How To Say 'NO'
And still feel good about yourself!

by Al Coon

More Articles
by Al

A problem that many of us face is the frustration felt when we are manipulated or pressured into doing things that we don't want to do. This is often done by the same people over and over again. They know how to push our buttons and seem to be able to make us do things that we don't want to do, almost at will. And when it is all said and done, we feel bad, and we feel stressed. If we naturally go to food for comfort, then we eat.

We are going to take this problem on in the next two Dotti's Newsletters. Learning to say no with dignity, without guilt or anger can help to make your weight loss journey far easier. This time we will start by laying the foundation, covering some basic concepts.

Twisting Your Arm

Your phone rings, and your little sister* is on the line, with a request for you to come right over and give her a ride to her job. She overslept and her car is in the garage right now, and she doesn't have time to catch a bus and still arrive on time. You have a brunch scheduled with a dear friend, and you have been planning this for a couple of weeks. You could of course call her up and cancel it if you had to, and your sister is waiting for an answer. What do you do?

Now let's bring this a bit more into focus. Your sister has repeatedly done things like this. She has never once appeared to care that it was putting you out when she requested you to drop what you were doing to come running. And whose job is this that we are talking about? Who is responsible for getting to work on time? Clearly this is a case of your being used, and not by someone who truly appreciates what you are doing. Little sister may love you, but she doesn't respect you very much. And, from the way you feel after calling your friend to cancel the brunch, you don't respect yourself very much either.

Are we trapped into a never ending cycle of being used and feeling bitter, or, if we do finally say no, feeling guilty? There is a way out!

*NOTE: We are not picking on "little sisters" here. It could just as well be little or big brothers, Mom or Dad, cousins, spouses, friends, bosses or even total strangers, like salesmen, telemarketers or survey takers in the mall. It could be anyone who can use guilt to manipulate you into undesired action.

There be Dragons Here

Stress is a multi-headed dragon, because it can attack in many ways. It can cause physical ailments and some of them are quite serious, even life threatening. Stress can just make you feel bad, or send you into depression that kills your drive and leaves you apathetic. And as we all know, it can make you EAT!

When someone makes an unreasonable request you find yourself feeling trapped. Once again you are up against the wall. If you say YES, you feel depressed and angry that someone would be so rude as to even ask you to do this, and that you were too weak to say NO. If you say NO, you feel guilty for not being there for him.

But there is a "Get Out of Jail Free Card" from this mess: assertively saying NO allows you to avoid both of these traps.

The Middle Ground

When you are assertive, you walk the moderate and middle ground. You are not a steamroller, aggressively running over people and their feelings. You are not angry or insensitive. You calmly and clearly express your answer with no hostility.

At the same time, it is neither servitude nor self-abasement. You look the other party in the eye, and with full dignity, you give your answer.

Best of all, it is guilt free! You have done the right thing. Right because it is what you wanted to do, it is not malicious, and it is what needed to be done.

Another benefit of being assertive is that it makes you actually feel better about yourself. You are your own master. You didn't commit to something that you feel you should have avoided. You chose what your actions would be—not someone else. As a result you feel stronger and freer, with your life appearing to be more a path of choices rather than mere obligations.

Finally, it even makes you feel better about others, especially the one you had to say NO to! When you say YES when you didn't really want to, you feel bitter as a result. You feel angry at yourself for being weak, and you may well overeat as a result. You also feel angry at the one who asked and who caused you to cave in. If you love that person, that can generate feelings of guilt, even after saying YES!

An unreasonable request is unfair, and trying to pretend that it isn't won't fool your mind into believing it. And face it, when you are bitter, you can't help but resent the one who caused it.

If you are assertive and answer honestly with a guilt-free NO, when it is appropriate, you will avoid that bitterness and resentment towards others.

That Sounds Good but How Do I Pull it Off?

The first thing it will take is a change of perspective. If you were standing off to the side of Stonehenge on the morning of the Summer Solstice, you might see a beautiful sunrise and the rocks brighten with the rising sun, but it would seem like many other days of the year. But if you are standing in the center of the circle and you look out towards the heel stone, you will see the sun rising up right over the stone. Where you are standing—your point of perspective—makes all the difference.

What we most have to fight is our own perspective when dealing with others. When we feel we have no rights, of course we have no right to say NO. It is only when you accept the fact that you have rights that you can use those rights. A roof can only hold the rain off your head if you stand under the roof.

Rights Don't Require Justification

It is something we don't think about enough, but we need to remember that we have rights and they are center to our whole view of life.

Do you feel guilty when you cast your vote, if it doesn't line up with the way someone else voted? Of course not! You have the right to vote any way you choose and you don't have to justify your choice to anyone else. That is the way rights operate. They are yours to use and you don't need to justify your use of them.

If you own a house you have a right to live there and to bar anyone else from living there. That is the way rights work. They are guilt free. You have the right to pick the color of your shoes, and you can pick what you want from the menu, as long as you can pay for it. You exercise these rights every day and guilt is not part of the exercise. It is because you understand your rights and accept them that you feel no need to explain your use of your rights, nor do you feel guilt when you stand on your rights.

By changing your perspective just a bit, you can move from not seeing your rights to seeing them crystal clearly.

Your Right to Say NO

As a free person, by definition, you have the inalienable right, within the law, to choose what you will or will not do. And this right is the foundation of assertive behavior.

If you have the right to decide what you will or will not do, no one else has the right to deny you that choice. To be truly free you have to accept this right as your own. If you think about it, it is this very right for which so many of our men have died over the centuries. This right has been paid for, and it has been paid for, for you, as much as for anyone else; embrace it now, because it is yours!

We often think of the grand idea of rights but we all too often forget that they apply to us, even in the very small details of life. To the extent that you can choose what you will do, to that very extent you are free.

Evaluating a Request

When someone asks you to do something, the first thing to do is to remember that you are being asked to pass judgment on the request. Just because a request is made does NOT mean that it will be granted. You must decide. And you have as much right to say NO as to say YES!

The request is properly weighed against your standards, and not the standards of the requester. Remember that the requester is in charge of his own life, and you do not control that, nor should he control yours. And that means, when you feel the answer should be NO, then when you open your mouth to give your answer, what comes out should be NO.
  • If saying YES is going to make you feel bitter then say NO.

  • If you feel the request is unreasonable, say NO.

  • If the only reason you can think of for saying YES is that it would make you feel guilty to say NO then the correct answer is always NO!
Also, you have no obligation to say YES this time, simply because you said it once or a million times before. Each request stands on its own merits and you are not bound by previous decisions as if you were a court of law relying on the opinions of some previous self as an authority to appeal to. If this request is not one you want to grant, then it demands a NO answer.

Generosity is a wonderful thing when it is done voluntarily. You feel good about helping someone out! When it is appreciated such things are an important part of what makes life a joy. Being assertive in no way hinders you from being generous.

On the other hand, when you are manipulated into being generous only because you were shamed into it, you will feel bitter and used. That is neither wonderful nor enjoyable. It is an ugly thing.

Choice is the key. When you choose to do something, then it is your gift from the heart. When you are manipulated into doing something then it stolen from you because you were unable to say NO.

How Do I actually say NO?

You have the right to basic human dignity. That includes being the one who chooses what you will do as you walk through each day of your life. You may CHOOSE to do things that you don't like in order to achieve a goal without sacrificing your dignity. Doing things you may not really enjoy for those you love, is a wonderful expression of love, as long as it is your choice. Trouble arises only when a manipulator is making your choice for you. Then you feel demeaned and used. Learning to say NO to such a person can be priceless, because it frees you and greatly increases your self-esteem.

Before proceeding, I want to make sure we are clear on one point: what we are talking about here is dealing with people who are manipulators. We are NOT talking about dealing with physically violent people. If you are in a situation where you are physically abused by someone, or live in fear of being physically abused by someone, you need to get to safety, not simply try to assertively stand up for your rights. A person, who is willing to beat you up, doesn't care about you or your rights. Such a person needs to be far away from you and those you love. If this is you, get help, please, right now!

Steps to Saying NO Painlessly

The key point in deciding if you should say YES or NO is this: If you want to say NO but hesitate only because you might, or will, feel guilty, then your answer should be NO. When you want to say YES, then you feel good about the decision, both before and after you actually do what is requested. However, if you want to say NO, and end up saying YES anyway, then you will feel frustrated and used. Let's take steps to make sure that you avoid that in the future.

Item 1: Walking in the Right.

We have a natural inclination towards doing the right thing and the fair thing. It feels good when we can look back at something that we did and know that it was right, especially when it was difficult to accomplish. These are usually the things we are most proud of in our lives.

Did you ever befriend someone who was not popular in school? The other kids were mean to him and he just didn't fit in, but you stood up for him and made the others back off? How did that make you feel? No one stands taller than that, ever. Here is your chance to do that same sort of thing again: you get to stand up for yourself in the face of a thoughtless person. You are a person, valuable and wonderful, with feelings and a basic human need for dignity. You are every bit as deserving of a champion as any child in school who needed help dealing with mean spirited kids.

When you feel you should say NO, and you do say NO, you have stood up for your right to be a person. The harder it is for you to say NO, the more important it is that you do so, and the more satisfaction you will derive looking back at your actions afterwards. You did the right thing and that makes you feel good.

Item 2: You Don't Have to Say Why!

You do not have to offer a reason as to why you say NO. Some people are experts at manipulating others. They demand to hear your reasons for saying NO in order to try and "trump" them with reasons of their own, a game of one-upmanship, and they have a lot of practice at this trick. So, it is important for you to remember that your right to say NO is reason enough!

Even if you voluntarily choose to offer a reason for your NO, you have no obligation to offer further reasons, or to join into the manipulation game of whose need is greater. The reason you say NO is based upon your right to say NO, not upon whose need is greater. The fact is—you have the right to say NO for absolutely no reason at all!

Item 3: I Understand, But NO!

What about the well-seasoned manipulator? You tell him NO but he just keeps on pressing. Now what?

You switch on the "Infinite Repetition" by simply repeating yourself, and saying NO each time he repeats his request.
  • I understand how you feel, but my final answer is NO.
  • I am sorry you feel that way but my answer remains NO.
  • I appreciate your situation but my answer is NO.
And for the quintessential manipulator:
  • Here are some tissues to wipe your eyes; it is the least I can do since I cannot grant your request.
Never waver—just say NO, and say it as many times as required, without emotion or getting drawn into a discussion of reasons.

Item 4: Dodging or How to Deal With an Insulting Manipulator

What if you are dealing with a childish person who is trying to insult you into complying with his request? It might be a salesman implying that your intelligence is low for not wanting to buy his product. It might be a boss criticizing your dedication in trying to manipulate you into coming in to work overtime on your day off. On the other hand, it might be a family member who suggests that you don't care enough about him to grant his request.

When you can take the sting out of the insults, and thereby refuse to be manipulated, you can alter the way people treat you; when you respect yourself, and stand up for your rights, the whole world tends to notice, and it will treat you differently.

Your goal is to become an "Artful Dodger." What would happen if you tried to poke a pencil into a jet of steam coming out of a boiling teapot? What happens if you try to punch the air around you? Would you change the steam or the air by these actions? The steam and the air just move aside and let you expend your energy upon yourself and they go on as if you didn't even exist. When you do that to insulters it takes the wind out of their sails.

Insults only have value when a desired reaction to them occurs. If you take away that reaction, an insult is dulled to uselessness. The trick is to use your mind to deflect the barb, by agreeing with it, but in your own way. If someone calls you, or your reasons for saying NO, dumb, you might reply, "You're probably right. There certainly are people brighter than I am."

Your thoughts might be, Sir Isaac Newton was way smarter than I am, and Aristotle was a pure genius. I know there are people much smarter than I am, and compared to them I could be considered dumb. You have agreed in part with what was said, but you are not demeaned in the slightest. So what if you are not the smartest person who ever lived? Who is? And even bright people act dumb from time to time. The insult is meaningless, and your reply has pointed that out, while agreeing with it. The insulter swung but only hit air.

If an insulter says, "Your reasons aren't sound," you will happily remember that your reasons do not have to be sound—because it is your right to say NO even for unsound reasons! You can then reply, "I can see how you might think that." Once again, you have agreed in part, but given zero ground to the insult. In a way you have turned it back on him, because while you understand his opinion, it doesn't mean that you agree with it.

If he asks you, "What is the matter with you?" You can reply, "I often wonder that myself." Again, you are ambiguous. What creature, either man or beast, has ever lived that doesn't have something wrong with it? You have given him nothing to hit.

In trying to shame you into saying YES he might ask, "Don't you care?" You can reply, "I try very hard, but I am not as selfless as I could be." This is true of everyone who is a caring person. We all try our best to be sympathetic to others. But nobody is perfect. Admitting it is no shame.

If that insult was coupled with a request, you will of course use your infinite repetition to counter it:

BOSS: I will have a very hard time finding someone to cover this weekend if you don't work. Don't you care?"

YOU: I try very hard to be a caring person, but I am not as selfless as I could be, and I am not going to be able to work overtime this weekend.

As long as you don't become sarcastic, and still can find a point of agreement, the insult is derailed from its intended result. There isn't much fun swinging at the air and hitting nothing, and people generally tire of it quickly.

Being a person

Real freedom, freedom that is not just a privilege that can be taken away, can come about in two ways: 1) Your personal power to force all others to accept your actions, whatever they may be; or 2) Your guaranteed RIGHT to act freely.

Very few of us would attempt the former approach, and if our society were run like that, bullies would dominate and the rest of us would be subservient to them—a more or less feudal system.

Fortunately, in our society, we have freedom based upon RIGHTS, and these are ours by birth. Since we are free, we can take our RIGHTS in both hands and use them to be the people we want to be. You have the right:
  • To choose when you will or will not help solve other people's problems.
  • To be the ultimate judge of what you will do.
  • To be the ultimate judge of why you do anything.
No one else has the right to take the responsibility for your own actions away from you. A request from another person does not supersede your right to decide what you will do.

Now, let's put all of this to work in a real-life situation, and return to our little sister and her problem that we mentioned last time...

Our Sister Scenario Revisited

Your phone rings, and your little sister* is on the line, with a request for you to come right over and give her a ride to her job. She overslept and her car is in the garage right now, and she doesn't have time to catch a bus and arrive on time. You, on the other hand, have a conflicting brunch scheduled with a dear friend that you have had planned for weeks. You could call your friend up and cancel it if you had to, and she would understand, and your sister needs you. What do you do?

*NOTE: We are not picking on "little sisters" here. It could just as well be little or big brothers, Mom or Dad, cousins, spouses, friends, bosses or even total strangers—like salesmen, telemarketers or survey takers in the mall. It could be anyone—often a person we love very much—who can use guilt to manipulate us into undesired action.

Now let's bring this a bit more into focus. Your sister has repeatedly done things like this. She has never once appeared to care that it was putting you out when she asked you to drop what you were doing to come running. And honestly, whose job is this, and who is responsible for getting your sister to work on time? Clearly this is a case of your being used, and not by someone who truly appreciates what you are doing. Little sister may love you, but she doesn't respect you very much.

"Hi it's me! You'll never guess what happened," Sister says. She sounds out of breath, and not interested in listening to your response apparently, because she continues on without a pause. "Remember you picked me up from the shop yesterday, where I dropped off my car? Well, I'm going to be late for work if you don't come over right now and give me a ride. My alarm didn't go off, and I overslept."

Now notice, at this point you really haven't been asked so much as being told that you will come and save your sister from her own mistake.

Naturally, you love your sister and if this were the first time something like this had happened, you would probably want to drop everything and run to her aid; that would be especially true if she routinely helped you when you needed it. You would then be happy to help her out now, and you would feel good afterwards for having done it!

But that is not what is going on here. She has always found a way to not be available when you were in a bind, and has repeatedly put you on the spot this way. You feel that she should be responsible for her own life and to face up to her own mistakes. What would she do if you were living in another state? There is a whole underlying set of issues here, too complex for us to discuss, but you would feel used and unappreciated if you did this for her this time. So, you assertively say NO.

"Sis, that is a real shame that you are going to be late for work this morning, but I won't be able to make it. You will have to find another way to work." You have acknowledged that you have heard what she said, and shown that you think it is unfortunate, but you have chosen not to be the rescuer this time. Remember, it is your RIGHT to say NO. Little Sister can always ask, but she has NO RIGHT to take YOUR RIGHT away from you.

"But my boss has warned me that I have to be on time. This could get me fired." Now, the manipulation comes out. She is suggesting that you just didn't understand the situation. She completely ignores your right to say NO, and she wants to shame you into saying YES—even though she knows you want to say NO; in fact you have already said NO!

"I can see that is a problem for you, but I won't be able to help you this time. You will have to find another way to work." Switching on the "infinite repetition," you first acknowledge that you hear what she is saying, and you agree that it is a problem, but repeat that you are not going to be the rescuer this time around.

"But what are you doing that is more important than this? I am in a bind!" Searching for material to use against you, she is hoping to trump your reason for saying NO by showing that her need is greater. And she adds that she is in trouble, implying that it is your responsibility to save her.

Now is a very good time to remember that your sister is an adult, and she is only a year younger than you are. She is as responsible for her life as you are for yours. So, what would you do if you were in a bind and your sister couldn't come save you? You think about it, and there is a bus stop next to her house and she could be at work in only a few minutes, and if she is late it will not be by much. She has friends nearby that she could call, and probably get her to work faster than you could. She could call a taxi and be to work on time. Paying the fair would probably be a good reminder to set her alarm next time as well.

"I have plans already, and I can't make it. I am sorry you are in a bind but you will have to find another way to work." You don't spell out the fact that you are meeting a friend, because that is NOT the issue. She doesn't care about your plans at this moment, beyond trying to remove them. You have the RIGHT to say NO even if you have no plans. Maybe you need to relax this morning for something big that you must do later in the day. For whatever reason you need this time for yourself, and you have a right to it. Sister's poor planning doesn't remove your needs or your right to fulfill them. And of course you follow with the "infinite repetition" once more, that she will have to find another way to work and the answer is NO.

If the roles were reversed at this point, you would terminate the call and start working out some alternative course of action. But Sis is persistent.

"I don't know what you could be doing that is so important that you would get me fired for it." Laying on the guilt and trying to shame you into doing what she wants. This is pure manipulation, and hitting below the belt as well, but we have all seen it used by manipulators. Because we are caring people and want to be helpful, manipulators use that to control us. (A little thought would reveal to us that if sister were really desperately in need of being to work on time, she should have paid more attention to setting her alarm last night, or getting to bed earlier so she would have heard it going off this morning. In her mind, her crisis is important enough for you to change your plans but it was not important enough for her to change her own.)

"I am sorry that you have gotten yourself into this problem at work, and now have overslept. Since I am not going to be able to get over there this time, I would recommend you start finding an alternative way to work." Showing concern, offering a helpful suggestion, and repeating once more that the answer is NO.

"Well, fine! If you are going to just sit there and get me fired, I guess I'm on my own." The dirty tricks are out and in full array. Trying to lay on the guilt and shame in thick sheets, Sister is throwing in the last ditch effort to make you feel bad. If it doesn't make you say YES, she hopes it will at least make you feel bad, and suffer, so next time you will be more malleable.

"Yes, you will have to deal with your problem yourself this time. If you hurry you can still find another way to get to work on time, since I will not be able to drive you today. I have my phone book here, would you like the number for the cab company?" Once again acknowledging that you heard what she said, making a suggestion, and repeating once more that that answer is NO, adding an offer to help with finding the phone number for getting a ride.

The conversation could go on longer, but the method would be the same to deal with it. She could try to push your buttons, or become insulting. Then you can use the technique to "not be there" when she tries to hit you, by agreeing in part and repeating your NO answer.

Notice that you are not getting worked up, and you remain unemotional, even though the manipulation is getting thick and dirty. You pay attention, agree with her where possible, and acknowledge what she is saying, while repeating the answer is NO as often as she asks.

By listening closely, and answering the words, and not the emotional bombs surrounding them, you keep the conversation on the level. When you are focused on answering logically and in repeating your answer, you are not drawn into the manipulation. You are refusing to "play the game." You pull the conversation back from the emotional and keep it rational and calm. No matter how emotional, angry, or hurt your manipulator becomes, you continue to answer as a calm adult, repeating your decision—your RIGHTFUL decision—as many times as needed to bring the discussion to a close. When Sister realizes finally that it isn't going to happen, she will move on. And you may be surprised to find that instead of causing more problems, when you do this, your relationship will be better off for it. Both of you will respect YOU more!

When you hang up the phone you stop and think for a minute. You aren't searching for food to deal with stress. You are calm and feel good about yourself. You didn't cave in, you did the right thing. You didn't melt into a puddle on the floor. You aren't angry and you don't feel guilty. And now you can go and enjoy your planned visit with your friend. You muse to yourself, "Why didn't I do this a long time ago?"

Wishing you the very best,


(Highly) recommended reading:

When I Say No I Feel Guilty   —by Manuel J. Smith, Ph.D.; Publisher: Bantam Books

By Al, My Wonderful, Supportive Husband

[ Home ] [ Message Board ] [ Chat ] [ Restaurants ] [ Order Cookbooks ] [ Dotti's Newsletter ] [ Support Dotti ] [ FAQs ] [ Email Dotti ]

All site material ©1998-2006 by Dotti's Weight Loss Zone. All rights reserved. While all material was placed on this site to be used
by visitors and it is fondly hoped that this material will assist others in their personal journeys - ethics, common courtesy, and the law
demand that the months of labor put in by the author of in creating this site will be protected, and theft (i.e. placing
on your own web page, selling material from my website, etc) of said material is not authorized. I urge all my visitors to use the
material on my web page for their personal use and to share the info with others.

Disclaimer - This page is not meant to be a substitute for any professional advice, guidance, or counseling. I am not
a doctor. Any information contained on my pages reflect my own experiences. It is not intended in any way to
serve as or take the place of medical advice from a physician.