Why We Can’t Say No, But Must

We women can be focused driven work machines. We strive to accomplish more than possible, spin the gears nonstop until after the day is done, and are often multi-tasking like a pro.

We can change diapers with our eyes closed while planning a mental to-do list for the next 24 hours, cook dinner and give an oral spelling test at the same time, slam dunk a presentation at work and then transition to shuttling the kids to sports. Such is the skill of most women.

We are not born capable, multitasking, accomplish-all machines, but as time passes and we reach adulthood and acquire more responsibility, we hone and refine this hurry-and-accomplish-all-that-life-throws at us skill.

And this is a good thing.

But it can also be a not so good thing.

Because we women tend to overcommit ourselves, pile more on our plate than we can reasonably accomplish, carry around guilt and unreasonable expectations, and we have a hard time saying no.

We may run on guilt and “I should,” because what people think is often very important to us.

So why do we women run ourselves ragged trying to do it all, please all, and struggle with this fear to say no?

I have never seen an article aimed at men that explains why they need to quit overcommitting themselves. I have never heard men confess to each other that ‘no’ needs to be part of their vocabulary. Nor have I caught them complaining (or is it bragging) about how they are just so busy they can hardly catch their breath.  

This struggle to say ‘yes’ to often, and ‘no’ to little, seems to be more of a struggle for women than men.

So, what motivates this fear we women have of saying no?


17 reasons women find it difficult to say no.


1. Our own expectations that we can and should be able to do everything. (We often have higher expectations for ourselves then others have for us.)

2.  We didn’t hear other women saying no and setting healthy boundaries when we were growing up.

3. We grew up hearing that we could do it all.

4. We think saying ‘no’ is admitting defeat or is being weak. (And the last thing we want to be is weak.)

5. We are easily motivated by guilt. Our own and others. And this guilt to please others also doesn’t want to let others down or disappoint them, so we say yes. We think it is our job or responsibility. And as the years pass, we tend to pile more and more onto our job description.

6. We think no one else will do it. Or do it right. Or do it on time. Or do it the way it needs to be done. So, we do it.

7. We rationalize “what’s one more thing?’ One more child? One more meeting? One more committee?

8. We think we should do it because we have done it the last four years. Or is it ten years? Everyone is depending on us and we know how to do it right. 

9. We want to be strong and capable, so we say yes and then yes again. We are after all, supper women. We think super women don’t need help and don’t ask for help.

10. We have this inner nature to nurture, take care of, and help, which of course is a very good thing. Unless we can’t say no and feel responsible for things that are not our responsibility. 

11. Past or present shame motivates us. Maybe we were told by our mother, or someone else, we were not very helpful, and years later we are still trying to prove their words wrong. 

12. People tell us we should do it, or expect us to do it. We don’t want to let them down.

13. We are good at doing something, and know we are good at doing it, and it is hard to say no because we know we will do a darn good job.

14. We have been doing it for years. Why stop now? And if we stop, who will do it? And if we stop people protest.

15. We feel everyone else’s needs come before ours. Or that they should if we are a good mother, wife, sister, daughter, employee  . . ..

16. We feel we need to be busy. Our worth comes from how much we accomplish, and we feel important when we are busy. Busy is our new important.

17. Saying yes makes us feel good and keeps us from feeling our real emotions.

Although this is a rather lengthy list, there are still reasons not listed (please leave them in the comments if you think of any).

The important thing to remember is that different things motivate us to say yes, and different circumstances or people bring forth different triggers (or emotions).

One person may make us feel guilty, another person may play upon our need to nurture, while another situation may make us feel selfish if we say no.

The point is . . .

We have assorted reasons about why we say yes to often, and don’t say no enough. One reason will not cover all circumstances or people. This is also why it is easier to say no sometimes, and harder other times.

So, what’s the problem with all this?


What happens when we can’t say no enough?


When we say yes to often, and no not enough, we often fall into the martyr syndrome or the victim syndrome. Neither is very pretty or fun to live with.

What is the martyr syndrome?

A martyr does everything herself. She wants to appear as the only one good enough to do things right and silently looks for recognition and pats on the back for all her hard work and helping of others. She never asks for help (others would not do it correctly, or do it at all). When others don’t praise her efforts, or notice that she is biting off more than she can handle and step in and help her (but without her asking), she becomes bitter, resentful, sarcastic, and snippy. Guilt and shame are two of the tools she uses to make those around her feel bad for not helping her or appreciating her.

What is the victim syndrome?

A victim feels like she does it all (and often feels she doesn’t have a choice but to do it all). She feels that everyone takes her for granted and relies on her to much. She feels overworked and taken advantage of, but she won’t stand up and say no (or feels she can’t say no without consequences). Instead she tries to get others to feel remorseful for all her yes’s. She does this by serving a heaping dose of guilt and shame on those around her. Her goal is to make others feel sorry for her, while making them think she has no other choice but to continue doing what she is doing and sacrificing her happiness and time for them.

Like I said, neither the martyr or victim is pretty to live within close proximity to.


Remembering what’s important. 


There is good news. Both the martyr and victim are roles we choose to play, or not play.

Like so much of life, we can choose to be a martyr or victim. And we can also bounce between the two roles depending on our audience and time of day. Or we can be strong women who learn to make healthy choices, take responsibility for our own attitudes (and not blame others or circumstances), and learn to say no.

We can model how to set healthy boundaries to our co-workers, sisters, daughters, friends, and mothers that respect our needs and the needs of those we help and serve, or we can become victims and martyrs and make those within close proximity run for cover from us.

We can take responsibility for our own choices, life, and attitudes, or we can blame others and be motivated by guilt and trying to please others.

We can try to be super women who have it all together, and are ever ready to help everyone but ourselves, or we can be honest, vulnerable, and tender with ourselves and others.

We can try and do it all on our own (and miserably fail), or we can show more strength by asking for help from others and our creator.

We can look for the approval of others, or the approval of God.

We can base our worth on our to-do list and accomplishments, or we can base our worth on being his child.

We can give our self grace, or beat our self up. The choice is ours.   

What will you choose?

Next week’s post – How and Why We Must Learn to Say No.


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


If you need some weekly encouragement and hope, tied up with some humor? Subscribe and join the journey. Life is sweeter when we walk alongside one another.

Join the discussion: What keeps you from saying no? (Mine are 1, 2, 5,  6, 9, and 14.)

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

What We All Need: Now and Forever


From the time he was little, I have tried to let my son know that he is a blessing to our family. That without him our family would be missing something.

“What would I do without you?” I would sometimes ask him.

“I don’t know.” He would say.

“I would have no little boy to read to, or tuck in bed, or tickle until he laughs,” I would say. (Or something similar to let him know he was loved.)

One day, when he was around 6 or 7, we were in the kitchen together and I asked him if he knew how much I loved him?

“No,” he teased.

“Well bigger than this toaster. Bigger than this kitchen.” I said.

“Bigger than our town?” he asked.

“Oh yes. Bigger than our town. Even bigger than our state.”

“Bigger than the world?”

“Bigger than the universe,” I said.

And then I asked. “What would I do without you?”

And for the first time he didn’t even hesitate. he said, “Without me you would be sitting around the house all day just crying.”

I was a bit surprised. “I would?”

“Yup. Because your heart would have a big hole in it and you would be sad.”

I smiled and glanced at his sincere face that was waiting for an answer.

Now rationally I knew I would not be sitting around crying 24/7 without him, and I almost opened my mouth to tell him, and then I stopped.

“You are right,” I said. “Without you I would be crying all day with a big hole in my heart.”

He smiled and walked away. Content in my love for him.

Later that week when I told the story to a friend she asked why I hadn’t told him the truth? Was I giving him the wrong idea by not letting him know his older sister filled part of the hole in my heart? Wasn’t I promoting a mistruth by letting him think I really would be sitting around all day crying if I hadn’t had him?

I told her that of course I would not be sitting around crying all day, but wasn’t it sweet that he thought I would?

We all want to feel loved. Necessary.


Over time I have thought about her words. Should I have corrected him? Should I have promoted something not entirely accurate?

And the more I thought about it, the more I knew I did the right thing.

Because when it comes down to it, we all want to feel loved. Needed. A necessary part of a bigger group or family. We want to feel that without us, others would be sad, their life a little less bright. It’s a desire we are born with and one we die with.

I had a childhood friend who was told she was a mistake as she was growing up. The reason of her parent’s marriage. That if her mom had not gotten pregnant with her, then her parents would not have had to marry and their life would have been so much better.

What a heavy burden for a child to carry. What harsh words to weigh upon her soul and identity. What a sad message those words conveyed to her.

Who wants to be told they are not necessary? That they ruined other people’s lives? That the world would be a little brighter and nicer without them?

No one.

No one should ever hear these words.

But some people do.

And some people have.

And if you one of those people, then my heart breaks for you. And I want you to know that those words were a lie. They were selfish. They were pulling life from you, not nourishing you. No child should ever be told they do not matter. No one of any age should hear these words. These words are not a blessing. They are a curse.

Because when it comes down to it, we all want to know we are needed. A necessary part of the world. A blessing to those around us.


We all need to know we matter and make a difference. 


The tiny newborn needs to feel and hear they are wanted and precious.

The picky eater playing with their Legos and learning to count needs to know how valuable they are to the family and how much they are loved.

The teen with a defiant attitude and earbuds in their ears needs to know they are a blessing and joy.

The mom who feels she is failing as a mom and is at a loss as how to get her child to eat some vegetables needs to hear how necessary she is.

The man who is worried about providing for his family and connecting with his kids needs to be told that he is loved heart and soul. 

The worker who can’t seem to please their boss and doesn’t feel like they fit in with their coworkers needs to hear they are part of the team and needed for more than their output.

The person in a wheelchair that feels like life is moving on without them needs to feel they are valuable and loved no matter their abilities.

The 92-year old neighbor whose kids rarely visit needs to know she makes a difference.

Feeling unlovable? Remember how much you are loved.


We all need to know we are special, that we make a difference, that we are loved unconditionally, and always will be. That others delight in us and enjoy us.

Our enemy wants us to doubt the love from others, to feel negated, and not needed. Most of all he wants us to doubt God’s love for us. He wants us to ultimately believe we are unlovable and steal our joy and hope. Because if we think we are unlovable we isolate our self from others. We don’t love others and they can’t love us.

If we really knew the deep love that God has for us, nothing could stop us. Nothing. It is the most important thing in the world. The most powerful, motivating, and life changing thing. God is love. Always and Forever. He will love us because it is his nature. He can’t help but love us. And that is a wonderful thought.

He sees us through eyes of love. He sees us as valuable, necessary, and wonderfully made. He uses many terms of endearments to proclaim his love for us. We are his beloved, his children, his treasure.

Remember this fierce love he has for you, now and forever. Especially on dark and long days.

No matter what anyone has ever said or told you. You are valuable and necessary. Without you the world would most certainly be a little darker, a little sadder.

Believe this. Live like you are loved. Like you do make a difference. Because you do.

Now, go tell someone today how much you love them. That they make your world brighter.

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



Need some weekly encouragement and hope, tied up with some humor? Subscribe and join the journey. Life is sweeter when we walk alongside one another.

Join the Discussion: What makes you feel loved?

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

Exploding Expectations


Sometimes when I look back on my expectations, I laugh. Probably because some distance has developed and I am a little wiser. Hopefully.

I remember being confined for months to a hospital bed. Hour after boring hour I laid there. And I remember thinking that as soon as I had the doctor’s okay to blow the lousy mattress and confining  side rails,  I was jumping back up and life was returning to normal.

Unfortunately, I forgot I was healing from a broken back and other broken bones. I didn’t know it, but soon I would find out I was suffering from a bad head injury and other ailments. I didn’t know it as I laid on my back hour after hour, that it would be years before the pain and problems would subside and life would return to a new normal.

Multiple months after springing from the hospital bed I was talking to my therapist about life and how everything was so difficult. Normal life was nowhere to be found even though I was now up, working, and again engaged with life.

She looked at me and said, “Theresa if you had a friend who had just been in an accident and was trying to get back into the swing of life again and was finding everything so difficult, what advice would you give her?”

“I would tell her not to be so hard on herself. Relax and give herself more room and not get so discouraged. Patience and grace,” I said.

“Then tell yourself that,” she said.

I laughed a nervous laugh. “I can’t”

“Why not?”

“Well,” I hemmed and hawed. Finally, I said, “Because I hold myself to a higher standard than I do her.”


Silence filled the room. Expanded and breathed several times. Got heavier and heavier.

“I expect more of myself than I do others.”

It was a moment of truth. Of clarity. Something I had never put into words out loud before. And I felt icky and bad saying them, but it was the truth. Yet, even if it was the truth, I wanted to take the words back. To say, no, I didn’t really mean it. Only I couldn’t.

That happened over 20 years ago, and I would like to say that I am now way past that flaw of unrealistic expectations. But like other bad habits, it will be something I will be fighting for the rest of my life.

These expectations start early.


When I was little I had very few expectations. I remember being delighted with baby kittens and a snow fall that was taller than me. I started school and I excepted to be a good student. I had younger brothers and sisters and was expected to be a good sister. We went to church. I was expected to behave. Be a good child.

The years went on and more and more was expected of me by my parents, teachers, others, bosses, and myself.

I got married and I expected myself to be a good wife. A child arrived and I expected myself to be a good mother. I started teaching, and I expected myself to be a good teacher.

Each year new responsibilities were added. And I piled on new expectations for myself. Homeowner. Neighbor. Committee Leader. Volunteer. Planner. Aunt.

And whether I consciously realized it or not, each new title or position or responsibility had certain rules. Self-imposed expectations. Dos and don’ts.

A good mother did this and that, not that or this, and never that.

I was good at creating expectations for myself.

I was well into life and marriage and motherhood before I realized that many of these expectations I had for myself, were silly rules and laws I had put upon myself. Rules and expectations others were not holding me to. God was not holding me to them. I was holding myself to them and then judging whether I was a good mother or sister or teacher or leader by whether I did this or that on my to-do list or self-imposed rules.

Reevaluate your expectations. 


After my confession, my therapist looked at me with kindness and concern. She let my thoughts linger in the room.

Then she looked at me and said, “What makes you so different from your friends that you feel you need to expect more of yourself than you do your friends?”

I squirmed. This was getting embarrassing and more uncomfortable by the moment.

“Because I know if you told any of your friends” she continued, “that you were having trouble putting your life back together after your accident, they would say don’t be so hard on yourself. They would say, of course, take it easy. Give yourself some patience and grace and take it easy and slow and soon you will be there. Right?”

I nodded.

“Then treat yourself as your friends would treat you,” she said.

And just like in the movies. That was the end of our hour appointment.

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find myself struggling with my expectations for myself. My expectations for others. My expectations of life. My expectations of God.

Sometimes I need to re-evaluate my expectations and see if I am living in bondage or freedom. Whose expectations am I keeping? My own or Gods?

Because if I am living under God’s expectations, I have so much freedom and grace in my life. More than I ever give myself or used to think possible. Under his, I am good enough, don’t need to achieve perfection, or do everything under my own works. Because he holds me to a standard of grace, not perfection.

And that is freeing.

Under him, I am free from my own rules. I wear a light yoke that is grace centered.

Thanks for stopping by. Keep remembering what’s important and have a lovely day.



Join the Discussion: Are you living under your own expectations, others, or His? What expectations do you need to change?

Linking up at Jennifer Dukes Lee (#tellhisstory); and Holley Gerth (#coffeeforyourheart), Lori Schumaker (#Moments of Hope).  A Wise Woman Builds her Home, Pat and Candy, Messy Marriage, Arabah Joy (#Grace & Truth), Missional Women, Crystal Storms (#HeartEncouragement) and Lili Dunbar (#FaithOnFire).