How To Say No Nicely Without Feeling Guilty

Setting Boundaries With Others So You Can Have Time For What’s Important

Do you ever find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you are already heading for overwhelm or burnout? Yet, when you say ‘no’ you are left feeling guilty and selfish?

Doomed if you do?

Doomed if you don’t?

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I’d like to share my own experience as a busy mom and how I discovered how to say no nicely without immense feelings of guilt afterward. I will also share ways for you to become more comfortable saying no to others when you need to so you can prioritize your and your family’s needs.

Everyone Else Comes First

It had been my life experience that everyone comes first, whether that was my friends, my family, my church community, or even strangers in some situations. 

Sometimes, I was ready and happy to help.

However, there were many other times I said ‘yes’ and was filled with resentment. It was like I felt compelled to help whenever asked, even though I was lacking the energy and desire to do it and no one was twisting my arm. These feelings usually happened when I was overwhelmed in my home life, or already had a project that I took on.

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I recall a time, feeling overwhelmed (stay-at-home homeschooling mom of 5 kiddos), I mustered up the courage to say ‘no’ to volunteering my time. I was asked with what felt like a bit of sarcasm, ‘Oh, did you get a new job?’ Maybe it was a genuine question that came with good intentions, but at the time it felt like salt in the wounds. Like that would be a worthy excuse for declining to help, but being a stay-at-home mom was not enough.

The Cost Of Saying ‘Yes’

Unfortunately, I couldn’t hide it with my family. I took my resentment out on the kids or my husband. Especially if they dared ask me for more of my time when I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I was often temperamental and snappy. One wrong move could throw me in a full-blown rage.

Self-Care was obsolete because at the rate I was going there was never enough time. And I had yet to find out how important self-care was for showing up as the mom I wanted to be.

Stressed mom yelling at child
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Why Do I Feel So Awful When I Say ‘No’?

After some years of unraveling some of my self-defeating behaviors such as people pleasing, I was able to identify some of the thoughts that were happening in the background of my decisions. Some of the thoughts included:

I don’t give enough.

I am selfish.

I am lazy.

I am a bad Christian.

Stressed mom deep in negative thought process
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Funny enough, the same people who would ask me for favors were the same people who would say you have 5 kids? How do you do it all?

Would they have challenged me if I said no?

And so what if they did?

I am selfish:

I would have the misconception at times that I took more from others than I gave. I would think ‘I am selfish,’ My feelings of selfishness would make me feel compelled to do even more things for others to try and lessen the guilt.

However, there were countless instances where I served others. But in this disillusionment, I would focus on that negative thought, and give it the front stage.

I am lazy:

Sometimes I wouldn’t take on tasks from others, because I felt so tired. I was drained and recovering from taking too much on in the first place. If I said no, I would sulk in my guilt and the feeling of being lazy while I took time for what became forced self-care. However, I couldn’t enjoy it, so it dragged on longer than necessary as I sulked in my self-pity on the couch huddled in my oversized blankie. I couldn’t be fully present with my family during this time. The kids would ask me to play with them and I would feel too tired and feel worse.

I am a bad Christian:

I did not know how to place boundaries and felt that as a Christian, I was called to continually sacrifice myself for others. Whatever the cost. Jesus gave his whole life for us, so what’s a couple of hours of my time in comparison?

A Lose-Lose Situation

These negative thoughts and many others drove me to take on whatever it was I was being asked to do. I either gave my time to make others happy (at the expense of myself and sometimes my own family) or I sat in my own harsh punishments and criticisms for saying ‘no.’

How I Started To Say No Guilt-Free

On my self-improvement journey, a third option came up for me that I never thought of before.

What if those thoughts were untrue?

What if I challenged those thoughts?

What If by saying no nicely, I was saying yes to quality time with my family?

What if by saying no nicely, I was saying yes to taking care of myself so that I could love others BETTER?

What if by saying no nicely, I was saying yes to being a better Christian. After all, Jesus took time away from the crowds to pray. I don’t think he was up on the mountain sulking in guilt because he wasn’t healing more people.

What if by saying no nicely, I was saying yes to showing up as the mother I wanted to be: kind, loving, patient, and thoughtful.

Happy family of four together on couch smiling and laughing
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Once I began to challenge those negative thoughts, I slowly began to take some of the power that I had given away over the years. Changing my thoughts then changed the actions I took.

Powerful thoughts like these gave me the confidence that I need to be assertive and kindly say:

I’m sorry, I’d love to help but I won’t be able to at this time.”

How You Can Say No Nicely Without Feeling Guilty

Ok, so let’s say you found out that you have been saying ‘yes’ to things you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. Or perhaps you’ve been saying ‘yes’ to avoid the painful guilt trips of turning someone down. You know deep down you need to say no, but it can be soooo uncomfortable. Here are some ways on how to say no nicely to others without guilt:

1. Challenge Your Thoughts

If you are struggling with feeling guilty when you say no to others, try observing what is behind that feeling of guilt. If you find a thought, challenge it! Is it possible that it is not true?

Back it up with examples that support your challenging thoughts. And don’t feel compelled to share your reasoning with others. What matters is that you are staying true to yourself and respecting your boundaries. Setting Boundaries is one of the best forms of self-care out there.

Practice Self-Compassion written on paper with 2 bouquets of flowers beside it

2. Give Yourself Advice As You Would A Friend

What if a friend was thinking about saying ‘yes’ to something they didn’t want to do. That they were feeling that it would be too much, and would be stressful. Or maybe they said that they didn’t want to say ‘no’ because they would feel guilty. What would you say? Would you encourage them to do it anyway? More often than not we treat others as we would want to be treated, and better than we treat ourselves. This little practice of self-compassion will help give you some of the support you need when deciding to say no.

3. Role Play With Loved Ones

A little role-playing can come in handy. Find someone you trust to practice with. It can be your partner, a friend, or even your children (they can certainly benefit also from practicing saying no to others). I compiled a few examples on how to say no with tact that you can practice with others. Don’t have a practice partner? Just practice saying them aloud.

Here Are 10 Examples How To Say NO Nicely GUILT-FREE:

1. I wish I could, but now is not a good time.

2. I can’t at this time, but thank you for thinking of me.

3. I can’t do that, but if you need me to ______ I can help out that way.

4. I’m sorry, I have too much on my plate at this time.

5. That sounds great, but I have a lot going on at home so I cannot help at this time.

6. I am not a good fit for that, but you know who might be _________.

7. Sorry, I can’t. I need to prioritize my family right now.

8. I appreciate you considering me, but I have another commitment.

9. I’m not taking anything else on currently.

10. Sorry, I can’t right now. Maybe next time.

4. Observe Others Who Say ‘NO’ With Confidence

Have you observed others say no to you or others?

Do they do it with such confidence that you think, Gee, I wish I could say ‘no’ like that. Watching others say ‘no’ nicely, and trying it out for yourself is yet another great way to learn and get better at being assertive.

5. Consider Another Way you Can Help?

Perhaps you want to help the cause but cannot help in the way they are asking. Offer an alternative way that you can. Consider contributing financially if your budget allows? Or perhaps there is a specific skill you have that would benefit them, and offer to help that way.

6. Seek Out Opportunities To Practice Saying ‘No’

When you are out shopping at Costco, do you avoid making eye contact with the salesman asking everyone if they have solar? Take opportunities like these to walk a little closer to them, make eye contact and when they ask, simply reply ‘No thank you.’

Close up image of a record being played
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7. Use The Broken Record Technique

Have you ever got into that uncomfortable situation of someone not taking ‘no’ for an answer? Simply repeat your refusal with calm persistence. Do it over and over again until they stop asking. They will get the message that you mean what you say. And chances are, they won’t be as persistent as when your kids use this tactic to get what they want.

Wrapping Up: How To Say No Nicely Without Feeling Guilty (For Busy Moms)

It is great to be generous and charitable with your time and it can be rewarding. However, it should not be at the expense of your family or your well-being. Respect yourself and your immediate family and place boundaries. If you are feeling guilty, challenge that thought. Take the opportunity to practice saying ‘no’ so you can do it with confidence! And most importantly, get the self-care that you need so you can show up as the loving, kind, and patient mother that you want to be.

Practice it, Model it, Achieve it!

If You found this post helpful, here are a few related articles:

How to Not Be a Perfectionist Mom: Identifying 9 Traits

5 Gentle Assertiveness Tips for Beginners

How to Stop Negative Thought Patterns with Powerful Questions

The Best Self-Care Kit for Stressed Moms

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4 Responses

  1. This is something I have been working on. Very important to do. Thank you Tiphany for your insight and resources.

    1. I agree. I wish I would have know about these topics earlier in my life. I want my kids to be equipped with them as well. Thank you!

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