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How to say “no” without feeling guilty: 6 secrets from an expert

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My stomach was in knots, I was sweating profusely and my mouth was dry. No, I wasn’t about to speak publicly. In fact, I was trying to figure out a way to get out of hosting my friend’s baby shower. I really wish I had known how to say no without feeling guilty. Instead, I said yes and felt resentful after.

I bet this has happened to you as well.

You get asked for a favor by a friend, to take on an extra project at work, or even by your child’s school.

As a good-natured person, you want to say yes, yes to it all. But then you find yourself overwhelmed, frustrated, stressed out, and even resentful.

Why did you say yes when you really wanted to say no?

Saying “no” isn’t easy

It’s common for people to try to figure out how to say no without feeling guilty because in a perfect world we’d help anyone who asked.

You want to support others, especially in their time of need. Ideally, you want to be seen as a team player, as the fun-loving parent, partner, and friend.

However, with the reality that you live in and the obligations that you have with work, your family, and even your own mental health, saying no is necessary for your sanity and well-being.

When you learn to say no, you actually grant yourself space and time to dedicate to what really matters.

It’s understandable how uncomfortable it can be to say no, especially if you’re a people-pleaser.

However, once you master the art of how to say no without feeling guilty, you’ll feel like a superstar and not a cranky bear who wants to hibernate.

Build your “no” muscle

This is going to sound kind of weird.

But you have to first learn to say no to things you actually want to do in order to acknowledge how to say no without feeling guilty.

I know, I know, why would you say no to things you want to do?

Well, the reason is to build your “no” muscle and be proactive about telling yourself no when you feel compelled to add on something that may not actually add any value to your life.

For example, you get invited to happy hour after work.

You desperately want to say yes since you want to decompress with your colleagues over an aperitif.

However, in the back of your mind, saying yes to a happy hour will mean having to stay up late to help get your children’s projects completed. As a result, you’ll feel sleep-deprived, stressed-out, and worse for wear.

So as much as you want to say yes, saying no will help you build your “no” muscle and be better for your self-care.

6 nice but firm ways to say “no”

Here are six tips for saying “no,” because it’s normal, healthy, and important to do so sometimes.

1. Provide some context

Although you don’t owe anyone anything when you say no, it does help to explain your reasoning.

Let’s say your co-worker invites you to volunteer at an event with them. Instead of just saying “no thanks,” it’s better to say something like “I really enjoy volunteering but am trying to focus my energy on other projects right now.”

Pantea Rahimian

Take control. Feel better.

Start your Self-care Journey.

Take control.
Feel better.

Start your
Self-care Journey.

This way they know it’s not personal, and you have a perfectly valid reason for declining the invite.

2. Be direct

This is a big one for me because I personally HATE IT when people beat around the bush, hem, and haw when all they really want to say is “No, I don’t want to do that.”

It’s understandable, saying no can be uncomfortable.

However, it’s far more frustrating for the other person if you are being avoidant.

Instead, try to be direct since it’ll help you avoid misunderstandings.

In addition, the person doing the asking will appreciate your transparency and honesty more than vague comments or procrastination.

3. How to say “no” without feeling guilty by using a cheatsheet

One of the best ways you can say no without feeling guilty is to use my cheat sheet below. Feel free to use any or all of the sayings:

  • Simple say no. (Remember “No” is a complete sentence)
  • I appreciate you thinking of me but I’m not interested
  • There’s a lot on my plate so not now
  • I’m fully committed
  • I love this, but it’s not in line with my focus right now
  • I cannot give this the time it deserves
  • Not me, but I can connect you with someone who can (this is a way to say no to the ask, but saying yes to helping)
  • I could do a piece of this but would need help/someone else to pick up the rest (another way to say no by saying yes to a part of it)
  • Not a fit for me (and share reason if you desire)
  • I’m putting my energy into a few other big things right now and need to focus on those now

4. Suggest someone else

This tip is for all you people-pleasers out there. I get it, I’m one of you and it’s taken me a long time to master my “no” muscle, so sometimes I use this tip.

Next time you get asked to do something that you really don’t want to do but think you know someone else who can, then you can suggest another person.

This way you’re demonstrating that you’re still helping, but not doing the actual task.

Perhaps you don’t know someone off the top of your head, buy yourself some time and say: “You know, I’m not able to take that on at this point, but I think I know someone who can. Let me check in with them and get back to you.”

5. Compromise

In any relationship, compromise is key. So learn to meet people halfway.

If you’re being asked to do something by someone you love and/or respect, you can try to meet them in the middle.

Let’s return to my original story of hosting the baby shower.

Although I did not want to take on the full responsibility, I did want to participate so I could have said something like: “Well, I can’t host the whole event but I’m happy to help provide drinks, some appetizers, and send the invites.”

Chances are my friend would have appreciated my effort and I would not have ended up feeling resentful for taking on the entire event.

6. Remember: self-care isn’t selfish

Yes, it’s nice to help others, and I have a few friends in my life who literally don’t say no to anything.

Perhaps you know someone like this: the picture-perfect woman works work full-time, raises children, helps their aging parents, and even volunteers. They also happen to do yoga and have a perfect complexion.

In the past, I would be envious of them. Wondering, what the heck do they have that I don’t?

However, upon closer inspection, I realized that they were prioritizing everything and everyone above themselves. Deep down they were frustrated, stressed, overwhelmed, and overbooked.

So it’s okay to prioritize your own time and sanity by turning down a request.

An important part of self-care is knowing your own boundaries and respecting them. If you’re constantly saying yes to people because you’re too uncomfortable to say no, not only might your work suffer but you could also end up resenting the people asking for your help.

Remember: self-care is the foundation of healthcare and balance.


While saying no may feel uncomfortable, letting people down, being too overwhelmed to do great work, or stressing yourself out is far worse.

Saying no is a gift, and it’s ultimately one step closer to actually saying yes to what matters most.

Do you have any crafty ways to say no? Have you ever been in a difficult situation where you had a hard time saying no but were glad that you did? Please share your stories and comments below.

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Pantea Rahimian

Take control. Feel better.

Start your Self-care Journey.

Take control.
Feel better.

Start your
Self-care Journey.


3 Responses

  1. I love this article! I am a people pleaser and end up in one sided relationships. Now that I have learned, I can say no. My mental and physical health is very important to me.

    1. Hey Denise thank you SO much for your positive feedback. I too am a people pleaser and have ended up in so many one-sided relationships which felt so draining. I’m so glad you have learned to say no and are prioritizing your mental and physical health. You inspire me!

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Pantea Rahimian

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