The Powerful No


Why is it so hard to say no?

Throughout my life, I’ve struggled immensely with assertiveness. Or lack thereof. From being bullied, to standing up for my faith, to turning down friends and family when they ‘need’ me, I’ve always struggled with that one two-letter word: NO.

It’s such a powerful word, and it can bring so much freedom to our lives, but only if we know how to use it.

Back in the day, I struggled with assertiveness so much so that I actually signed myself up for a community college course on Assertiveness Training. I took one look at the workbook and realized I could handle my assertiveness issues myself. I just needed to say no and stand up for myself when situations arose.

That plan lasted no more than thirty seconds. Saying no was hard. Turning down people who are asking for your help or your time or your resources was more difficult than just saying yes and dealing with the burnout. Or so it seemed.

I finally got so fed up with trying to become more assertive on my own that I just settled on praying for assertiveness, thinking (wishfully) that I would wake up one morning and be more assertive. That I would be able to say no, that I would be able to stand up, speak my voice, and assert my position in this world.

I was wrong.

Instead of happening overnight, instead of assertiveness – and the ability to say no – being developed in me while I slept, it took years.

Assertiveness – like a muscle – takes time and takes practice. We can’t just expect to say no every time we want to. We have to understand why we’re saying no, and we have to be okay with the consequences of saying no.

We Say No For Ourselves. Sometimes, we don’t have time. Sometimes, we don’t have energy. Sometimes, we don’t have resources. When others ask of these things when we barely have enough for ourselves, we must learn to say no. You can’t eat two pies when there is only one in front of you. Do not let others take what isn’t there – or barely there – to begin with.

We Say No For The Ones We Love. Sometimes, people ask of us when in fact, we’re supposed to be giving ourselves to others, such as our spouse or children. Giving away what little we have of our time, money, or presence to others before those closest to us can hurt those we love, because we are neglecting our own healthy obligations to them.

We Say No Because We Can. Sometimes, we should exercise saying no simply because we can. There are times I just don’t want to do something that someone requests of me. There are times I have the time but not the desire. There are times I would rather just be doing something else. And those are okay reasons for saying no, because it’s our right to say no. This isn’t out of spite, mind you, but out of freedom.

Of course, as with all things, there are consequences to saying no, and they can vary. Sometimes we miss out on opportunities, sometimes we miss out on something we would have enjoyed participating in. We must weigh each situation and do what is best for us and for those we love.

This isn’t at all to say that we should always say no when those close to us (or maybe not close to us) are in desperate need, but there needs to be balance between our health, our priorities, and our service to others.

Do you struggle with saying no, or being assertive on any level? I’d love to hear of your struggles.


  • Charity

    I struggle to be assertive and set boundaries; then when people “cross the line,” I’m angry at them, but also angry at myself, because I didn’t draw the line for them to cross in the first place. People enjoy having boundaries; it makes us feel safe, like a fenced backyard. Monsters may lurk in the street beyond, but we’re safe under the apple tree.

    I often don’t set boundaries because it seems “mean” or “selfish,” but the truth is — I’m not offended when people set boundaries with me; I shouldn’t assume they’ll be offended when I set my own. If you can be assertive enough to set a boundary, the assertion of holding to that boundary comes easier — because you both know that this is crossing the line.

    I think we possess the tools to enable ourselves to find asserting ourselves easier… but we do have to learn to say no — and sometimes, that includes saying no to ourself. “No, I’m not going to do this, this time…” “No, I’m not going to let this person walk all over me…” “No, I’m not going to be a coward.”

    Good post. 🙂

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