Why Do I Say “Yes” When I Mean “No”?

Your coworker asked you to work late for him on Friday. And as soon as the yes was out of your mouth, you regretted it. You have plans to see that new Will Smith movie with your girlfriend. Now, you’re going to have to cancel on her.

Your mother invited you out to lunch—but you’ve got a million things to do today. So, why did you say “yes”?

Lots of people have trouble saying no. And there are all sorts of reasons for doing it. In this post, you’ll learn more about why you’re struggling with personal boundaries and that, sometimes, it’s best to say no.

Why Do I Say “Yes” When I Mean “No”?

Reasons for saying yes when you really mean no

  • You feel guilty.
  • You feel obligated.
  • You’re afraid people will think poorly of you (you’re a slacker, a bad daughter, not a team player).
  • You’re afraid of conflict (or worse yet—rejection or abandonment).
  • You don’t want to disappoint people.
  • It’s a habit.
  • It’s the polite thing to do.
  • You think no one else will do it.
  • You want people to think you’re a nice or good person.
  • You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity or good time (fear of missing out or FOMO).
  • You think you have to do it all or make everyone happy.

Often, we say yes because it seems kind. But forcing ourselves to do things that we don’t have time, energy, or money to do, don’t align with our values or priorities, or that we simply don’t want to do, leads to other problems.

What happens when you say yes, but mean no

  • You feel resentful or angry.
  • You feel unappreciated.
  • Your relationship with the other person is strained.
  • You’re overworked and overtired.
  • You don’t have time and resources for your goals and priorities.

“When you say ‘Yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘No’ to yourself.” ― Paolo Coehlo

Challenging people-pleasing

The desire to please others is understandable, but being perpetually agreeable creates more problems.

You can’t avoid negative feelings by saying yes to every request. You just end up substituting one bad feeling for another. For example, by agreeing to have lunch with your mother, you avoid feeling guilty but end up feeling resentful. Clearly, this isn’t a net win for anyone.

We have to accept that we can’t do everything and make everyone happy. We all have limits. And it’s okay to let others know when we need to tend to our own needs, goals, and wellbeing.

Learning to say no

It’s okay to admit that you have trouble setting personal boundaries. Learning to say no is a skill that you can learn. And like any skill, it gets easier the more you do it.

Don’t expect yourself to do it perfectly at first. Perhaps, set an intention to slow down and take more time before you respond to any requests. Give yourself time to consider whether you have time, energy, money, or interest in what you’ve been asked to do. And if you don’t, is there a kind way to convey that?

Saying no politely and kindly doesn’t mean that everyone will accept your answer with grace. You can only control your part of the exchange. Let go of the reaction. Most people will understand that you can’t do everything. However, people who are emotionally immature or have toxic or narcissistic behaviors may not. But that doesn’t make you wrong or bad for asserting your needs.

©2021 Sharon Martin. All rights reserved.

Better Boundaries Book

Learn to Set Better Boundaries

This evidence-based workbook will show you how to set healthy boundaries across all aspects of life—without sacrificing your kindness or compassion for others. You’ll learn to define your boundaries and discover why they’re so important for your emotional well-being.

Sharon Martin, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in codependency recovery with an online practice serving California residents. For the past 20 years, she’s been helping perfectionists and people-pleasers overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, learn to set boundaries, and reclaim their self-worth. Sharon writes the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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