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jordym84's avatar

How can I learn to say "no" without feeling guilty?

Asked by jordym84 (4742points) March 6th, 2013

Basically, as the title suggests, I have a really hard time saying “no” without feeling guilty about it and, sometimes, sick to my stomach. I’m not sure where this comes from, but I do know it has something to do with a fear of letting people down. For the most part I have no trouble accepting it when someone says “no” to me and I accept it graciously. However, when it comes to me saying “no” to others, it just doesn’t happen easily. It doesn’t bother me to say “yes” to things of little importance so long as everyone involved is happy. However, when it comes to people’s expectations of me, I have a hard time turning them down.

For instance, one of my friends who got engaged a few months ago wants us (meaning she and I, her fiancé and my current flat mate) to get an apartment together when both our leases are up at the end of May. I don’t know how to say this without hurting her feelings or having her get mad at me, but I really don’t want to live with her and her fiancé. Don’t get me wrong, they are really nice people, but I’ve been to their apartments and they’re borderline hoarders. My flat mate and I keep our apartment very clean and organized and we’re mindful of our utility usage. Not only that, but we’re both well-traveled, open-minded and very independent and, unfortunately, the same cannot be said of my friend and her fiancé. In addition, they’re in a different stage of their lives, which is fine, but my flat mate and I are more career-focused right now and I know that, if we were to all move in together, these major differences would not make for a very happy living condition.

I’ve briefly mentioned to my friend that my flat mate and I might be extending our lease and explained to her that, for now, I want to stay where I am because it’s convenient for work. Additionally, I’ve moved around a lot since I was little and I finally feel settled into a place and don’t want to uproot myself yet again – I’m tired of moving. She doesn’t seem to get it and keeps messaging me about looking at apartments. I haven’t seen her in a while, mainly because I’ve been working a lot, but also because I keep avoiding her so I won’t have to tell her no flat-out, which I do realize is very childish, but I just can’t help it…

Any suggestions as to how I should go about this situation? I don’t want to say yes to living together because I know our friendship won’t last very long if we do, but at the same time, I have a strong feeling that, if I say no, she’ll get mad at me. I feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place…

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37 Answers

janbb's avatar

It takes a lot of practice to just say “No, that won’t work for me” and stick to it, but the more you do it, the better you get at it. Don’t overexplain, don’t get flustered (if you can hlp it) and don’t get manipulated. You have the right to do what is good for you.

P.S. That living change sounds like a terrible idea! Why would you even consider it for a moment?

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

I suggest you just tell them it is not in the cards. Don’t feel guilty. Because if you give in you will be the only one serving time. It is better to let them down one time and move on then let them rule your life and serve their time for them a lot longer.

jordym84's avatar

@janbb You just mentioned 3 of my biggest problems when saying “no”: I tend to overexplain, which causes me to get flustered and which, in turn, causes me to be manipulated into saying yes (I’m easily guilt-tripped, and my friend is a very persuasive person she’s a marketing major which is why I’ve been avoiding her).

@nofurbelowsbatgirl Makes sense, but it’s definitely easier said than done. The thing is, they’ve done a lot to help me. I moved here for a job and for the first few months I had to stay with them until I could get my own place, and saying no to living together makes me feel like a bad person…I feel like they have certain expectations due to the fact that they did help me out quite a lot initially and I feel like I’ll have that hanging over my head forever…

Sunny2's avatar

You basically want to be agreeable and say yes to everything, but, practically, you can’t. You have to learn to say no with a smile. In this situation, I’d laugh and say, “I don’t think so.” If pressed, you’d say, “It wouldn’t work.” Why? “We’d drive each other crazy.” or “We get along, but we just have very different living styles.“or “I’m not willing to discuss it further.”
Be in control. You’re right. You can tell anyone anything if you can do it in a friendly way. If they take offense, that’s their problem. You might lose a friend, but not because you said no.

janbb's avatar

@jordym84 There’s a reason I knew that! I have worked on this issue for many years.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Like @janbb says, it gets easier with practice. In my work life, I’m a people-pleasing butt-kisser, can’t say no to anything really. Saying no was very important to my time management since I answered to several people, so my manager told me I had to learn how to do it.

It’s actually very liberating, and I recommend it highly!!

And there’s no way I could live with hoarders EVER, but you have to be able to say, “Listen guys, you know I love you, but I’m a neat freak and it just wouldn’t work for me- no offense.”

Part of friendship is honest communication, and if you’re not honest then you’re not giving them the information they need to understand the situation completely, does that make sense?

bookish1's avatar

You’re in customer service, right? Do you think this has something to do with how you feel bad about saying no? Or rather, did your inability to say no make you more inclined/apt for customer service? In any case, developing boundaries and learning how to assert yourself is crucial to taking care of yourself as an adult. No one is going to be your advocate but you.

You were able to explain your reasons for not wanting to move in with your friend very clearly and convincingly to us on Fluther. Are you yourself convinced that you’re right? You have to be confident of that before you can just say no and stick to your guns.

If you lose a friend because you resisted a guilt trip, then I would say you didn’t have a friend there to begin with.

Pachy's avatar

Saying “No” in a kind and respectful way and without suffering guilt over it was certainly one of the hardest things I had to learn, and though I’m better at it now, I still struggle. My parents were poor models; I had to learn it on my own over time. For me, the training ground was the workplace, where people say no to each other all day long, some with kindness, others not. My suggestion to you is, think about the people in your life who have said no to you along the way, pick the one(s) who did it gracefully, and then try to mimic that. As @janbb says, practice is the key. And by the way, you’ve taken the first step simply by airing this issue with others.

jordym84's avatar

@KNOWITALL Besides the messiness, I don’t want to move in with them because it would mean downgrading to a smaller room and having to share a bathroom with someone else. Right now, I live in a big 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment and I love it! They want us to get a 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment and they, of course, have already claimed the master bedroom which has an en-suite bathroom. Additionally, living with them would mean higher energy and water bills (they take really long, really hot showers, run the dish washer at least every other day, do laundry every single day, and have the a/c on 24/7) and I just can’t fathom spending all my income paying for someone else’s wastefulness; currently, between my flat mate and I, we pay ⅓ of what my friends pay for utilities. I just can’t…

@bookish1 Yup, I do work in customer service. I’ve always had a passion for this industry and I suppose it has something to do with my desire to help people. I work for a company where saying “no” is usually the last resort, only after you’ve exhausted all your other options and I do love it (the whole “going above and beyond” thing). I feel at ease doing what I do because I’m encouraged to seek alternatives rather than saying “no” right off the bat. But when it comes to my personal life, there are times (such as this one) when I wish saying “no” came more easily to me…

@Pachyderm_In_The_Room When I think about it, I realize that it’s not so much the saying no itself that is my biggest problem, but rather the possible outcomes. The fear of how people will react is what keeps me from saying “no” and so I just keep it to myself and either say yes or (I’m embarrassed to admit) run and hide until they get the hint.

Thank you so much, everyone, for the feedback (and for allowing me to vent); this has been rather therapeutic. I’m still not really sure how I’m going to say it to them, but I’m determined to not allow myself to be guilt-tripped into doing something I know will not make me happy.

bookish1's avatar

@jordym84 : Just try not to worry about possible outcomes, since you can’t control or predict them. Speak your truth and do what is right for you. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

Shippy's avatar

“Thank you for the great offer, but I have made other plans”

Saying no is quite easy, more examples.

“That is kind of you to offer, but I can’t sorry”

“Thank you for thinking of me, but I am doing something else that day”

“I’d love to, but unfortunately I am busy that day, week, year, month”

I don’t believe in over hashing it. Nor offering lengthy explanations.

jordym84's avatar

@bookish1 Thank you! I do know that worrying about something will not change its outcome and I tell myself that often, but this situation has me losing sleep at night and thinking about explaining myself to them makes my heart race. I wish it wasn’t so, but I can’t seem to help it…

janbb's avatar

It does get easier but it is agonizing at first if you are not used to it. Just keep reminding yourself how much you don’t want this. There is absolutely no reason for you to say yes to it.

jordym84's avatar

I just got a message from her saying “So you don’t want us to move in?” and I replied with “I know we’ve talked about getting a place together but I’ve thought about it and I don’t want any of us to feel forced to compromise our wants and needs and then not be happy in the end. I like living here and having my own big bedroom and bathroom. But I know you wouldn’t be happy living here because of what’s associated with it (she had a falling out with one of our friends and her fiancé‘s best friend, both of whom living in the same apartment complex as us, and she wants to get away from here). And I know that if we were to get a 3-bedroom place I would have to give up the things I’ve come to love about having my own personal space, know what I mean? It’s just hard to find something that would make everyone happy at the same time.”

Let’s see what she says, though I already have a bad feeling about it…

janbb's avatar

Too much explanation. You have given her the opportunity to come back and argue with or manipulate you. Practice saying, “No, I don’t want to do that.”

KNOWITALL's avatar

@jordym84 Good luck, but I think it was too wordy, she’s going to message back mad I bet.

jordym84's avatar

@janbb and @KNOWITALL I thought of that, but only after I’d already hit “send…”

marinelife's avatar

Think about the worst that could happen if you said no. So she gets mad at you. It will blow over.

I would say to her something like, “You know I’m a neat freak and I just don’t think our living styles are compatible.”

or you cold just say, “No, I’m not going to look at apartments with you. I am extending my lease and staying where I am. I don’t want to move right now.”

Just do it! Practice makes perfect.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@jordym84 Oh well, you can clarify. Don’t sweat it. :)

jordym84's avatar

I shall not sweat it!! :)

bookish1's avatar

Best not to handle these sorts of discussions via text message in the future!
(I am assuming that’s what you did because you wrote “message” and not “email,” but correct me if I’m wrong.)

gailcalled's avatar

What @Pachyderm_In_The_Room said really bears repeating (so I will).

… think about the people in your life who have said no to you along the way, pick the one(s) who did it gracefully, and then try to mimic that. As @janbb says, practice is the key.

Sooner or later, this is a skill you must learn. You cannot go through your adult life either saying “Yes” or flagellating yourself and feeling guilt. The first time is the most difficult.

Remind yourself of your own value. Capitulating to others for the wrong reasons devalues you.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

Know what you need and want and answer truthfully but respectfully when faced with a request that is not consistent with your interests. Agreeing to something you don’t want is unfair to yourself and ultimately to those to whom you fail to respond honestly. When you go along reluctantly, you will ultimately disappoint others but you also fail to be true to yourself.

There is more guilt associated with dishonesty than with frankly and fairly stating your position.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@jordym84 I understand. But you need to also think of yourself. Look at the big picture. They may think you moving in is a good idea, it makes sense they collect things, people can be added to the collection.

Think of it like this, your decision if you decide to move in with them then it is based only on a short term goal which is based soley on their purpose not yours. In the long term it is you that suffers. If you tell them how it is they may be mad, this could be short term or long term BUT you don’t need to repay them on their terms. So you should message this person back and say you are sorry moving in with them is out of the question, and you realize that they have done a lot for you and if thrre is any other way you can help to repay them within means you will. Otherwise they are not your friends.

Friends do not control your life, which is what sounds like could almost happen here if you don’t stand up for yourself, so it is important for you to do so. If you lose them as friends then they weren’t really your friends to begin with.

Shippy's avatar

@jordym84 A friend that cornered me like that, would be a friend no more.

Sunny2's avatar

@jordym84 I think what your message to her was very well done. Next step, should she argue with you, is just to say that you’ve made up your mind. You’re staying put.
Sorry to disappoint her, but you’re not going to do it.
Do let us know what her response is.
@nofurbelowsbatgirl ‘s last paragraph is an important one. Read it again.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

Thanks @Sunny2 I appreciate that :)

JLeslie's avatar

I worry more about feeling judged than feeling guilty when I say no. As I get older I worry less about what others think, so I worry less about being judged.

hearkat's avatar

Learning to stand up for yourself and not be manipulated is a crucial part of having a pleasant adult life. It goes beyond saying, “No”.

As others have suggested, I considered people whom I knew that carried themselves with self-respect and dignity, and watched how they expressed themselves. I’ve practiced ways that I can express myself similarly, and it is an ongoing process. Over time it has become more natural, and over time I find that I have far fewer manipulative, drama-creating people in my life.

Realize that those who do not respect your wishes and would try to manipulate you (whether or not they’re related to you) are being selfish, and are not true friends. You are better off without them, than with the stress they create in your life.

janbb's avatar

I have an example from last week of a boundary I set that I would not have formerly been able to. A woman who heads a committee for a museum that I am newly a member of has been pressing me and pressing me for more work. I finally looked her in the eye (she knows I am facing a divorce) and said, “Jean, I am running on fumes. I will do what I can do.” Her whole demeanor and tone changed and she keeps saying how much she appreciates my help. What helped me was in recognizing that she was pushing the same buttons my mother would push and trying to manipulate me.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

That is usually what happens guilty people let the manipulators run them over so many times until they blow. And then when they do blow up they go back into their heads and stew in the guilt of a pity party going over and over that they did wrong and let people down, they play back all the what ifs and could of beens.

So like @Janbb it is much better if a guilty feeling person learns to stand up for themselves and be confident in their negative answers, otherwise it is just a vicious circle. Lack of confidence in the negative answers is what plays into the fear. @jordym84 You are a good person, I am sure you are a good friend, you can do this!

jordym84's avatar

Thank you all so much once again! I wish I could convey to you how much your feedback has been helping. I was feeling like a horrible person, but reading your comments has helped me realize that there is nothing wrong with standing up for myself, so long as I do it in a tactful/respectful manner.

My friend replied with a text along the lines of “It would’ve saved us $400 (which wouldn’t be true for me because getting a 3-bedroom apartment would only save them money because they would split the last 3rd of the rent between them, leaving my flat mate and I to pay our full 3rds, which is comparable to what we’re paying now for our 2-bedroom apartment), but I guess we’ll have to think of something else.” I left it at that and haven’t said anything else because I have a feeling that, whatever else I say, will somehow be used against me. I don’t mean to make her sound like a bad person because she really isn’t and I’m truly appreciative of all she’s done for me, but I know her well enough to know that I’m probably not fully home-free…

I always struggle with setting boundaries and then, when people push me to my limits, I just retreat into my shell and avoid them until they get the hint (sometimes they don’t). I have been watching my co-workers and other people in my life for whom I have a great deal of respect and I’ve been taking mental notes in hopes of learning to become more assertive and to get my point across more clearly to (hopefully) avoid any more uncomfortable situations in the future…

janbb's avatar

@jordym84 Good work! This is a hard skill for many of us to learn; sounds like you just made a giant leap.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@jordym84 If you are learning from it then that is the first step in the right direction! :)

Sunny2's avatar

@jordym84 Sounds like you handled it very well. Next time will be easier!

bookish1's avatar

@jordym84 : Her response is trying to guilt trip you further. Do your best not to let that happen. She sounds very self-centered.

mattbrowne's avatar

By trying it again and again and be very patient. It takes decades to finally be comfortable with it. A good tool is mindfulness with labeling and reframing.

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