Saying No To People: Why You’re Allowed To And How to Do It.


How do we balance getting our own shit together (and keeping it together) with helping and pleasing the people around us?

We’re always somewhere in the middle, aren’t we. On the one hand we have our own life, with all of its responsibilities, appointments, deadlines and priorities. Which is important. If we don’t keep our own stuff on track, who will?

But on the other hand, we like people and we want them to like us back. And one of the easiest ways to get people to like us is by helping them. We want to help people because we’re altruistic, sure, but we also want to please others because if we do that people regard us as good human beings, and we have people around us who deserve our help and support with their responsibilities and needs.

You can’t have one OR the other. You can’t go live in Egomania Town but you can’t go be Mother Teresa’s Reincarnation all the time either. You gotta have some of both. But how?!

I mean, helping others is great. It can be good for your own soul as well as the other person’s, you give someone a hand and that’s nice. But when you’re helping someone else, it sometimes feels wrong. You feel stressed out, weird and off. Or the things you have to do for you get snowed under other people’s requests or demands. When that happens you know you said ‘yes’ when you should have said ‘no’. The yesses you’ve been given other people have been nos to yourself.

But how do you, you know, stop with that? In like, a good way? How do you start saying no to people when you want to?

Trial-and-error. It’s something I have to keep working on as well: I’m a closet people-pleaser who easily goes out of her own way to help someone else. Sometimes, I still say ‘yes’ when I actually feel I should have said ‘no.’ I try to take these moments as learning opportunities.

Every situation is a new dilemma where you have to weigh the ‘yes’ against the ‘no’ in every different situation. Figure out what is best for you. Sometimes you’ll regret helping someone, sometimes you’ll regret you chose to do say ‘no’. No worries, this will only help you make better decisions in the future.

It takes practice, but also a shift in perspective. See, most of us walk around with a few (wrong) assumptions when it comes to us and other people:

1. We are NOT the sole savior of the entire world and all their (self-induced) inconveniences.

Think about it. Who died and made you responsible for everyone?

The friend that drops his 30 page essay on you for revision the night before you have a deadline of your own is responsible for his own damn spelling and finding a proof-reader who has time available for his your-s and you’re-s. If he wanted you specifically to proof-read it, MAYBE he should have thought of that earlier and taken your schedule into account. Just a thought.

2. We are too scared of disappointing, offending or inconveniencing other people.

Whether it’s just a little or extremely, whether it’s openly or on a more subconscious level, it’s in all of us. We need to be positively evaluated. And we think if we don’t help other people ALL the time they will hate us forever.

Um, no. Nobody is going to declare you Enemy of the State because you couldn’t or didn’t help them paint their apartment. And let me tell you something else: Even if they did, it’s not your problem.

If you didn’t help them they’re allowed to be disappointed. They’re also required to get over it pretty quickly if they’re decent human beings. Regardless, if it was your decision and you stand by it, that’s that.

3. Other people are more important than we are. 

Nope. Nope nope nope. But this is an underlying idea we have because God forbid someone thinks of us as self centered or egotistical or selfish.

But we are just as important as the people around us, and not just that: When we allow ourselves to use our time, effort and resources for ourselves, we are way better equipped to help others anyway. In planes they always tell ou to first put on your own oxygen mask before helping others with theirs. You need to do that in life too.

So how about some tips on when how to say ‘no?’

TRUST YOUR GUT. If it evokes a panic-response, it’s no. If you immediately start worrying about how this is going to take up space that you don’t actually have,  also ‘no.’  If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, definitely no. 

Anything that makes you feel happy for helping someone out is okay, permitted you have the time and resources and it does not terribly inconvenience you.

USE THIS ACRONYM AS A RESPONSE METHOD. If you’re invited somewhere, but you can’t/don’t want to (remember that wanting to spend time alone IS a valid reason to decline an invitation, use ADA: I found it on the adulting blog a long, long time ago. Still think it’s amazing.

  • Acknowledge: “Thank you for inviting me”
  • Decline: “I have other plans/”I am kind of tired so I’d rather go to bed early”/”Not right now”
  • Alternative: “Maybe we can meet up next weekend?”/”How about I see you at [X]’s party?”/”I’ll catch you somewhere another time”

You can also use this when people ask you for help or favors. “Thank you for thinking of me as smart enough to proof-read your paper (A), unfortunately I’m swamped with my own work (D). You should try finding someone else (A).”

“Thanks for thinking of me and my awesome car as your easiest way to catch a ride somewhere (A). I am not going anywhere tonight though (D). Maybe you should ask someone else or find the nearest bus station (A).

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll say ‘yes’ when I want to and I can. But I’ll also say ‘no’ when I want to.

Because with using my instinct and the ADA acronym, I can. 😉

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    1. Je had het kunnen vragen en misschien had ik het nog gedaan ook 😉 Maar alleen als ik er echt tijd voor had!

  1. Een heel handig stukje om over na te denken! Ik ga denk ik vanaf nu proberen meer nee te zeggen, wanneer dit mij niet goed uitkomt. (:

  2. Nee zeggen gaat me gelukkig steeds beter af met de ADA-methode. Ik was me er niet van bewust dat het zo heette, maar ik merkte dat als mensen ‘nee’ tegen mij zeiden, dat het wel fijn is als je een verklaring en een alternatief krijgt, dus zo probeer ik het zelf ook te brengen. Alleen jammer dat sommige mensen niet goed tegen ‘nee’ kunnen…het volgende probleem haha

    1. Haha jaaa de reactie van een ander heb je maar tot een bepaalde hoogte invloed op! Wel goed dat het steeds beter gaat!

  3. Dit is zo op mijn lijf geschreven!

    Toen ik mijn vriend vroeg naar mijn zwakke punt, kwam hij met: ‘zegt altijd ja’

    Daarnaast heb ik het gevoel dat ik altijd een ander z’n problemen moet oplossen. Ik weet dat dat niet reëel is, maar anders krijg ik zo’n knagend schuldgevoel.

    Ik vind t altijd zo fijn dat je artikelen stof tot nadenken geeft, maar toch lekker wegleest 🙂