10 Ways To Say 'No' Without Feeling Guilty, According To A Psychologist

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Why is it hard to say "no"? There’s a cultural misconception that saying "no" is rude or selfish. Truthfully, it’s neither of those things.

Saying "no" is refusing to sacrifice something you love for someone else. It means that you're in control of your own time and emotions. That actually makes you more generous than someone who always does what others want them to do.

Giving your body the break it needs is not selfish, it’s self-care. But saying "no" isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we feel guilty when we say "no" or are worried others will be mad or disappointed.

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Do you ever feel anxious about how people might react to your rejection? Reduce your guilt and anxiety about saying "no." Choose the ones that sound appealing to you and try them out throughout your day. You’ll feel amazing when you do.

Here's how to say 'no' without feeling guilty.

1. Identify the source of your guilt and anxiety about saying 'no.'

Are you blaming yourself for the way you feel? Are you the only one who feels guilty? Do other people find your decision to say no to be reasonable, helpful, or polite? You can tell once you’ve identified it.

If you find that other people are often angry with what you’re doing, or if they seem insincere and judgmental when they ask you about your plans, then there might be some dysfunction in your relationship with those people.

If that's the case, it might be time to take a break from those relationships. Clear away enough emotional clutter so you can see clearly what's happening in each of them.

2. Remember that rejection is a gift.

Saying "no" to someone in some way or another is a very generous thing to do. When you say "no" to someone else, you're saying "yes" to yourself, because you're making room for something that's more important to you. So it’s a kind of sacrifice — and it’s very worth it.

In most cases, if you have the opportunity to say "no," it’s because you're permitting yourself to do something more meaningful and exciting, like working on your own projects, spending time with friends, or trying out a new hobby.

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3. Let go of comparison.

It’s OK to do things differently than other people. It’s OK to say "no" to them, too. Everyone has different goals, opinions, and priorities in life — that’s a good thing!

When you compare yourself to others or make assumptions about how they feel and act, you lose touch with your own feelings and intentions. You start feeling guilty because you think they're better than you somehow, but letting go of comparisons helps you see everyone more objectively and clearly.

4. Take care of yourself.

Sometimes when you say "no," it’s because your own needs are not being met by the requests you face every day. When you're sick or tired, it’s hard to do much of anything.

So if you find yourself saying "no" to plans because you’re not feeling well, you might want to ask yourself a few questions.

Are there ways you can take care of your health without sacrificing your own desires? Will people understand if you suggest postponing the plans and just taking some time for yourself? The answers to these questions highlight the importance of self-care.

5. Understand the overall picture.

Sometimes, people get angry or upset when you turn them down. They might say you’re being selfish, but they might not mean it. They might simply be frustrated.

Think about the big picture. What's the source of this frustration? What are they trying to get out of you? Are their expectations realistic?

It’s helpful to take a step back and look at the entire situation rather than just focusing on one particular instance. You could even talk it over with close friends and family — they might have some insight into what's really going on for this person or why they're so attached to this particular request.

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6. Be reasonable when you say 'no.'

It’s essential to be reasonable when you turn people down. Explain to that person what you can manage without losing your own integrity or making them feel bad about themselves.

Remember that it’s OK to change your mind about plans in the future, just like you learn more about your boundaries and needs as time goes on, you can also change them.

7. Be firm, not rigid.

Saying "no" is a skill and, like any other skill, it takes practice. Sometimes, you might find yourself saying "yes" when, deep down, you feel like saying "no," so you might want to consider how strong your intentions really are.

Try saying "no" on purpose rather than by mistake. Then, take a few deep breaths before you get in tight with another person. Make sure you're not holding back because you’re afraid of the repercussions of your decision.

8. Be honest, but not cruel.

Don’t use "no" as a weapon against people or to punish them for something they had nothing to do with. Sometimes, others want to say "no" because they're selfish or self-absorbed, so it’s important to respond gently and compassionately rather than cruelly or sarcastically.

When you’re saying "no" to someone else, keep your own motivations in mind.

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9. Be forgiving of yourself.

Saying "no" can be challenging, and it’s OK if you don’t feel like you have a lot of control over how other people behave when they get upset with you for turning them down. What matters is how you handle it.

Do you get angry or anxious? Do you want to say "no" but avoid doing so because of guilt or shame? Most importantly, do you treat yourself kindly and with respect?

When you judge yourself harshly for things you've done, you actually prevent yourself from changing your behavior for the better.

10. Say 'yes' to yourself.

Saying "yes" to other people can sometimes lead you to feel more distant from yourself. Set some time aside for yourself, and learn how to be kinder with your own needs and desires. If you say "no" in a healthy way for you, others will respect you more for it and respect themselves more for respecting your decisions.

Giving and receiving is a balance of power.

Saying "no" when you need to is an expression of autonomy — it’s about making your own decisions based on what you truly desire, rather than on what's expected of you by others.

Giving does not have to mean doing for others; it can also mean listening to your inner self and living the life you really want to live.

In the end, expressing your power and taking control over your own life is what makes you feel confident. When you learn how to say "no" without feeling guilty, you're often saying "yes" to something more substantial: absolute freedom and autonomy.

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Dr. Leda Kaveh is a licensed clinical psychologist and the owner/director of Washington Psychological Wellness, a boutique-style mental health clinic located in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She has specialized knowledge and training in individual, adult, adolescent, child, couples, and family therapy and the treatment of various mental health concerns.

This article was originally published at Washington Psychological Wellness . Reprinted with permission from the author.