The Busy Woman’s Guide to Saying “No” (Without Feeling Guilty)

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Linda (*fictionalized client) came to therapy because she had trouble saying “no” to everyone in her life. She was working full time, babysitting her grandchildren whenever her daughter asked her to and was trying to take care of her elderly mother who lived alone. Several months of being constantly “on the go” and taking care of others left her exhausted and resulted in some health issues, namely high blood pressure.

She came to therapy upon the recommendation of her family doctor who thought it would be good for Linda to learn how to better manage her stress. Linda was definitely “stressed out,” but more importantly what she expected of herself was unrealistic by anyone’s standards.

Women often take on too much.

Women juggle many roles in their life; caregiver, spouse, daughter, friend, mom, to name a few. Often in counseling I see women who want to help everyone, take on too many tasks, don’t ask for help and think they can “do it all.” While this is a nice thought, it is not realistic. Even the most efficient, organized woman can’t do everything they are asked or want to do.

Women, just like Linda, often come to counseling when they feel burned out. They have tried to be everything to everyone and it left them feeling empty and exhausted. Another aspect of this situation that causes the “do it all” mentality to perpetuate itself is feeling guilty when she does try to set boundaries. This leads to avoid telling others “no.”

Setting boundaries is healthy and a necessary part of taking care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will? And if we are not at our best, we won’t be able to take care of others the way we want to.

So how do you say “no” without feeling guilty?

  1. Determine your priorities and feel confident about them. If something is important to you, you will do it, if it’s not, you won’t.
  2. Look at your schedule to get a realistic picture of how much time you have to do things for others. For example, if you want to help someone, but it will cut into your sleep time, that is a good indication you need to say “no.”
  3. Schedule in “me time” every week and if necessary have someone hold you accountable for making it happen.
  4. Look at the positive side of what you do for other people, rather than feeling guilty about what you are not able to do.
  5. Repeat a mantra of “I am taking good care of myself by saying “no.” or “It’s ok to say no if that means I will be able to take care of myself better.”

Through the process of counseling Linda learned how to say “no” and take better care of herself. Ultimately she felt less guilty and also her health problems improved. What would you say “no” to if you knew you would not feel guilty about it?

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Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.