How to Say “No”

How to Say “No”

say "no"

I refuse to please others at the expense of my emotional well being, even if it means saying ‘no’ to people who are used to hearing ‘yes.’ ”

Boundaries and limit setting are something that often comes up in therapy sessionsThere’s a reason for this. Telling others “No” can be very hard for many people. For some, this can come from being raised by a family who valued avoidance of conflict. Others may have grown up in a household filled with activity and drama. As a result, these people may have learned to cope by being compliant. For them, saying ‘yes’ as a child was easier, even if the resulting activity or situation was unpleasant. The problem is that while these coping strategies may have worked OK in their family environment, as teenagers and adults these coping strategies usually don’t continue to work as effectively in the outside world. Saying “Yes” to everything at work, for example, will often land you with more work than you can handle. Saying “Yes” to everything at school may have you doing all the work on that group project while your other group members coast along contributing nothing. Saying “Yes” to everything in your marriage could leave you feeling resentful at your partner and unfulfilled in your relationship. So obviously learning to say “No” at times is an important skill. How do we learn to start? We have to understand that we deserve to set limits and that our emotional well being depends on it. It is pure physics. There are only so many slices in a pizza pie. There is only so much gas a tank can hold. There is only so much of ourselves we can say “Yes” to before we are running on empty. If we keep giving of ourselves to others, we will eventually have literally nothing left to give. Once we accept this fact as a true reality, we can then be empowered to start to learn concrete skills to practice setting and enforcing our limits and boundaries. Sometimes this can be as simple as learning key phrases to fall back on like “No, thanks” or “Normally I’d love to but right now I just can’t” or, simply, “No.” Other times, these skills can look like learning to identify what triggers us to fail to set limits emotionally and learning techniques to manage those emotional barriers. Whatever is needed in your specific case, you are capable of learning how to figure it out. If you need a little extra help and support in this endeavor, a good therapist is always a great place to start. 

 Need help learning to set limits and enforce boundaries? Call (212) 335-0511 or email


About the Author: