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Why Can’t I Say No?

woman stressed at laptop scaled

The problem…

“Why do I find it so hard to say no to people? I suppose I have always been like it, ever since my schooldays. I can remember being constantly bullied into running errands for bigger girls.

“Now that I’m married and have two children, you’d have thought I would have outgrown it – but I’m still put upon and it’s making me very unhappy.

“I was pressured into joining a local art society a few months back, as I enjoy painting as a hobby. It was particularly enjoyable whilst we were all forced to stay at home, and it was something I could share with my children.

“Now lockdown is ending though, I’ve had the Chairman of the society on the phone pushing me to join the committee. They want me to organise a series of speakers for the monthly meetings when they restart.

“He’s said it won’t be onerous, but I know what will happen is that it will start with me booking the speakers; then I’ll have to meet them and liaise with them and sort cancellations. Before long, it will turn into a job that I really don’t want to do at all!

“On top of that, he’s admitted that ‘the committee’ organise a Christmas lunch for members, and I could hear the wheels ticking, as he clearly thought I could organise that too.

“If I had nothing better to do with my time, I guess I wouldn’t be moaning now, but I have a busy job and family to manage. I can’t cope with all this and wish I could get myself out of this mess.”

Fiona says…

“Being helpful to others is something which is ground into many of us from a very early age, and consequently, it is often hard to say no. For most of us, this may just mean having to cope with the occasional chore we’d rather not be doing. However, when someone gets into the habit of never saying no, life soon becomes unbearable.

“Assertiveness training is one solution, but you could also try to overcome the problem yourself. Try, each and every day, to say no to something – even if you don’t mind doing whatever it is being asked of you! I know you’re stuck at home with your husband and children for now, but start with them.

“For example, if someone asks you to make a coffee, say you made it last time and suggest someone else does it. If they ask you to get something for them, tell them you’re busy with whatever you are doing and suggest they do it themselves. I’d also suggest you simply practice saying ‘no’ in front of a mirror – that might seem difficult at first, but it will be good practice!

“Once you feel more confident, I suggest you tackle your art society problem. Contact the Chairman and tell him you’ve thought about his suggestion that you join the committee but, at the moment, you don’t feel able to give it the time. If he tries to persuade you, stick to your guns.

“If you feel you really must add an explanation, say that you have young children and a husband who take up what little free time you have. In addition, you have a busy job and that taking on additional work, even on a voluntary basis, would be too onerous. Remember, you have a choice here, and it really is ok to say no.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.