How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Ever wish you were more assertive and felt able to say no to situations that aren’t in your best interests? 

If you tend to feel physically sick or break out in a cold sweat at just the thought of fighting your corner or saying no to somebody, it’s time to work on your assertiveness skills.

Other signs include being fed up with people treating you like a doormat and feeling overwhelmed by the demands that other people put on you.

Feeling unable to say no can have a big impact on your self esteem and can cause you to feel a lot of bitterness and resentment. This can eat away at you and affect your ability to practice self love. One of the big problems with being passive is that it effectively tells people that they are more important than you and they’ll often act in line with this. 

Learning how to say no doesn’t make you a bad person so it’s really important to move past any guilt that is stopping you from doing the right thing by yourself. We only have so much time and energy to give and if it’s all going on other people, what’s left for yourself?

Ready to learn how to be more assertive and start saying no to things without feeling bad about it? These tips should help!

What is assertiveness?

Being assertive means that you feel comfortable standing your ground and saying no to something if it’s not the right thing for you. This might mean turning down requests to do something or raising an issue at work. 

It’s often mixed up with being aggressive or arrogant but they’re actually very different stances. Being assertive is much more about standing firm without going over the top with it. Think of it this way: you want to get your point across and not lose control in the process. 

Tips for being more assertive

Work out where you need to focus most 

Are there certain situations or people that have started to cause you a lot of resentment?

If you’re looking to stand your ground more, there are probably going to be specific areas of your life that are causing you the most concern for this. That may be a friend who is always putting you down or a colleague that doesn’t pull their weight. 

It can help to think about your values and priorities in life and stand firm on anything that isn’t helping you to achieve these.

Spend a bit of time thinking about which areas of your life would benefit from you being a bit more assertive. 

Don’t over explain

If you’re saying no, you don’t need to give a super detailed explanation of exactly why you’re declining. It can often come across as though you’re spinning them a story that you just made up on the spot. It also gives more opportunity for the other person to try to disagree with you. Be firm and brief with your reasons but don’t go overboard. 

Saying something along the lines of “I can’t because …” can be powerful. Have you heard about the photocopier study? To sum it up briefly: people waiting in line for the photocopier were a lot more likely to let someone jump in front of them if their reason included “because” … even if the reason that followed was flimsy. Of course, your reasons need to be fairly strong so as not to invite a counter argument. 

Throw it back on them

In a work situation, you can gain the upper hand by throwing the question back on the other people. For example, you might lighten the load of what you’re being asked to do by responding with “I’m happy to take on some of this but I’ll need X amount of time to make a good job of it. How should I go ahead and prioritize it?”. This forces the other person to respond to what you’re saying and understand that there are limitations on you actually completing the task.

Focus on “I” and “we” statements 

When you do raise an issue, your choice of language can make a lot of difference. Using statements that include “I” and “we” can be a lot less inflammatory and soften the blow of what you’re saying. In comparison, saying “you” a lot can make them less receptive to your comments. 


It can be really challenging to start saying no to things when you have been so used to being passive and agreeing to everything. Before you dive into being more assertive in a real life situation, it can be a good idea to practice how these situations might play out. If you don’t have a friend that can role play with you, try doing it in front of the mirror. It might seem strange to begin with but it’s a great way to see how you come across and if there are areas you can improve when you do it for real.