When I Say No, I Feel Guilty: Is It Normal?

when I say no I feel guilty

Understand and Overcome the Struggle of Saying No

Where Does That Guilt Come From?

The Emotional Cost of Saying No

Feeling the Guilt: Understanding the Origins of Our Struggle

Becoming Assertive: Strategies for Overcoming Guilt and Setting Boundaries

Practical Applications for You

Relearn How to Say No

How to Say No (or Yes) Without Guilt

How To Deal With Pushback

Professional Mentoring: A Path to New Insights and Action Strategies

Notice, Practice, and Gain New Boundaries

Understand and Overcome the Struggle of Saying No

For many of us, saying no can be a struggle. Whether it’s declining an invitation, turning down a request for help, or simply setting boundaries in our relationships and interactions, saying no can often trigger feelings of guilt.

This is a common experience, particularly for those who value harmony and want to avoid conflicts or disappointments.

Did you know it’s important to recognize that saying no is a natural and necessary part of life and essential to our well-being?

Keep reading to discover where those guilty feelings come from, how you can say no gracefully and say it without guilt.

when I say no I feel guilty always

Where Does That Guilt Come From?

Everyone gets childhood programming from parents, teachers, older siblings, and other adults. You hear things like:

Don’t disappoint your Mom/Dad
You have to learn to share
Mrs. Conrad loves children. You’ll have a great time at her house
Do your homework before you go outside
No running in the halls
I know you want to be a mechanic but take the SAT anyway

If you sat down right now, you could probably make your own list of things you heard when you were younger. Each one subtly teaches you not to honor your feelings.

Some of that programming is useful and even life-saving. But as adults, we may decide some of that programming doesn’t fit. We want to change.

Change depends on developing our values and orientation in the world. So as we become adults, we realize that it’s necessary to prioritize our own reasonable needs.

We prioritize in order to have enough energy to give to the people we want to give to. We realize that giving is likely one of the best systems known out there.

where does guilt come from

The Emotional Cost of Saying No

While the guilt we feel when saying no may seem irrational, it’s important to recognize that it often has an emotional basis.

For many of us, saying no can feel like we are letting someone down or causing harm to a relationship. We may worry about the potential consequences of our refusal, and fear that we will be seen as uncooperative or unkind.

This emotional cost can be especially high if we are people pleasers or if we have been conditioned to believe that our worth is tied to our ability to meet the needs of others.

It’s important to recognize that these feelings are natural, but they don’t have to dictate our actions. It’s possible to set boundaries and assert yourself without feeling guilty or causing harm to our relationships.

In the next section, we’ll discuss some strategies for overcoming this guilt and finding a healthy balance between meeting our own needs and being considerate of others.

The Emotional Cost of Saying No

Feeling the Guilt: Understanding the Origins of Our Struggle

The guilt we feel when saying no is a learned response that stems from our childhood experiences.

As children, we often rely on the approval and acceptance of our caregivers and peers and may feel hurt or rejected when we are denied something we want.

Those childhood reactions can lead us to associate saying no with negative emotions and to feel guilty when we do so as adults.

In addition, guilt is often a natural response to perceived failures or mistakes. When we say no, we may feel like we are failing to meet someone’s expectations or letting them down. This can lead to feelings of guilt, even if there is no logical reason to feel this way.

These feelings of guilt are not inherent truths but rather learned responses that can be unlearned and overcome with practice and self-reflection.

In the next section, we’ll discuss some strategies for overcoming these feelings and learning to assert ourselves without feeling guilty.

Origins of Our Struggle

Becoming Assertive: Strategies for Overcoming Guilt and Setting Boundaries

Learning to be assertive and set healthy boundaries is important in overcoming the guilt you may feel when saying no.

Assertiveness involves expressing our own needs and wants in a direct and respectful way while also respecting the rights and needs of others. It’s a balance that requires practice and self-awareness.

Here are a few strategies that can help you become more assertive and say no without feeling guilty:

1. Recognize and challenge negative thoughts: When we feel guilty for saying no, it’s often because we have negative thoughts about ourselves and our actions. These thoughts may be based on criticism or manipulation from others, or they may be self-imposed. By recognizing and challenging these thoughts, we can gain a more realistic and balanced perspective on our actions.

2. Practice self-care: Taking care of ourselves is an important aspect of being assertive. When we prioritize our own needs and well-being, it becomes easier to set boundaries and say no when necessary.

3. Communicate directly and respectfully: When saying no, it’s important to communicate directly and respectfully. This means expressing our needs and feelings without attacking or blaming others.

4. Use “I” statements: “I” statements can be a helpful tool for expressing ourselves assertively. They help us take responsibility for our own feelings and actions, and avoid placing blame on others. For example, instead of saying, “You’re wrong for asking me to do that,” we can say, “I feel overwhelmed and unable to take on that task right now.”

5. Seek support: It can be helpful to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist when learning to be more assertive. These individuals can provide a safe space to practice and gain confidence in our assertive behavior.

By implementing these strategies, you can learn to assert yourself and set boundaries without feeling guilty. Remember that assertiveness is a skill that requires practice and patience, but with time and effort, it can become a natural part of our lives.

Becoming Assertive

Practical Applications for You

So what does all this mean on a normal day? Knowing why you may feel guilt or how assertiveness works is one thing. It’s another to incorporate change into your daily life.

First, before you think of how you will impact others, you need to take care of yourself. When you take care of yourself, like setting appropriate boundaries, other people respect your self-care.

That means simple self-care. Every day you need a couple of hours to bathe, wash, eat, do fitness and reflect and all the things you need to do to take care of yourself.

When you take care to meet your personal needs, you can give generously to others.

You give because you are mentally and physically fit, healthy and happy so that you can give as much as you want to the people you choose. Most importantly, your giving is a conscious choice.

That’s the difference between childhood and adulthood. In childhood, we’re forced to give. Or, if we haven’t learned self-care, we give out of rote as adults.

It’s important to choose who we want to give to.

So we get the bat maximum benefit for everyone involved.

Relearn How to Say No

Sometimes changing childhood programming can feel a little bit uncomfortable. Learning to change can take a bit of effort, but with the right coaching the right mentorship it will be a lot easier.

And in just a few months, we can change that programming so that someone is no longer feeling guilty that they feel good about taking care of themselves. And they feel good about saying yes to the right people.

Try This Practice for Two Weeks

Before you become skilled and comfortable, you must practice small actions that train your brain. The more you practice, the easier the action is to do. Most of all, you’ll feel more comfortable refusing a request.

If you feel guilty when you say no, this is a great exercise to start practicing.

For two weeks, any requests you receive from anyone, say:

Thank you for asking me. Sorry, I can’t give you an answer right now. Can I get back to you in a couple hours/ tomorrow?

You pick the hour or day phrase depending on the urgency of the need.

Practice this as your standard response for the next two weeks.

The first time you say it—instead of no—you’ll probably feel uncomfortable. That’s OK. You’re learning a new behavior. The next time, you may still feel uncomfortable, but a little less so. At the end of two weeks, your response will roll off your tongue with no problem.

In the two-week period, you’ll notice that most people aren’t offended by your response. In fact, most people will respect your request. You’ll learn that not giving an immediate yes or no doesn’t make you feel as guilty as you thought it would. You’ll feel more certain and empowered.

Relearn How to Say No

How to Say No (or Yes) Without Guilt

Saying no isn’t really about the “no”. It’s really about you being clear about your intentions.

You are standing up for your values and principles and prioritizing what’s most important to you.

So, you still have to respond to the request at the end of those couple of hours or the next day.

Give a brief explanation of why you are not able to help them. The issue is not justifying your response, but being kind and compassionate in the way you say no.

Here are three examples of guilt-free ways to say no:

  • I’m booked today/this week/this month. I don’t have the time.
  • Right now, I don’t have the bandwidth to help.
  • I’m already committed to that time. I want to honor that promise.

You’re saying no to their request and supplying a simple reason.

How To Deal With Pushback

Some people may not “hear” your no. Or people who are used to you always saying yes (because you don’t want to say no) may push for a yes and keep asking.

Repeat one of your gentle ways to say no from above. It’s OK to repeat your answer. Plus, you are building your safety net to avoid being overcommitted. If they keep pushing, you can shorten your reply and finally say “no.”

If they don’t take your first (or repeated no) to heart and continue to ask, it’s OK to sound like a broken record. It is even okay to say them in shorter terms (then you can use “no” as a complete sentence).

Here are some examples of how to respond to someone who keeps asking:

  • I’ve already given you my answer.
  • My answer won’t change.
  • You can keep asking, but my answer isn’t changing.

There’s no need to apologize for saying no. So don’t Refrain from saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” If you’d like to be able to help, but are already committed, just say that.

Above all, don’t feel sorry. You are setting your boundaries. Be proud of your new limits and knowledge of refusing a request. And, you’ll be more comfortable when you say yes because you’ll know your answer fits in your boundaries.

How To Deal With Pushback

Professional Mentoring: A Path to New Insights and Action Strategies

Seeking help from a professional mentor can effectively overcome the guilt you feel when saying no. A professional mentor is an objective third party who can provide new insights and action strategies for managing difficult situations and emotions.

One of the benefits of working with a professional mentor is that they can provide an objective perspective on your struggles and help you identify patterns of thought and behavior that may be contributing to your feelings of guilt.

They can also help you develop new strategies for communicating your needs and setting boundaries in a healthy and assertive way.

The process of professional mentoring typically involves meeting with a mentor on a regular basis, either in person or via video conference.

During these sessions, you’ll have the opportunity to discuss your challenges and goals in a confidential setting and receive guidance and support from your mentor.

With the help of a professional mentor, you can gain the skills and confidence you need to assert yourself and say no without feeling guilty.

Notice, Practice, and Gain New Boundaries

The guilt you feel when saying no is a common and natural experience, but it doesn’t have to dictate your actions.

By understanding the origins of this guilt and learning to be assertive, you can set healthy boundaries and assert yourself without feeling guilty.

To reinforce this learning and practice these new skills seek the helpful support of a professional mentor. You’ll learn to take concrete action steps towards becoming more positive about your “Nos.”

With time and effort, you can overcome this struggle and find a healthy balance between meeting your own needs and being considerate of others.

Schedule your free consultation to learn more about guilt-free ways to say no.

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