learning how to say no and stand up for yourself

by gilda rêvasseur on August 28, 2008

photo by prfection

“hello i need some advice. i’m writing to you because you seem to have strong opinions about things and stuff. i’m having trouble because my friends always come to me when they need help. i want to help them, but sometimes i feel like they are taking advantage of me and they want me to help them with their homework, but like, i know it’s only because they want to go out with their boyfriends instead of spending time doing their own work. help!! what should i do? like, how can i remain friends with them and still tell them that i don’t want to keep doing their work for them?”

oh dear, i need to tell you something first. and it’s not what you want to hear, but you need to know, that those girls are not your friends!! they might say that they are, but if they come to you only when they want you to do something, they are not real friends. you will be so much better off staying away from them and finding friends who are worthy of you, because you are obviously a very nice girl!!

do you have a problem saying no? especially when you have to say no to some very convincing puweeety puppy dog eyes?

a lot of people, us girls especially, have problems saying no. we don’t want to let people down, we don’t want to disappoint anyone, and we don’t want anyone to hate us. so instead of saying no to unreasonable requests, we smile and give in, only to end up feeling upset, resentful, and perhaps overwhelmed.

why do we always do this to ourselves?

i’m not talking about not trying to help people. yes, you should always lend a helping hand whenever you can. but there are times when you know deep down in your heart, that someone is asking something of you that you are not comfortable with. there are times, when you know that this person is making use of you, taking you for granted, and always asking you to do something, because they know you won’t reject them!

it’s about time to stop abusing yourself. learn to stand up for yourself and say no!!! “no, i will not do your work for you! i will not sacrifice my time and energy while you sneak off to the clubs, uh-uh! no, i will not save your ass and get mine in trouble instead!”

you’re not being a bad person for saying no
some of us feel guilty whenever we want to say no. we’ve been brought up with great family values. we want to help the poor and save the world! so instead of listening to our inner voice that’s violently rejecting the request, we say, “uhm, yeah, ok, sure i could do that,” even though we know we’re only getting ourselves in trouble and burning ourselves out.

you know how 3 year old kids reject you immediately, when they don’t want to do something? they don’t feel bad about saying it. they’re just telling you exactly what they feel.

you say, “take a shower!” they say, “no!”
you say, “do your homework!” they say, “no!”
you say, “go to sleep!” they say, “no!”

take out the brattiness from the “no”, and learn from those kids.

but whatever it is, try not to do it amy winehouse style!

stop and take a time-out
when someone asks you for something, and you feel yourself starting to nod your head, stop. and take a long deep breath. tell them you need to take a moment to think about it. “let me check my schedule”, or “let me get back to you later” usually works great.

remember your goals
what are you trying to accomplish? by helping this person, would it put you in jeopardy, either mentally, emotionally, physically or even financially? by helping this person, are you really helping them because they honestly do have way too much on their hands, or are you helping to make them even more irresponsible than they already are?

listen to your inner voice
your instincts usually tell you the truth. when you first heard about this request, what did you think? was it a nice favor and did your heart beat faster because you were excited about helping out? or were you wishing you could punch this person and hope that he/she would magically disappear? do you honestly want to help this person, or do you think you should? “should” simply means that you don’t actually want to be helping out. your instincts were given to you for a reason, and listening to it would save your sanity later.

watch your body language
body language often gives a lot away. if you’re looking away, twiddling your thumbs, feeling nervous, or sweating in your pits, it screams insecurity. take another deep breath, drop your shoulders, smile and look at them straight in the eye. be firm, and polite, and don’t be defensive nor over apologetic. this tells them that you have made up your mind that you can’t help even though you are sympathetic.

keep it simple
you don’t owe anyone a long and lengthy explanation. when saying no, keep it short and simple. by offering a long explanation, you are indirectly telling the other person that you might be persuaded into change your mind. you are not obligated to state your reasons for saying no. you have your own reasons and they might not be something you want to discuss. in fact, even if you were saying no just because you wanted to go get your hair done, hey, it’s something you wanted to do for yourself! why do you have to give that up just to help someone do their homework? if you must give a reason, keep it simple and repeat that you cannot help.

don’t lie, and remain respectful
even if the other person is being plain rude, keep your dignity intact. you don’t need to stoop to their level. be pleasant, but be firm!! and also, don’t lie to get out of it. well, at least try not to.

don’t let anyone push you around
if they plead or try to pressurize you into changing your mind, repeat that their request simply does not fit into your schedule. then change the subject, or walk away.

practise some, then practise some more!
if you’re not confident about rejecting someone, you might wanna practise doing it first. sometimes when i get very nervous about something, i say it over in my head. this way, i can pick the right words, the right tone, and make sure that i’m bringing the message across. try it! say it over and again in your head, or better yet, say it out loud in front of the mirror. pretend you’re standing in front of the person you want to reject, and practise your little speech! you don’t have to memorise anything, but just saying it a few times prior to saying it for real, will help stop you from being tongue-tied! you will also panic less and be more confident!

what if you actually do want to help
if you actually want to help out but can’t do it at the moment, offer an alternative. you can say that you can help them when you have more time on your hands next week, or you can offer to help but lessen your responsibility by doing only a portion of the task. you can even do it for something in exchange! at least it will be on your own terms. remember, they are asking you for a favor. you don’t owe it to them. in fact, they kinda owe you!

+ “i would love to help out, but i really have my hands full now. why don’t you come back to me next week? i think i might be able to help then.”
+ “i can’t help you pack and ship all those items out, but i can definitely help you by preparing the shipping labels.”
+ “i can definitely work your shift this saturday since it’s your best friend’s birthday! but would you do the same for me next time?”

need more help in saying no? here are some examples of what you can say!
+ “i don’t want to say yes and make a promise to you, when i know i might let you down.”
+ “i’m sorry but i’m going to have to pass. i don’t have the time for that now.”
+ “i’d love to, but i simply don’t have the time.”
+ “i’ve been working very hard on my own homework and i don’t have time to help you do yours.”
+ “i’m proud of my work and i spent a lot of time on it so i hope you respect that and do yours yourself.”
+ “i wish i could help, but i really can’t.”
+ “i’m not comfortable with saying yes, so i’m sorry but i’ll have to decline.”
+ “you caught me at a bad time. i don’t want to say no but i have to.”
+ “i feel like i have helped you do your job plenty of times before. please respect that i have my own job to do too.”
+ “if i say yes, my boyfriend will be so mad that i took on another job and sacrificed the only time we have left to spend together.”
+ “i’m sorry but i can’t lend you that money. i make it a rule not to lend to friends. i don’t want money to come between us.”
+ “i can’t work in your place this weekend because i have already made plans of my own.”
+ “i’m sorry but i’ve already stayed overtime at work everyday of the last two weeks. i have enough on my hands right now.”
+ “thank you for asking me on a date but you’re really not my type.”
+ “i’m sorry but i love my personal space at home and i can’t offer you my couch to sleep on for two weeks.”

remove yourself from the situation
some people are just really good at making use of others, and getting what they want. if you feel like someone’s really being pushy with you, and you might succumb to their pushiness, make up an excuse and just get yourself outta there! say “oops, i need to run to the toilet!” or… you need to fart. whatever! just leave the scene. you do not want to be stuck doing someone else’s dirty work.

personally, i have always been pretty headstrong, even as a child. and i’ve always been pretty good at saying no. i’ve said no to friends who’ve offered me cigarettes, said no to the junkies who’ve asked if i want weed, said no to people who ask if they can copy my work… it’s different when you’re all actually great friends and copy each other’s work all the time. but when you put your heart and soul into something and someone else wants to use it, or worse, copies you without even letting you know, then you really need to put your foot down and say enough is enough. at times, you need to put yourself before others.

just remember, you deserve so much more than this!!!

what about you? have you been caught in a similar situation where someone asks you for a favor but you know they’re just taking advantage of you? how did you say no?

more for nosey parkers:
dealing with difficult people

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Randy Nichols August 28, 2008 at 8:46 am

I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!


Dollface August 28, 2008 at 8:51 am

Really great advice!

I used to have a friend who would always call me up when she was crying/upset. I would invite her over (okay, sometimes she’d just show up!!) and talk her through her issues until she felt better. Then I started noticing a pattern…we only hung out when she was upset…and she never had time to hear my problems!

I finally said “no” to her, and our “friendship” unraveled pretty quickly after that. Let’s just say I didn’t miss her that much…


young August 28, 2008 at 9:17 am

This was a great article, gilda!

There was a period in my life when I felt that some of the people I know only came to me when they were upset, like Dollface’s friend! I would listen to them, talk to them and give them advice, but they never asked me how I was doing! They never contacted me when they were feeling good, so in the end I figured it wasn’t worth it. I was in therapy at the time and the people in my group were so great in helping me learn to say “no” and standing up for myself.

It has been such an improvement in my life, saying no to things I don’t really want to do.


Julie August 28, 2008 at 11:12 am

This is really good advice Gilda n_n.

I used to have the same problem but now I’m able to say no. I don’t want to let everyone down and I don’t want anybody to take advantage of me. Why should I waste Julie-time helping someone that just wants to take advantage of me?

Whenever I do help it is with something that has me foaming from the mouth in excitement! Whenever I do that then I’m happy to give my time and energy to the project.

I just say no, no matter who it is. Once this really cute boy asked me for my homework. He came up to me put his puppy eyes just in face. I looked at him nonchalantly and said “No, I don’t think so. Why don’t you just Google it?”.



Ashe Mischief August 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm

To echo the others, lovely post!

In more recent years, I’ve found that my involvement as a volunteer administrator in the local arts community has really made this a problem.

As a volunteer, I recognize that there are certain needs and necessities for these organizations. But those organizations need to recognize what I do, and that I am ONLY a volunteer and that particular needs in my own life need to come first.

It’s difficult, and I hate to have to say “no,” (in fact, I need to do it more). It’ll be difficult to say to the film fest I’m working with, “No, I will not join you next year, you are too stressful for me and not enough enjoyment.”


audrey August 28, 2008 at 5:41 pm


My name is Audrey Rogers. I am style editor for The Durham Sanctuary University Newpaper, I also am a contributor for fashionverbatim.net and have my own blog: frassy-audrey.blogspot.com. I just wanted to say, that I LOVE your blog, its content is truly inspirational and I love the way you present fashion to your blogger audience. Yours has, I must admit, become a must-read for me. Anyway, I was wondering, would you like to exchange links? Personally I would love to reccommend your blog to my readers and would really appreciate it if you did the same for me. So let me know, check me out on frassy-audrey.blogspot.com, for some delicious fashion ramblings and digressions!

xxxx audrey leighton rogers


Scribbles August 28, 2008 at 6:51 pm

I think the worst thing is when you realise how much of a doormat that you’ve been in the past. I can’t believe how many times I said or did something just to please one of my exes, and in the end he dumped me anyway. The sad thing is that with some people, no matter what you agree to do for them it won’t be good enough. Gilda’s right though, if saying no means that you lose a boyfriend or a friend then you were better off without them anyway! :) I know I am.


Young Werther August 28, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Great advice. New blog title soon? Ask Aunt Gilda :)

A friend had a similar problem. People kept asking for free business advice, told her to not to give anything for free and state your fee first!


Elizabeth August 28, 2008 at 7:45 pm

This is such a great post because this is a problem that almost all women have. I mean, I have said yes so many times and then been so pissed at that person for agreeing, feeling I’ve been used.
I liked your tips on analyzing the body language you give off and also that you don’t have to give a lengthy explanation. I read this book once “When I say No I Feel Guilty” by Manuel Smith that was had a lot of good info.
But, my favorite thing you said is if someone confronts you on the spot just to say you have to run to the bathroom. Ha. That would have saved me in so many situations. Genius!


Annie Spandex August 29, 2008 at 3:41 am

My first word was “no.” I was definitely one of those 3 year olds, haha… :)
Good tips and good examples!


gilda August 29, 2008 at 10:25 pm

thank you very much! i haven’t logged into technorati in months! i’d forgotten all about it. but i’m glad you dropped by.

omg i hate people like that. especially if they just show up at your front door and expect you to drop your life and listen to them whine away. i’m glad you got rid of her! good for you!

you know i’ve never been to therapy before although a lot of times i think i should have… was it a group therapy session? it must be great that everyone’s so supportive. i think that really helps one be strong, knowing that someone’s got your back! the only group therapy or something that i can think of is miranda going for weight watchers anon in satc, and ending up in bed with that messy guy. hahahahahahaha. oops sorry. but yes, weeding those badasses out was definitely a wise choice!

HAHAAHA you’re awesome! yeah julie-time should always be put above everything else! and it made me laugh that you told that cute boy to google his homework! heehee!

+ashe mischief+
OMG i know exactly what you mean!!! i volunteered at this place once before too and they treated us like slaves! and criticizing us for wanting to leave to go dinner with friends when we could stay and do more manual work! it was supposed to be for a good cause which i was very happy with, but in the end i was like, “f-you, it isn’t worth it for me.” you definitely need to repeat it to them that you are a volunteer and it is supposed to be a rewarding thing for both you AND the benefit!

helloo! thank you so much! xox. fashion verbatim! of course i know that. i think i’ve even stumbled across your blog before. i would love to exchange links!

oh god i’ve been there too. it’s heartbreaking, isn’t it? i know when i came to that point of realization, i cried buckets. but after that i was sooo over him and glad to get him out of my life!! i’m happy for us both that we’ve learnt to love ourselves more than that! <3

+young werther+
ahahahaahahahah. i am NOT an aunt ok. not that old… yet. business advice is a big no-no! can you imagine? and if anything turns out bad from her friendly advice, they’ll turn the tables on her and blame her instead! i’d say up the price especially for these cheapos.

yeah, why do we do that??? i know i’ve done it many times before myself. i’ll say ok ok ok, then i get SO mad at that person and even more mad at myself for agreeing! i think it makes us feel even worse about ourselves, so it’s a lose-lose situation for us! isn’t running to the bathroom excellent? HAHAHA i did that once and it worked marvelous for me. “oh my god i’m sorry i need to run because… i need to bog!!” ;)

+annie spandex+
your first word was “no”?? are you serious? AHHAHAHA!!! my first word was “water”, and only god knows why! :D


young August 30, 2008 at 8:41 am

HAHA, the sloppy eater?! That was totally funny!
But yeah, it was a daily group in different settings (body group, regular therapy, drawing and cognitive therapy). At the time I didn’t really think I belonged there and pretty much hated it, but when I look back at it, I can see that it has really helped me, and that I use a lot of the tools I was given there in my daily life.


x Miss Corrine x August 31, 2008 at 2:46 am

Lovely advice, Gilda – I really enjoyed reading this article. I DEFINITELY used to have trouble saying no when I was younger, but I can happily say that those days are well and truly no longer! I’m not sure that I can attribute the change to just one thing though – I think it was really jjust a combination of age, experience and developing confidence!


gilda August 31, 2008 at 7:51 am

yes him! HAHAHA. those different settings you talked about sounds so interesting!!! drawing too? wow… but i can totally understand that. drawing helps me sometimes too, especially if it’s not some school homework with a deadline, but something i really want to do. maybe i should try it one time!!

+miss corrine+
thank you! i definitely learnt to really put my foot down with age. and experience! (after getting pissed off way too many times. haha!) i think a lot of people still have this problem though. if only we can all get stronger!


Zakuro September 1, 2008 at 12:06 pm

hello. GILDA!






Couture Carrie September 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Really fantastic advice!! Having been a teacher, I can say that there is a big diff betweeen “helping” someone and doing the work for them.
Inspired post, darling!



fashionherald September 2, 2008 at 2:16 pm

oh, this definitely used to be a problem for me, but no more. Now saying no is really easy! Great advice.


Bernhard September 3, 2008 at 2:21 pm

Occasionally I look here by and read the interesting and well written contributions. Today I would like to leave gladly a greeting from Thuringia in Germany!


ML September 3, 2008 at 11:00 pm

Hey Gilda,
great article :)
I have lots of thoughts on this, but i wrote most of them in an article on my site about being assertive. i really agreed with the practicing part–that is so important.


Leanne September 5, 2008 at 11:20 am

the best way is the honest way. i’ve been working very hard these past months to be myself, meaning saying “no” when i mean to say “no.” one thing i struggle with is saying “no” to chipping in for birthday presents. it makes me feel bad but then it bothers me because i might barely know the person. even though they are in the same group of friends, it’s annoying to find they don’t talk to you and the only time they do is when their birthday is approaching. =_=”


gilda September 7, 2008 at 7:27 am

ジューシー話は嫌いな人は居ないと思うけどね。笑 スパンコールの靴ちょーナイスアイデアだよね!!あたしも欲しい。ぱくっちゃい・・・ます!東京のファッションウィークは行かないんですか?行ったらなんか写真とかいっぱいアップしてね!!!あたしは授業あるから、あまり行けてないけど、とりあえずは仕事の繋がりでパトリシアフィールドのショーは昨日行って来ました!結構楽しかった!

+couture carrie+
you have been a teacher???? i can’t explain why, but i’m so amazed!! a teacher who blogs fashion. how come i never had that! :D

really easy! haha! i love it that you said that so easy too! :)

i don’t really know where that is in germany, but thank you!

it really is, and i think a lot of teenagers and young adults, and even people well into their 40s and older have this problem too! it’s great that at your age you can talk about assertiveness! good for you!

i used to do that when i was in my teens!!! you really shouldn’t. i mean, i would gladly buy a present for a good friend, but for someone whom i barely know whether or not they are even straight or gay or what their last name is, i really wouldn’t bother anymore. it’s not fair to you. even if it was 5 bucks, hey, that’s a nice chocolate cake! people like that are a pain in the ass, especially if they only talk to you because they expect a present!! you really should just say a happy birthday instead! good luck!!


Aja September 10, 2008 at 10:33 am

How ironic, I just dealt with this LAST week. There’s this one friend that I know, that kind of bullies me into doing whatever she wants and it drives me nuts “drive me here. drive me there. let’s do this”. I can’t believe I’ve been such a pushover for a long time. I put my foot down and said “no”, firmly. I’m happy I did. Although I can tell, she was a little bit upset with me, I’m pleased about it. I don’t need a friend who bosses me around and constantly makes me do things I don’t want to do!


gilda September 14, 2008 at 5:48 pm

wow, that’s amazing that you did that!!! plus, petrol costs money, yo! didn’t she hear about rising gas prices!


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