saying no

When Standing Up For Yourself Gets You Down

Why is it so hard to say "no"?

Why is it so hard to say "no"?

Why is it so hard to say “no”? Why is it that asking for what we want or we need makes us anxious and stressed out? I know I’ve struggled with speaking up for myself. If you’ve had a hard time expressing yourself, here are some of the kinds of thoughts that might be standing in your way: 

  • “They won’t agree with me.”
  • “It doesn’t really mater what I want.”
  • “As long as everyone else is happy, I’m OK.”
  • “I can always do what I want another time.”
  • “I don’t want to seem selfish.”
  • “I don’t want to be a burden.”
  • “I’ll just go with the flow.”

Putting yourself out there can be very difficult, especially if you’re used to going along with others instead of expressing yourself. It might seem easier to keep quiet instead of speaking up, but being able to say, “No thanks, I can’t help you move next weekend,” or “I don’t really like Indian food. Can we eat somewhere else?” or “Sorry, I can’t watch your dog,” can be very liberating!

If you find you’re always deferring to others, or helping out when you don’t really want to, you might be feeling:

  • Resentful
  • Angry
  • Anxious
  • Taken for granted
  • Guilty

Steps To Help Understand What You Want

  1. When someone asks for your opinion about where to go or what to do, or if they’re asking a for a favor, and you’re feeling stuck or uncomfortable about speaking up, ask to have some time to think about it.
  2. Sit with the request and ask yourself, “What’s coming up for me right now?” Do you feel obligated? Are you afraid you might make the wrong choice? Are you feeling burdened? Would you like to say “no,” but are worried they’ll be mad at you?
  3. Whatever it is you’re feeling, it’s OK. Sit with it, acknowledge it and welcome the feelings.
  4. Once you’ve acknowledged how you feel, repeat the request to yourself. Now you can weigh it with more clarity.
  5. If you find that you really don’t want to do the favor, or that you’d rather eat in than dine out (or whatever the options are), practice saying what you want out loud. Sometimes I find it helpful to write down a few notes about what I want to say, and then I rehearse it.
  6. After you’ve gotten in touch with your feelings and what you want to say, you’re in a better position to respond. Call, text, email or talk to the requester and tell him or her your decision.

Sometimes we do have to do things we don’t want to. I get that. The problem comes when you find that you’re not comfortable expressing your needs, and you’re always doing things that you don’t want to do. If this sounds like you, try the steps above and let me know if they helped!

Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Jimmy Bay for