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10 Ways To Say No & Set Boundaries Without Feeling Guilty

Society doesn’t take “no” for an answer. From when we were little, we were told:

“don’t say no to mom”

“don’t say no to teachers”. 

Saying “yes” when you really want is to say “no” actually causes more harm than good. You will begin to resent people, feel powerless, and have less energy for the things you care about, such as your well-being.

Then, why do many of us still have problems with it? There are many physiological and psychological reasonings behind this behaviour. Simply put, we like to be liked and accepted.

The need to belong has its roots in human evolution. In order for our ancestors to reproduce and survive, it was essential that they establish social bonds. Through cooperation, they were able to gain access to food, shelter, and protection from attack. Unless you want to be the leader of the pack, you prefer to stay low. As humans evolve, the need to connect and feel belong is no less than our ancestors.

Say “no” with “no” guilt

As humans, we want to be liked and feel belonged, we need each other’s support, accompany. We are afraid of rejection by our peers. When you say “NO”, your mind gets confused, the messages contradict each other. And, when your unconscious mind and conscious mind have a disagreement, you experience stress, you get confused, sometimes, you blame yourself for acting a certain way. Just confusing. To avoid all these negative emotions and perhaps negative outcomes, you say “yes”. 

Well, you only have 657,000 hours total in your entire life if you live till the age of 75. Subtract about 1/3 from them because you need sleep. Then, take out whatever year you’ve already lived… Do you really want to spend time on things that you don’t want to do? Here are some simple but effective strategies you can implement right away to help you say “no” politely and professionally.

1. Set clear boundaries

Setting limits and healthy boundaries are two crucial components of self-care. By setting boundaries, you are letting others know how you want to be treated. It is nothing wrong to stand up for your rights and speak your mind.

2. Be honest

Saying “no” to a friend stirs up more guilt because friends are supposed to help each other. But, it actually causes more harm if you say “yes” to prevent confrontation or to protect yourrelationship with the requester.

Think for a minute, have you come across when your friend says “no” to you? You may feel disappointed or upset. What else? Did that incident ruin your relationship? Perhaps. Well, then?

Don’t be pressured to do things that are against your will. Saying “yes” to things that you don’t mean to can build resentment over time and eventually damage your friendship. If you don’t feel comfortable doing what you are asked, then don’t accept it. If you don’t like to be treated in a certain way, then tell them.

Stop saying “yes” just for the sake of pleasing others. Life is too short for it. Those who don’t take “no” from you are not worth your time. They will drain your energy and are less likely will recognize and appreciate what you do for them.

3. Money subject

Saying “no” to someone who “REALLY” needs financial help can be very difficult. But you are not a charity. You have mouths to feed, bills to pay. So, what should you do to turn them away? Here are a few tactics:

  • Give them your bottom-line: “I don’t lend out more than $20” or “I don’t lend out to non-family members” or “I don’t do cash donation.” You got the idea.
  • What about if the request comes from a family member? Stick with your bottom-line: “I don’t lend out more than $20” or “I don’t have extra money”. Be honest and firm.

4. Speak your mind

Setting healthy boundaries can prevent burnout. If you answered “yes” because you feel obligated or try to avoid conflict, you are setting yourself up for failure.

It is completely acceptable to say “no” if you doubt your ability; otherwise, you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself. That doesn’t mean you stop pushing yourself and give up trying. Tell them you will give it a try instead of giving a promise that you may not be able to deliver.

5. Thanks, but no thanks

Your friend insists to perform a magic show at your birthday party. As fabulous as it sounds, do you want a magic show at your birthday party?

To save face, tell your friend “thank you but things are planned out and I can’t fit a magic show at the party”, or “I don’t want to have a magic show at my party”. You can offer an alternative to soften it up. For example, “I know Nancy likes magic shows. She will be thrilled if you can perform at her party.”

Sweet, isn’t it? Stop being a people pleaser and learn to be more assertive.

6. Say “no” without saying “no”

We all have our own set of values and beliefs. Your annoying roommate may not think it is a big deal to go in your drawer without asking. For you, it may be your pet peeve. We are all different and unique.

Instead of saying “stop taking things from my drawer”, use the “I” statement magic: “I am not comfortable when someone goes to my drawer without my permission. Please do not do it again”. It is less confrontational because you are not putting blame on your roommate. 

Here is the formula: Express your feelings – State the fact – State what you want to see differently. Most importantly, use “I” instead of “you”. You can learn how to use “I” statement HERE.

7. Cooling period

Sometimes it can be difficult to say “no” at the moment and/or face-to-face. In this case, you can let the requester know you need to think about it. Let them know you need to check your schedule or workload before giving an answer. But don’t leave it hanging. Let the person know when you will have an answer and how you will answer them. For example, “I will get back to you by the end of tomorrow (when) by email/phone call (how). 

8. Give a professional “no” to your boss

It happens all the time: your boss comes in and hands you a pile of work that you don’t have time for. Saying “no” in this kind of situation can make you uncomfortable or even nervous. You need to be in your boss’ shoes but doesn’t mean you must say “Yes”. Try this:

Tell your boss how much you want the project. You want it so much that you are willing to drop what you are working on and take this new, interesting, and challenging one. Maybe it’s time for your boss to say “no” to you.

9. Stop criticizing yourself

No matter how you do it, saying “no” is not always easy. In the book “When I Say No, I Feel Guilty”, the author skillfully explains what saying “no” does to our brain to make us feel guilty and teaches us how to get over with it. This book is not just about learning how to be assertive; it is a self-help book that teaches us how to cope with criticism and deal with manipulative people. It will change the way you see yourself.

10. Just tell them “no”

Some people just don’t get it no matter how straightforward and clear you are. In these cases, you have to put your foot down. Make it simple and clear that your answer is your final decision. You may need to withdraw from the situation.

Over to you

Which strategy or strategies do you see yourself using? I like to hear from you. Leave me a comment or email me

If you like this article, share it. If you are interested in learning more about assertiveness, book me for a Free Discovery Call HERE.

Cheers to your success!

Christine Cheung

About the author

Christine Cheung is a Mindfulness X Practitioner who has received over 200 hours of life coach-specific training. Christine is known for inspiring, empowering, and supporting people in developing skills and strategies to get “unstuck” from their current situation so they can reach their desired outcome using the framework and techniques drawn from Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Habit Change theory, the Law of Attraction, and art therapy.

Aside from coaching, Christine Cheung is a public speaker, a group facilitator, and an online course instructor. 

Looking for a deeper conversation, book a FREE Discovery Call with her, or email

Follow her on Instagram or visit the website for more personal development tips.

If you like this article, you may like this e-book “Reprogram Your Mind: making the impossible POSSIBLE”. Click HERE and download it for FREE.


Published by Christine Cheung

I'm a goal-oriented visionary who welcomes opportunities and embraces changes.

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