Can Never Say “No”? Here’s How To Stand Up For Yourself

CLEO are you too nice

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lend others a helping hand, unless it’s to the detriment of your own mental health – that’s when it crosses the line from “generous” to “people pleasing”.

In an article for Psychology Today, Dr Sherry Pagoto describes people pleasers as those with “an intense need to please and care for others… deeply rooted in either a fear of rejection and/or fear of failure.” In short, it takes helping others to a decidedly unhealthy level.

Not only can wanting to please others all the time put a lot of extra stress and pressure on yourself, but in the worst case scenario, “you’ll wake up and find yourself depressed because you’re [overloaded and] can’t do it all,” says Susan Newman, a social psychologist and author of The Book of No: 250 Ways to Say It – And Mean it And Stop People-pleasing Forever.

Have trouble saying “no”? Here are some ways to break the people pleaser syndrome.

Set your boundaries

We all have our limits and boundaries – they’re actually very healthy to have. It’s best to know what makes you uncomfortable or overly stressed before you say “yes” to a favour. Without boundaries, you let people take advantage of you, and ultimately, that does nothing for your self-esteem.

Learn to say “no”

This might be harder than it sounds – especially if you’re used to saying “yes” all the time! To help you ease into the habit of saying “no”, practise it in low-risk situations.

Say “no” when the retail assistant asks if you’d like any help. Say “no” when the waiter asks if you’d like to order dessert. You can also try rehearsing a go-to response when you don’t want to do something, such as “I’m sorry, but I can’t do that right now.” As with all things, the more you do it, the easier it’ll get.

Don’t feel bad about saying “no”

Of course, if you’re not used to saying “no”, you might feel guilty when you actually DO say it! Curbing the instinct to apologise needs practice as well, but it’s helpful to ask yourself “Am I responsible for this situation?” If you’re not, you can stop feeling bad about saying “no”.


If you’re knee-deep in obligations, identify just one thing that you can expel from your to-do list. This is a good start to breaking what could be a stressful and depressing cycle. Free up some time for yourself and share this with one trusted person who can help hold you to the commitment.

Be responsible for your own happiness

The need to constantly please others can be exhausting, and does no favours for your mental health or self-esteem. As much as you might want to be liked by everyone, there’s no realistic way that’s ever going to happen.

Ultimately, the problem with spending so much time making sure everyone else is happy, is that you aren’t necessarily making yourself happy in the process and that can be bad for you in the long run. So the next time a request comes your way, take a step back and ask yourself if you can afford the time and energy to take it on; if you can’t, politely turn them down and don’t feel bad about it.

In the wise words of Ariana Grande, “Don’t ever doubt yourselves or waste a second of your life. It’s too short, and you’re too special.”

Image: @il_pans
Text: Karen Fong


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