10 ways to say ‘no’ without feeling guilty or selfish

If you’re one of those people who have a hard time saying “no”, you’ve come to the right place.

I know that saying no isn’t always easy, but it’s an important part of maintaining your boundaries and taking care of yourself.

And guess what – it doesn’t make you a bad person!

To put your mind at ease, I’m going to share with you 10 ways to say no without feeling guilty or selfish.

Let’s get started:

1) Set clear boundaries

As a first step, I think that it’s very important to establish clear boundaries.

In order to do that, you need to know what your limits are.

So, start by asking yourself what you are and aren’t comfortable doing and how much you’re willing to take on.

Trust me, it will be a lot easier to impose your boundaries once you’re clear on what they are.

Then, you need to clearly communicate this to others.

For example, you can say, “Thank you for thinking of me, but I really can’t take on any more at the moment” or “I wish I could help, but I have other obligations.”

All in all, setting clear boundaries will help you say no without feeling like you’re letting someone down or being selfish.

2) Know that you’re allowed to say no

Here’s the deal, you have every right to say no.

Saying no is a normal part of setting boundaries and taking care of your own needs.

In fact, saying “yes” all the time can actually be a bad thing because:

  • You run the risk of overcommitting yourself
  • It could lead to people taking advantage of your time and energy
  • If you say yes to everything, you won’t be able to devote enough time and attention to each task
  • You can end up neglecting your own personal priorities, such as family time, work, and hobbies
  • You could end up saying “yes” to doing something that goes against your principles
  • You’ll end up feeling trapped, resentful, unhappy, and burnt out

In short: If you don’t start exercising your right to say no, you could end up putting yourself in a bad situation.

3) Delay your answer

Saying no could take some practice.

So, while you get used to the idea of saying no, you can start by delaying your answer. That means that instead of saying “yes” immediately upon being asked to do something, you’re buying yourself some time to think about it.

You can tell them, “I have to check my calendar” or “I have to think about it and get back to you.”

Having the time to gather your thoughts and make your decision will make saying no (if that’s what you want to do) a lot easier than doing it immediately after being asked.

Does that make sense?

4) Use “I” statements

Another way to avoid feeling guilty or selfish when saying no is to avoid saying things like “You always do this. You wait until the last minute and then come running to me for help.”

You want to avoid blaming or criticizing the other person, even if they are wrong to ask for so much from you.

Trust me, you’ll feel better if you use “I” statements.

For example, you can say, “I’m not able to help with that, but I wish you the best of luck.”

5) Suggest an alternative

If someone asks you to do something when you have other plans, you shouldn’t have to cancel your plans!

Instead, you can tell them, “I’m afraid I’ve already got something planned for Tuesday, but if you want, I have some free time on Friday morning and I can help you out then.”

Let me explain:

Even though you’re saying no, you’re offering to help them when you’re free. So there’s absolutely no reason to feel bad.

On the other hand, if they ask you to do something that you’re uncomfortable doing or that goes against your principles or values, tell them, “I won’t be able to help you out with that, but you may want to talk to Pete about it or else I know an agency that can help you with that kind of stuff.”

Again, nothing to feel guilty or selfish about. I mean, you can’t be expected to do something you’re not comfortable doing. You’ve even been nice enough to suggest an alternative.

Now, if they can’t accept your answer and try to guilt trip you into doing their bidding, they’re the ones who should feel bad!

6) Don’t apologize

Look, saying no doesn’t require an apology. And in most cases, it doesn’t require a justification either.

If you really feel the need for a courtesy “Sorry, but I can’t…” ok, but don’t overdo it because it will:

  • Make it seem like you’re not too sure about your decision, and
  • Give the impression that you’re easily swayed, and that can lead to people taking advantage of you.

So, try and keep it short and to the point, and don’t let yourself get talked into anything you don’t want to do.

7) Practice self-care

When you say no to someone, it’s easy to feel like you’re letting them down or being selfish.

But let me tell you something, saying no is often an act of self-care.

I used to have a hard time saying no because I wanted to make everyone happy. So, on top of my full-time job, cooking and cleaning, grocery shopping, taking care of my grandma, and walking the dogs three times a day, I was also agreeing to help a lot of people with a lot of different things.

And do you know what happened?

I got so tired and overwhelmed that I had a burnout and couldn’t do anything, I had to take sick leave!

That’s why it’s important to remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish, in fact, it’s necessary for your physical and mental well-being.

8) Be honest

Don’t make up excuses. If you need to say no because you’re overwhelmed, say “I’m not able to take that on, I have too much on my plate right now.”

And if you need to say no because the request isn’t aligned with your values or priorities, you should be honest about that too. Tell them, “I appreciate the opportunity, but it’s not something I’m comfortable with.”

9) Prioritize

I think we’ve already established that it’s impossible to say “yes” to everything.

Think about it: there are only 24 hours in a day.

That’s why you need to figure out what’s most important to you.

And when you start to feel guilty for saying no, remind yourself that saying no to one thing means saying “yes” to something else that’s important to you.

In short: Keep your priorities in mind when making decisions.

10) Focus on the positive

This point is linked to the previous point.

When you say no and start to feel guilty, try to focus on the positive aspects of your decision.

For example, if a colleague at work asks you to take their shift on your day off and you say no because you want to spend time with your kids, that’s a valid reason and something positive to focus on.

Jelena Dincic

Jelena has a background in photography and film-making and has spent the last few years as a content editor and copywriter. Jelena is a citizen of the world who is passionate about travel and learning about new cultures. She’s a foodie who loves to cook. And, as an art lover, she is always experimenting with new art mediums. When she’s not at her computer, she’s usually out and about in some forest with her dogs.

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