Why So Hard To Say “No”?


People tend to complicate their own lives, as if living weren’t already complicated enough.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

What if no was just no, and yes was just yes? If you think about it, it really was that blissfully simple when we were kids. Sadly, we grew up and things got complicated. Hands up if you constantly find yourself struggling to say “no” to others and have an irrational fear of its implications 🙋🏻🙋🏽🙋. 

Oh, the rejection, the disappointment that you would cause your friends, your sister, your colleagues and even someone you hardly know if you didn’t say “yes”. And you’ve been on that side of rejection before. Does. Not. Feel. Good. Therefore, even when you aren’t totally comfortable with doing something, you agree anyway — only to regret it the minute the word comes out of your mouth. It’s crazy. Your head says no, heart says no, but when the moment happens, your resolve dissolves at once.

Why is it so hard to say NO? Is it our disease to please? Is it so detrimental to your being if a stranger hates you for it? If that.

Take it from Oprah. It’s green light when “I can fully say yes and do it from a space that makes me feel good, and not just you feel good”. Otherwise, no, no, no.


Sure, it’s easier said than done. But we’ve got to start somewhere. Being aware and getting to the root of this struggle, we figure, would be a good starting point. So, we reached out to a few friends to get their insights on the topic. They said YES — because, what Oprah said. 


Founder, PYAR / Creative Director, Matter Prints (43 yo)


I think it comes from caring too much.


“Saying ‘no’ gets easier as I understand myself better. It definitely was something I struggled with growing up. I found I was doing things that left me resentful, which wasn’t healthy. It was in my early 20s that I picked up a book called Pulling Your Own Strings by Wayne Dyer which was exactly what I needed at the time. It provided lots of insights on how to say ‘no’ in a way that didn’t leave me feeling bad. I’ve gotten better at communicating why as well so it doesn’t leave the receiver feeling rejected. I think that’s a big one too, as it’s never personal, and it’s really important to clearly communicate why you’re saying ‘no’.

I don’t think this is a gender thing, but a personality thing. I think it comes from caring too much and, in a way, I get a slight guilty feeling that if I don’t help them out, they can’t achieve what they want to do.

With the way things are going, with us being connected all the time, there really needs to be boundaries, to switch off and allocate free time to spend however I choose. It’s really not selfish to say ‘no’, it’s healthy.”



Founder & Designer, Ying The Label (29 yo)


It means ‘no, I think this will hurt me’, or ‘no, this is really not in line with my values and beliefs’.

“I have said many ‘yeses’ in my life, and along the way, some these ‘yeses’ have taught me to say ‘no’. That happened a lot when I started my label. I think it’s because I have a strong tendency to seek out experiences and opportunities, so I am always willing to push myself and see what can happen out of saying ‘yes’. But here’s what I’ve learned: When I say ‘yes’ to everything, I end up losing a lot of focus.

Digging deeper, I think it is a struggle for me to outrightly say ‘no’ because it’s just easier to say ‘yes’, right? I like to make people happy, so I always do my best to agree to requests. In friendships and relationships especially, I feel an obligation to make the other person feel happy. I want to be the person they feel they can rely on — it feels like some deep

desire I have to be a pillar of support for people (laughs). I also think the need to say ‘yes’ stems from a certain personality. I enjoy helping people (as much as I can), I enjoy conversations to explore new things, and I like to create joy.

As much as I have said my fair share of ‘yeses’, I think it is extremely important to say ‘no’ when you need to. ‘No’ does not mean, ‘no, I don’t want to’, it means ‘no, I think this will hurt me’, or ‘no, this is really not in line with my values and beliefs’. It means standing up for who you are. Maybe we ought to stop thinking of it as rejecting someone or making someone upset. Saying ‘no’ when you mean ‘no’ is important for growth and better decision-making.”


Founder, House of Sheens (35 yo)


I have realised that people actually respect you when you stand your ground.

“At times I do find it hard to say ‘no’ to people. It is in my nature and personality to always try to find a way around something. It may cause me more work, or it may not always be the most ideal situation for me, but I always think I have an obligation to try and say ‘yes’ and then figure it out.

I think the reason is because I overthink what the negative reaction may be if I said ‘no’. But over time, I have realised that people actually respect you when you stand your ground. I definitely think learning to say ‘no’ will make me genuinely more empowered, happier and also less burdened. It’s work-in-progress for me.”



Deception Detection Analyst / Behavioral Scientist (37 yo)


I find myself having to justify why I chose a response in contrast to my actual desire.

“Through most of my years navigating the various spheres of personal and social life as an Asian woman, saying ‘no’ to anyone has always presented itself as a constant theme of struggle that I grapple to manage as I mature. So yes, it is definitely a struggle in that I find myself having to justify why I chose a response in contrast to my actual desire to reject an opportunity/request, and interestingly, I try to take back some of the power by reframing the issue as an opportunity for me to learn something new and to exercise patience and compassion.

On a surface level, I believe this struggle can be simply put down to a deep-seated need — for me and most women — to be liked, to be accepted and valued by the people we feel we have to say ‘yes’ to. Saying otherwise risks the opposite results, which in turn leads us to feel devalued. We have, unfortunately,

subconsciously learned to link a sense — and measurement — of our self-worth and value to (1) pleasing people and (2) being accepted by others, and it often happens only when we are agreeable and acquiescent.

We may not have sufficiently linked a sense of self-worth to taking care of ourselves first as many of us may have been brought up to put others’ needs before our own. This intrinsically means that we have somehow cultivated a prioritising need to be liked by others first and foremost, and ranked that as not only being crucial to developing our esteem, but also as something more important than attending to our own needs first.

As much as I’d love to say “Absolutely, YES!”, this dilemma brings up difficult themes that require more reflection. Choosing to say ‘no’ instead of ‘yes’ is — and may always be — a difficult binary to actually practice in real life. At the end of the day, our responsibilities to ourselves and others are intricately interwoven, and far too complex to unpack with a simple denial to others’ requests.

Instead, I feel that a more self-loving way of handling such situations is to reframe the entire sense of perceived loss of my power to an empowering one instead: I find ways of seeing what I can gain from saying ‘yes’, as there is almost always something for me to learn in the face of reluctance or difficulty. For example, ‘what can I get out of this entire experience that helps me grow and learn something new?’

Almost always, I gain a lot of experience doing something new and/or difficult, and it helps me get out of my comfort zone, and in turn builds a sense of resilience and adaptability. I also learn to develop assertive ways of being kind, and also most importantly, these situations offer me ample opportunity to work on myself: Cultivating aspects of my character that were otherwise challenged, namely compassion, non-judgement, patience and optimism that everything happens for me, not to me. :)”


Co-founder, Cote & Badt (42 yo)


We need to be able to say 'no' in order to say 'yes' to what really matters.

“Yes, it is a struggle for me to say ‘no’ to people. I think it is for many people as well.

Why? I think it’s a cocktail of factors: The genuine impulse to help (we all have it); the natural enthusiasm in many of us (If I can do it, why shouldn’t I?); and yes, a certain dose of fear to disappoint (to people who are dear to us, but also to people you hardly know).

We need to learn how to strike a balance with this cocktail, to not get ‘intoxicated’ from it, so to speak. Too much of it (and too much of its pinch of fear), and our time, energy, focus and attention will be scattered. At end of the day, saying ‘yes’ proves to be quite ineffective — which is far from its initial aim. We need to be able to say ‘no’ in order to say ‘yes’ to what really matters, and offer the best of ourselves in a purposeful manner. The next time you find yourself in this dilemma, remind yourself: No means no.”



Editorial & Marketing Manager, Wear Oh Where (24 yo)


It serves as a reminder for me to live to my heart’s desire (not others' desires).

“In the past, I had difficulty saying ‘no’ because I think I wasn’t aware of what I wanted so, in a way, I thought I didn’t really have a good reason to not say ‘yes’. There was peer pressure and the fear of being alienated. As I got older, I realised that if you feel that way, then you’re probably better off with new company. #sorrynotsorry

It’s also easier for me to say ‘no’ now because I know better what I don’t want (even though I’m still figuring out what I want). And I’ve learned that ‘no’ can be expressed in different ways. So rather than say a flat-out no, which may seem harsh or hurtful, I would say ‘I’m not interested’ or ‘I’m not free’ — as long as you’re being honest about it. I think maybe giving someone an explanation can make it less of a rejection to the other party. Or, suggest something if you don’t agree with an idea, so you’re value-adding.

Hell, yes, I believe it’s important for us to learn to say ‘no’. I really, really value my time — the more I think of time as a finite and irrevocable commodity, the more selfish and careful I am with it. I have a tattoo that says ‘live wild, die free’ — it serves as a reminder for me to live to my heart’s desire (not others’ desires), so I can die without regrets. That said, I also think there’s a fine line between self care, and being selfish.”


Do you have a hard time saying “no”, too?

Tell us why you feel this way and whether you also think it’s important to learn to turn down things and people that don’t really align with your true purpose and values in comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

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