When is it OK to say “No”? | With Helpful Graphics!

Saying “No” is something many people find challenging! Our culture teaches us that it’s good to say “Yes”, to juggle a million things, and achieve as much as we can in as short a time-frame as possible.

Women especially, are raised from a young age to be “nice”, helpful and considerate of others. But as a result of all our “Yes”s, stress and overwhelm are endemic in modern culture. And our fear of saying “No” means we don’t set boundaries with others and get taken advantage of.

Once upon a time, we loved saying “No”!

Our fear of “No” is ironic, because in childhood most of us went through an exciting phase of finding our power: stamping our foot and saying “No”.

But many of us were shamed for these “Nos”. At the very least our “Nos” made our caregivers angry, stressed or exasperated with us. So we learned to say “Yes”, even when we didn’t want to.

Now, as adults, we know that when we say “No”, whether to a colleague, family member or friend, we are disappointing them. By saying “No” we’re making their life more difficult. And because we also know how hard it can be to ask for help, sometimes saying “No” can feel like rejecting someone who has been brave and vulnerable with us.

But is it right to cause harm to ourselves, so that we make someone else feel better?

Where is that line between taking care of ourselves and taking care of others?

Because I bet that all too often you’re sacrificing your energy, time and skills to help someone else, leaving yourself tired and drained.

So, when is it OK to Say “No”?

Here’s a fun slider with graphics that answer the question:

And if you prefer to read text:

When is it OK to say “No”?

The simple answer is ANY time you want to.

But in practice it can be hard. So here are some simple tips for you.

You always HAVE A RIGHT to Say “No” when:

  • It’s someone else’s problem or it causes a problem for you.
  • You think you’re being taken for granted.
  • It’s something you don’t want to do.
  • There’s something else you would rather do.
  • You need—or deserve some time to yourself.

And you ABSOLUTELY MUST Say “No” when:

  • You’re stressed, feeling overwhelmed and already doing too much
  • You’re only doing it to please someone
  • It makes you uncomfortable
  • It goes against your values
  • You’re tired or sick

I’ll leave you with a question: Who or What in your life do you need to say “No” to?

We must say “no” to what, in our heart, we don’t want. We must say “no” to doing things out of obligation, thereby cheating those important to us of the purest expression of our love. We must say “no” to treating ourselves, our health, our needs as not as important as someone else’s. We must say “no”. Suzette R. Hinton

Wrap-upFierce Kindness Logo

Saying “No” is a big topic—and it takes Fierce Kindness. Saying “No” is linked to self-care and our self-worth. And it’s linked to our deep societal conditioning that tells us to be a “nice” person and to put others before ourselves.

But it’s important to remember that when we’re over-tired, overwhelmed and stressed, it’s not just us that suffers. It also impacts our loved ones.

So, if saying “Yes” and doing too much adds to your stress. If this makes you less tolerant, more grumpy and/or causes you to withdraw, who would you rather disappoint? Your loved ones—or that person asking for one more thing?

Share your thoughts on this article in the comments below!

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Image of Various women illustrations by Mary Long via Shutterstock


  1. Vanessa

    I need to say “No” to people who consistently ask me to donate my services and products but refuses to patronize, promote or support my small business.

  2. Virginia

    Good examples of when, why, and how to say NO.
    Maybe this Covid test is wrong Emma-Louise. Plenty of them have been.
    Wishing you good, strong health.

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Sarah, I’m so glad this article on when is it ok to say no? is helpful and timely 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise


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