Most of us have real difficulty saying “NO.”

When we say “YES” rather than “NO” (which is often what we really want to say,) we get caught in a bind of one of the following:

  • We have enabled the other person(s) to take advantage of us.
  • We feel conflicted because they are perfectly able to do the work themselves and yet they want to be rescued… and we accommodate them.
  • They are sometimes playing “victim,” (a very popular state of mind these days) where they want to be saved, and we save them because we feel guilty.
  • We are more willing to be nice, popular, and helpful rather than encouraging the other person to solve the issue themselves.

Presently, we are noticing an enormous population in this country playing the “chronic victim” role… whining about their lives, complaining that too little has been done by others to help them, life is unfair, and continually singing the song entitled, “What have you done for me lately?”

Here are some popular examples:

  • A large group of millennials have long been told by their over-protective “helicopter” parents that they are special, wonderful, perfect, and deserve everything life can provide for them. This group of millennials have been so over-protected and enabled by their parents that:
    • Parents complain to college professors that their child’s grades need to be changed because their children deserve better.
    • Parents sit in on hiring interviews with potential employers to help their children get the job.
    • 36% of college graduate women and 43% of college graduate men are still living at home and subsidized by their parents (Pew Research).
    • 80% of baby boomer parents today are still paying for their children in some way (USA Today).
    • Parents have been caught bribing universities to gain admission for their children.
  • Your sibling wants you to keep giving him/her money.
  • Your parents continue to whine about their woes and make you feel guilty, so you rescue them with money and/or service.
  • There is a population of career homeless people who want to continue to remain that way while complaining, rather than taking responsibility for themselves and their future.
  • Your good friend continually wants help and you keep saying “yes” because you either want to avoid feeling guilty and/or experience criticism from him/her.
  • You keep over-accommodating a friend because you believe they will someday grow up and thank you for everything you have done for them.
  • Certain people in your network continually “borrow” money, never pay it back, and yet you still “loan” them money, while they keep singing the blues.

Much of the time you are asked to help someone who refuses to take responsibility for themselves.

At this point, you are often quite perplexed, and bewildered and still you believe that continually saying “YES” is a good thing. You keeping thinking:

  • My intentions are good
  • I can really help here
  • I can solve it right away
  • My advice is quite good
  • My need to be needed is being fed
  • I want to please them
  • I have to gain approval
  • I want to be popular and if they are unhappy with me, that is really bad!

Note:  To be clear, saying “YES” and helping others is often a very good thing. There are many wonderful people out there who need help and are very appreciative when you say “YES” to help them out.  Many of them want to return the favor.  You may notice that you can often tell the difference between people who show ongoing appreciation of the help you give and those who continually take advantage while manipulating you to feel bad or guilty if you say “NO.”

Further, if you think about it, you also probably know the difference between accommodating others when you are happy to do so in contrast to when you are over-accommodating in order to either gain approval, remain popular, or avoid conflict/feeling guilty.

Most of the time when you over-accommodate others you know you are doing it and you often regret how much you allowed them to take advantage of you.

So, what is going on here? What makes you so reluctant to say “NO”?  How is it that you keep enabling others to take advantage of you?

What is so awful about saying “NO”?

Here are some explanations of what might be going on in your head:

  • I want to please, gain approval, and be popular.
  • I want to avoid disapproval, disappointment, and criticism from them.
  • I want to avoid the constant concern that they will reject me because I said “NO.”
  • I believe I am only valuable to others when I help them, rescue them, and prove that I am worthy of their love, appreciation, and regard.
  • I hate conflict and disappointing others.  That reminds me of my past where I was continually criticized and mistreated, which made me feel inadequate and unworthy.  I felt manipulated all the time by people who used guilt to get me to say “YES” so I became a chronic “people pleaser.” My self-sacrifice became a habit and somehow it seemed a good thing to fall on my sword, become a martyr, and an over-accommodator.



Here are some suggestions that might appear effective and common sensical:

  • Simply say “NO!” You may notice that if you do, others will look shocked and start whining, blaming, or asking why you said “NO” after all they have done for you. Simply say “NO” without explanation.  When your “NO” seems to be firm, they will likely ask someone else.  Ask yourself how important is it to get their approval and remain popular? When you really look at it, their approval is often unimpressive.
  • Say “NO” and offer alternatives.  You may suggest they ask someone else. You may suggest they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves and encourage them to take responsibility and/or make adjustments. Keep in mind you are likely to want to justify yourself when you try to help them understand all the reasons that you are saying “NO.” This is usually a waste of time because they will use guilt as a manipulative ploy to get you to say “YES.”  Remember “NO” means “NO!”
  • Say “NO” and ask them how they may proceed at this point. Sometimes, when you ask them questions they will begin to solve the problem on their own.  You can help them begin the process of becoming self-sufficient rather than remaining dependent and/or weak.

Consider how important your self-respect is. Do you really think your saying “YES” is helping them or is your saying “YES” really for you to feel less bad or less guilty?

Most of the time, people will only get going and grow up when they have to.  The more you say “YES,” you relieve them of having to take responsibility for themselves as adults. Therefore, say “NO” because your self-respect will go up, while they might decide to grow up themselves. Remember, it is very likely that you can help no one by doing for them what they can and should do for themselves.                                                                

How important is it to be liked, popular, or avoid disapproval or conflict? You may notice your need to gain approval from them appears to be important while quite unrewarding at the same time. 

Does your need for approval exceed their need to take advantage of you?  If they really approved of you, would they continue to take advantage?  If you are looking for approval, do you notice how often a professional victim gives anyone their approval? 

If you are sick of people taking advantage of you, practice saying “NO,” and see what happens. You may notice they will:

  • Get angry with you
  • Try to make you feel guilty
  • Whine while they play “victim”
  • Feel sorry for themselves
  • Awfulize and catastrophize
  • Complain that you are being unfair

So, are these responses clearly reflecting they approve of you or do they want you to say “YES” so they can remain irresponsible?  How much is gaining their approval important?  It becomes more difficult to be pleased with them when you have trouble respecting them and their conduct.

So, saying “NO” is often something that you can learn to do.  When you do say “NO,” you will begin to notice:

Remember, what you rehearse you will duplicate!

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1 Comment

  1. Perfect. We’re doing an intervention on someone who works with me, but is unavailable too often because she is always available. “Learn to say no and say it often” has been the mantra of one of her bffs and me. Also some clues in here for my knight in shining armor syndrome.

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