Women, why is it so hard to say NO?

It’s an age old problem. Women are meant to be caretakers and pleasers. We KNOW about boundaries and the importance of them but it seems like we are sometimes scared to actually have them. When you don’t have firm boundaries, it means that you compromise who you are for the benefit of everyone else.

We’re strong women right? We take care of our family, friendships and brilliant careers.

So why is it that we still have such a difficult time saying no? Or if we DO say no, are overcome by guilt for feeling like we’ve ‘let someone down’?

No matter how big and bad and fiercely independent we think we are, relationships are the central focus of our lives.  And many times, in these relationships that one little word (NO!) comes out as “OK,” “sure,” “why not,” “all right,” “I suppose,” “if you really think so” or just as a sigh of defeat.

But why do we do this? We KNOW better. We’ve read all the self help books on this subject. We can tell other women all day long how to say NO. It’s one of the smallest, shortest words in the English language, but one of the hardest to say.


You want to please everyone and saying no makes you feel selfish, guilty, and maybe even embarrassed. You don’t want to let other people down or make life harder for them. You second guess yourself and let feelings of guilt make your decisions for you.

  • “What if I’m wrong?”

Fear of perceptions

You’re re afraid of being perceived negatively. You may say yes to everything because you fear people would see you as unproductive, incompetent or uncooperative. Acting in what society says is the ‘feminine’ way, you’ll be chided for not being confident, professional and competent. Acting in what society perceives as the ‘masculine’ way, you’ll be called too assertive, bitchy, bossy, overwhelming, rude.

  • “I have to work with them.”

Fear of rejection

You feel that if you say no, you’ll be rejected by someone important to you. This may be entirely subconscious and you might not even be aware of this fear. Have you been trying to ensure another person’s happiness by doing things you don’t truly want to do? If you tend to cave to others’ requests when they say or do something to make you feel guilty, this fear is likely at the heart of your difficulty.

  • “I don’t want to be rude.”

Not being assertive enough

Some people just won’t take no for an answer. They negotiate and persuade until you relent and say yes. Haven’t we all bought something useless from that persistent salesman because he just wouldn’t go?

  • “I don’t want to make a scene.”


Whether you’re telling others something you think they want to hear or making yourself available to them to help them in a time of need, if you don’t truly want to be doing these things, you may be acting on a need to appear nice and good at all times. In other words, you get your feelings of self worth from always helping others and their reactions to you.

  • “I want them to like me.”

You say no to a happy loving relationship, when you say yes to someone you don’t like 

You say no to things that you love, when you say yes to something you don’t enjoy

You say no to your dreams, when you say yes to a job you don’t love

You say no to your social life, when you say yes to working overtime 

How to say NO!


  • Be direct. No waffling. No is a complete sentence. 
  • Start small and work your way up – there’s no need to go full on ‘No-Girl’. Take baby steps. This stuff is HARD. 
  • Stop with the “I’m sorry” always attached to the end of saying ‘NO’.
  • Say no however you feel like. Whether by text or phone call or in person. There is NO shame in the NO game.
  • No more reason-giving. “I can’t because…” You can’t because you can’t. Period.
  • There’s no need to lie. That will just make you feel guilty – exactly what you’re trying to avoid.
  • Your self-esteem does not come from how much you do for others.
  • It’s better to say no NOW than do something you don’t want to do and feel bitter about it later.
  • DO be polite, such as “Thanks for asking.” Do NOT be overly polite, as in “Oh what an absolute honour but I’m just not able to do the ‘amazing thing’.” Cringe. No.
  • Practice saying the word no by yourself in a mirror or with a trusted person. Get comfortable with the word. It gets easier with practice.
  • Forget about phrases like “I’ll think about it and get back to you”. If you don’t want to do it… don’t. Those phrases just gives that person an opening to come back to you about it, which equals more guilt.


How do you say no? Do you have difficulty setting boundaries? What’s the most difficult situation in which you had to say no? Let’s talk about it on  Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.