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Man holding notebook with Learn to Say No written inside

Yes, Saying “No” Is Ok

Kathy Kinghorn

April 6, 2023


  • Saying no to things we don’t want to do is good for our mental health. It sets healthy boundaries and teaches people how to treat us.
  • “No” is a complete sentence. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for the choices you make. You also don’t owe anyone your time, your attention, or your help.
  • At Therapy Utah, we’re here to support you on your journey to improve your self worth and self esteem. If you still have trouble saying no, give us a call and we’ll help you explore the challenge you’re facing so that you can continue to grow in healthy ways.

The word “no” can be challenging for some people. It can be difficult to hear and awkward or uncomfortable to say. In today’s society, it’s easy to get wrapped up in trying to please everyone and compromise our own integrity in the process. But the word “no” allows us to be true to ourselves and stick up for our beliefs.

As children, we’re often taught that answering with “no” is considered sass or backtalk if an adult asks us to do something. Depending on how we’re treated when we say “no”, we may also come to associate it with being punished. Consequently, many of us learn to say “yes” even when we’re uncomfortable or don’t want to do something—and unfortunately, we tend to carry that lesson into adulthood. Therapy Utah’s individual therapy services help people of all kinds learn to set strong boundaries—so below, we’ve gone into more detail about the importance of saying no and provided suggestions to help you become more comfortable doing it for yourself.

Saying “No” Establishes Boundaries

Woman raising hand to symbolize saying no and setting boundaries

Via Adobe Stock.

Boundaries are a vital component of every person’s mental health. They establish safe spaces for the person setting them and let others know what is and isn’t acceptable. It’s important to set boundaries when you’re uncomfortable performing a task, don’t have time to help someone, or don’t currently want to help for other reasons—but people with issues saying “no” struggle to set boundaries and make safe spaces for themselves.

Common Misconceptions About Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries isn’t about being selfish or controlling. It allows us to decide what we need and want in our lives. If we decide that something will increase our quality of life or help us achieve our goals, we can allow that request past our boundaries by saying yes. If something will slow us down or deter us from achieving our goals for our growth, we enforce our limits by saying no.

The Benefits of Setting Boundaries

Boundaries also protect our self-esteem and our self-worth. Without boundaries, it can feel like people take us for granted or take advantage of us. We’ll start to feel insecure and anxious because we don’t have a clear idea of how people will treat us, leading to us feeling unsafe or victimized when someone asks something of us that we’re uncomfortable with.

Having firm boundaries ultimately helps people respect us more, not less. People with healthy boundaries are typically perceived as more fearless about speaking up for themselves. Setting boundaries displays confidence in ourselves and shows that we value ourselves.

Person in suit with arms raised to symbolize saying no in professional setting

Via Adobe Stock.

Reasons Why No Is Ok

You Don’t Have to Say Yes to Everything

It’s important to remember that outside of basic compassion and respect for others, you don’t owe anyone anything. You’re not obligated to give anyone your time, attention, or help. While it’s admirable to lend your support to others, this shouldn’t come at the expense of your own health or wellbeing.

You Can’t Please Everyone

You’ll never be able to control what everyone thinks of you. Everyone has an opinion of you. Some people will have positive feelings towards you and others won’t, no matter what you say or do for them. You can’t afford to make yourself feel 100% responsible for this—no matter what choices you make, someone is going to be happy, and someone is going to be upset.

You Have to Live with Your Choices

You are your number one priority. Despite what anyone else says, you’re the one that has to live with the choices that you make. You’re also the one that has to look yourself in the eye every morning and go to sleep at night with the choices that you’ve made. If you say yes to staying out late when you have work early the following day, you’re the one that’s going to have to deal with a hangover and an angry boss, clients, or coworkers. If you say yes to a lifelong commitment that you don’t actually want, you’re the one that has to live paying the price for that choice.

You’re the only one who can really advocate for yourself. You set your goals and strive to achieve them. Say no if you’re unsure that something will help you achieve those goals. If you aren’t sure that something will make you happy, say no. If it’s something that you don’t really want, say no.

Ways to Politely Say No

  • Thank you for the invitation, but I’m busy at that time.
  • I wish I could.
  • Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m unavailable.
  • I’ll be busy at that time, but maybe next time.
  • I’m afraid I can’t.
  • I’ll have to pass this time around. 
  • I can’t fit this into my schedule.
  • Unfortunately, I have to decline.
  • I hate that I’m missing this, but I can’t.
  • No, but thank you for thinking of me.

Tips for Saying No

Thank them for including you. A swift “thank you” can soften the blow that a no might create.

Be firm but respectful. People aren’t always trying to take advantage of you. Giving them the benefit of the doubt can stretch a long way. 

Be direct and concise. Let them know that you won’t be able to accommodate them, leaving no room for ambiguity.

Person working with therapist to build strategies for saying no

Via Adobe Stock.

Building Self-Esteem Helps Our Self Worth

Saying no is actually an important part of self-care. It helps us feel safe and valued and allows us to make space for our wants, needs, and goals.

To find support saying no and establishing healthy boundaries for yourself, contact us at Therapy Utah. We can match you with a therapist whose methodologies and communication style will effectively help you identify the challenges you’re experiencing and help you overcome them to reach your goals.

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