As seen in Today's Parent 

As seen in Flare Magazine

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Anu Sharma-Niwa,
M.A., R.Psych.
Registered Psychologist 

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Just Say NO!!!

Today I found myself marveling at how easy my five year old seems to be able to say “No”.   I admired him for being able to eloquently say “No” without guilt, shame, fear, or social pressure.  I plan to do my darndest to preserve this quality in my son...without getting into the land of oppositional defiance, of course!  What I am striving to do as a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and psychologist is to spread the word that there is no shame or blame in listening to your needs and being honest about what you can and cannot do.  The word “No” need not always be connotative of negativity, guilt, shame or disappointment.  Not surprisingly, what actually tends to happen for people who say “yes” to things they really don’t want to do is that it leads to exhaustion, time away from self-care and potentially even resentment and burnout.  We all have needs, priorities, tasks on our to-do lists and responsibilities.  It is important for you to value your time and space and to be able to find some semblance of peace and tranquility amidst all of the chaos that is life these days.  

Why is it so difficult for many of us to give ourselves that same compassion as we tend to automatically give others?

Many people find saying “No” to be incredibly difficult because there are so many internal (i.e. personality, temperament, etc.) and external (i.e. cultural and social pressures) factors that contribute to what this resistance is all about.  Some of these include:

1.  You are a nice person and genuinely want to help someone out...even if it puts you out.

2.  You are afraid of being perceived as being “rude” or “disrespectful”.  

  3.  You conform to others’ thoughts and opinions for fear of being rejected from the group…there is a                     need for wanting to belong and feel accepted.

4.  You fear that saying “No” will cause conflict and you have a tendency to want to avoid conflict                           whenever possible.

5.  You are worried that you may lose an opportunity or prevent yourself from getting ahead (i.e.                         professionally).

 Most of you can probably identify with at least one of the above factors that promote resistance to saying “No”. However, the reality is that these are HUGE misconceptions!!! In fact, you will likely find that saying “No” is not nearly as catastrophic as you may have imagined it to be in your mind’s eye.  Not saying “No” has the potential to cause more conflict, rudeness (i.e. via resentment or contempt) and to promote symptoms of anxiety and depression.  You cannot please everyone all the time, so try focusing on HOW to say “No” as opposed to giving in to others reluctantly.

Bottom line: Our fears about saying “No” are just our mind’s way of playing tricks on us.   It is not really about saying “No”, but rather HOW to find the right way to say “No”. 

Here are some “nice” ways to say “No”, while still being supportive, encouraging and respectful.

1.  “I appreciate you asking me as I admire your organization, but unfortunately my schedule does not allow for me to accept your offer at this time” or “I would so enjoy doing that with you but I’m not able to make it that night”.  Beginning with a compliment can soften the refusal, but be sure that the compliment is genuine.

2. “That’s an excellent offer but I’m not in a position to take advantage of it right now”.  This        helps put a positive spin when declining an offer but does leave the door open for future                              communication.  As such, you might want to ensure you are sincerely interested in the offer as it                     might invite this conversation again in the near future. 

  3. “I can’t commit because I am swamped with other priorities at the moment” This works great when you are too busy, but lets the person know that you aren’t rejecting them or their idea, but have too much on your plate at the moment. 

  4. “Now is not a good time because I’m in the middle of something, but how about we chat more at _______ time?”  This works when you want to gently put off a request for a short period of time. 

  5. “I am not able to plan your party at this time due to some pressing commitments at the moment but let me give you the contact information for suppliers I had used at my last party”.  Most often providing a great lead for someone to follow through can be just the kind of help they need.   It only take a few moments to pass along information and resources! 

  6. “Let me think about it” This is a very valid way to respond to a request as there are few occasions where you need to make a decision on the spot.  This allows for you to take time to consider your options, but ensure you respectfully get back to the person within a reasonable time frame. 

  7. “I really like this idea and would love to do this, but….” Ensure you say this if you genuinely like the idea and just want to say no in a nice and gentle way.  You are being honest about your limitations but complimentary and encouraging about their idea.  Sometimes, just knowing that you are backing a person from an emotional standpoint can be incredibly helpful!

  8. “This is not something I do” This is a nice and pleasant way to say "No"for requests for donations or contributions.  You are not obligated to take on something if it is not the right fit for you. 

  9. “I love you but I’m just not in the mood to make love at the moment” It is important to create a ritual for initiating and refusing sexual intimacy with your partner so that he or she is not hearing “No” to mean that you would rather wash your hair than make love.  Create a soft and gentle way to let your partner know you do desire and find him/her attractive but just want to take a rain-check this time given your circumstances. 

  10. “I’m really not the best person to help with this one”.  If you feel the request is not within your area of expertise or something that cannot be done easily, it will quickly drain you of energy and time.  Recommend others who may have the core area of specialization the person is looking for – they will appreciate you for doing them the favor of pointing them in the right direction of the best person for the task or job. 

  11. “I know I have been out of touch, but I did get your message.  I’m going to say no, and it is my hope that my delay in getting back to you hasn’t caused you any inconvenience”.  This works well when you have been avoiding someone for fear of saying "No".

  12. “I’m horribly overbooked right now so can’t meet up with you right now, but I get the sense that there is something in particular that you wanted to discuss.  What’s up?” This works for the person who periodically wants to get together in the name of ‘friendship’ but who you suspect just wants something from you.  By putting him/her on the spot politely via text or telephone can put an end to these lunch invitations that seem rife with secondary gain. 

  13. Grab person’s forearms and stand back to say “Look at you!”  In order to avoid having to follow through with that uncomfortable social hug that you don’t want to deal with from that guy who squeezes you just a little too tightly. By grabbing his/her forearms and admire the would-be hugger’s sheer fabulosity, you can avoid the uncomfortable hug you have been dreading. 

  14. “No” A simple and direct “no” can often be more effective than a long and drawn out “maybe”.  Lengthy justifications are often not necessary.  Saying “No” without a long and drawn out explanation can be empowering and won’t look abrupt or cold when stated in a firm and respectful tone. 


By learning how to say “No” in a firm, but respectful way, you can take charge of your life.  It is actually easier than you think! The challenges of saying “No” are most often more imagined than real.  With a little repetition and consistency, you can change the negative belief your mind had created regarding the meaning of “No” and replace it with more positive and realistic messages. Saying “No” is important for respecting and valuing your time and space.  It is integral for living your life from a place of self-care and self-love.  We teach people how to treat us and it is important to give ourselves the same compassion that we often give so freely to others.  This is not selfishness, but self-care and self-love at its best. 


Do you have trouble saying “No” but can be quite empathic and understanding when others say decline your requests or offers? 

Do you think that these challenges or resistances to saying “No” are, indeed, more imagined than realistic?

If you have a preferred way of saying “no” that I have not included in this entry, I would love to hear from you! 



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