your basic statement if the other party persists.

Fogging – Use this technique when you are at the receiving  end of someone’s criticism. For example, “Your’e nothing but a lazy toad. Why don’t you put the rubbish out?”                            Your response could be, “Perhaps I am being lazy, but I’m not putting the rubbish out right now, I promise I will do it later.”

Re-affirming the relationship –  Here you give a response that helps keep the relationship OK. A helping statement – not rescuing. For example, “If you really loved me you would do the dishes.” Your response could be, “I do love you but I am not going to do the dishes right now.”

Saying no and setting limits and boundaries is so necessary. One of the most helpful tips that I can give anyone is this. Remember, when you say no, you are saying no to the request not the person.” Say it to yourself several times and really try to digest this message”

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist



“When I say no, I feel guilty” by Manuel J. Smith- www.tower.com

“Feel the fear and do it anyway” by Susan Jeffers – www.susanjeffers.com

Image ref: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALightmatter_paperwork.jpg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s