How and Why We Must Learn to Say No


We women are nurtures, caretakers, lovers of others, and let-me-help-you serving machines. And that is wonderful and good. But these traits can cause trouble when we start getting to many tasks on our plates and wear ourselves out.

You ever done that? Over committed and burned the oil of too-much-to-accomplish on both ends of the calendar page?

I have. And not only do I suffer, but those around me suffer. I get tired and cranky and very-little-patience fits me to a tee. And then I often topple into the martyr syndrome. 

Not a pretty sight. And in that not-so-pretty-state, I am not helping myself or others very effectively. Which means I am not accomplishing what I set out to do. My desire to say yes is backfiring like a stubborn car with an engine problem. And if anyone will listen, my complaints are about as loud.


Why can’t you say no? And what motivates you?


It really isn’t that hard to say no. In fact, it can pop out of my mouth without much thought when a child comes and asks me, “Mom, can I stay up for another three hours,” and in numerous other situations. Saying the word no, is not the problem. The feelings that engulf me before or after I say no are the problem. It is the guilt. Shame. Pressure. A feeling of letting others down. Or not meeting expectations (theirs or mine) that weighs down on me, that makes it so hard to say no.

We have this desire to look good, have others be pleased with us, not disappoint, to . . . okay, let’s be honest here, glorify our self.

In other words, what motivates me, makes it hard to say no.

I can pronounce this powerful two-letter word very easily, but not when I am motivated by praise, guilt, self-promotion, or pleasing others.

And that’s the rub.

So, what can I do to set healthy boundaries for myself (and others)? How can I more easily say no when I need to? What can I do to check my motivations? How can I not be motivated by guilt?

Here are some things that can help you say no when faced with a decision:


1. Realize there are lots of good and right things we are going to have to say no to. Sometimes it is easy to say no to something because we don’t want to do it or maybe it is wrong. But sometimes it is hard to say no to good and right things. An older lady gave me this advice shortly after I was married, and I have had to remind myself of this many times. I can’t say yes to every interesting movie or girlfriend outing or to each service endeavor or I would run myself ragged. We have so many good and right choices to choose from that we will end up saying no to things we really want to do sometimes. For no other reason than we can’t do it all.

2. Figure out your purpose, goal, dream, or calling for this season in life.  When we know where we are headed and what we need to spend most of our waking hours doing, it makes it easier to say no to things that will keep us from our purpose or delay our goals. If my goal is exercise every morning, then I can’t commit my mornings to other activities. If my job is to homeschool my children, then I need to keep my day hours free from commitments. If I am trying to start a business, then I need to dedicate time to do this. Say no, so you can yes to the most important things.

3. Ask yourself why you feel motivated to say yes. Guilt, shame, trying to prove something, to feel loved or wanted, because we don’t want to miss out or be the only one saying no, or because we want to look good are all motivators that prompt us to say yes. But they are not healthy motivators. And when we say yes to these motivators, they often build resentment and bitterness in our heart.

4. Decide whether you can joyfully say yes without later feeling aggravation, remorse, or resentment. It is not fair to us, or the other person, if we say that we will do something, and then the day of we are stomping around all upset about say yes.

5. Understand that when you say no, things will still get done. We don’t have to do it all or do it again because we have done it in the past. Other people can step in and do it. In fact, our no, gives someone else the opportunity to say yes.

6. Remember that saying no now doesn’t mean you say no to it forever. Certain times of our lives have more commitments, limitations, or responsibilities. Maybe I can’t say yes to something now, but I can in a few years.

7. Trust your intuition. You know if you have the time and energy to take on one more thing without feeling resentment and while still completing your current job and duties, getting enough sleep, and taking care of yourself.

8. Renegotiation can take place anytime. Just because you have been doing something for the last eleven years, does not mean you have to keep doing it. Maybe it is time to renegotiate and take it off your plate.

9. Schedule time for fun, relaxation, getting together with friends, and just to be. If we don’t set aside time for these things, they usually don’t happen. Be intentional and make it happen. All work makes Jill a tired and cranky girl.

10. Don’t say yes right away. Give yourself a day or two to think about it.

11. When you say no, you don’t have to explain why you are saying no. Just politely say no. The other person does not need to be told why or how you can’t do something. There is no need to justify your decision.

12. Set boundaries for your self because these boundaries will not set themselves. When we start respecting our limitations and set boundaries, others will respect them too.

13. Learn to tell yourself no. We need to be self-controlled, order our own lives, and readjust our expectations when they are not healthy. We can’t stay up past midnight watching movies and wake up cheerful the next morning.

14. Pray for wisdom and direction. God knows what is best for us. When we look to him for advice, he reminds us of our worth, our reason for being, and helps us set our priorities.

Saying no can be hard, but if we are saying no for the right reasons, it becomes easier. When we are evaluating our motives, remembering the current direction of our life, and setting boundaries for our self, we are headed in the right direction.

And that’s a healthy direction to be headed.

Thanks for stopping by. Keep remembering what’s important.



PS. Learn 17 reasons why we women have a hard time saying no. Why We Can’t Say No But Must

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Join the discussion: What helps you say no?

May link up at Jennifer Dukes Lee (#tellhisstory); and Holley Gerth (#coffeeforyourheart), Lori Schumaker (#Moments of Hope),  Crystal Storms (#HeartEncouragement), Arabah Joy (#Grace & Truth).

11 Replies to “How and Why We Must Learn to Say No”

  1. This sounds like common sense, so many people don’t have it today. It is wisdom from God. He is limitless we are not. I fell into the people pleasing mode a long time ago. It was hard to break and sometimes I have to remind myself. I don’t like the martyr, either. I recently dropped some things to focus on my blog and a praying for others. Even as a youngster in church I didn’t like that they wanted me to join everything and do everything. I have learned to set boundaries and priorities and sometimes, it’s just rest and me time in Jesus. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for sharing, Rebecca. Yes, we are expected to join everything, but sometimes we need to be still and spend time with Jesus. I am glad you are seeing the necessity andl learning to say no. Blessings on your blog.

  2. Great tips Theresa on why and how to say no, which for many of us is an ongoing issue. I teach and share this too in my work and actually my post this week’s post is a bit similar but about saying yes to God instead. Thanks for the great word-glad I met you through Crystal’s #heartencouragement this week!

  3. This is such good advice, Theresa! I have definitely fallen into the trap of thinking I could do it all or not wanting to say no in case I disappointed people. As I’ve learned to say no more I’ve found that people take it better than I thought they would and while I may have worried about their reaction, most of the time they understand and don’t actually mind!

    • Great point, Lesley. Often I worry to much about saying no and how people will react and how it may affect our relationship, and then when I say it, they understand. I think maybe because they do the same thing and can relate.

  4. Theresa, you nailed it for me: “what motivates me, makes it hard to say no.”

    This list is excellent. Saving for sharing and referencing. So many of these are points I’ve had to learn the hard way the last few years and still keep having to (re)learn. Especially that you can renegotiate at any time and that you don’t have to explain yourself.

    This also reminded me of a video I saw on FB (I don’t remember where or why….). In it, a group of people were invited to a party. Each turned the host down with a strong excuse. One just said “no thanks.” All the others tried offering excuses for her. She just said “no, I just don’t want to go.” And humorously wilder and wilder excuses were offered because they couldn’t accept someone saying “no” politely without explaining themself. That’s 100% my struggle and your list helps! Thank you!

    • Bethany, Glad this helps you. Writing it helped remind me of what motivates me. It is hard to say no without making excuses and elaborate reasons, yet the simplest no is often the most effective. Sounds like an interesting video.

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