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How to Say “No” without Feeling Guilty

Has anyone ever called you a “people-pleaser”? Do you struggle with saying no for fear of disappointing those around you? Your concern for people’s feelings is not a bad thing! It shows your love and charity towards others. But what do we do when our concern for others robs us of our own peace

There will be times when those in our lives will ask things of us that we cannot, ought not, or simply do not want to do. How do we say no without being haunted by the guilt of disappointing them? Here are a few ideas to consider when you are in this scenario. 

1. Be honest about your “no.”

Why are you saying no? Is it because saying yes would be impossible or unethical? Is it because you do not have the desire to take on another task? Whatever the reason, be honest when you say no! 

At times when we say no, it is tempting to want to soften the blow by making up an excuse. We think that having an excuse could help us avoid conflict or lessen the disappointment of the person asking for help. 

Recently, a close friend of mine asked if I could babysit her kids so that they could go out for date night. As a mother of two, I completely understood the desire to want to get away for some quality time, but on this particular night, I was just too tired to help after a hard day. 

I didn’t want to hurt her feelings or act like I didn’t care, so I felt tempted to say we were out of town or busy. But then I realized that lying would only make me feel more guilt! I told her the truth about why I was saying no, and she was very understanding. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord says,

“Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

(Matthew 5:37)

Let this scriptural truth guide your conscience when saying no, and be honest about your reasons. 

2. You can love someone without saying yes.

This is a tough pill for us people-pleasers to swallow, but it’s true. Sometimes we feel that disappointing someone is unloving or is somehow denying our Christian duty to love one another. There are certainly times that saying yes to helping can be a great way to exercise our love and charity toward others. However, that’s not always the case. 

There may be times when your “no” could be even more loving than your yes! What if your underage brother asks you to buy alcohol for him? Would saying yes truly be loving in this case? Not only would you be participating in sin, but by helping him break the law, you would be doing something that is bad for him! 

1 Corinthians 13:6 says, “[love] does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.” To love someone does not mean that you will never upset or disappoint them; rather, it means you desire good for them. Remind yourself of this in those moments of guilt after saying no! 

3. You can’t do everything.

God has given you a specific purpose in life that is unique to you! That purpose comes with specific responsibilities that you have to prioritize. Nobody can say yes to everything; there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. Part of your responsibility is to determine whether saying yes to one thing will mean saying no to something more important. 

Soon after my oldest son was born, our priest asked if I would teach a faith formation class at our parish. As much as I wanted to serve God in this way, I knew that with the new baby at home, the time commitment would be too much of a burden for our family. I had so much guilt when I approached our priest to say no, but he lovingly responded, “You are called to take care of your family first.” 

Don’t be afraid to say no! And when you do, don’t let the disappointment of others rob you of peace. Faithfully loving God and others means that we cannot agree to everything. Be honest and loving when you say no, and ask God to help you release the burden of guilt that you no longer need to carry!

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