“I feel like I’m letting people down if I say no.”

Does that sense of guilt feel familiar to you? That cold, creeping fear of what might happen if you don't give someone what they are asking for. What will they think? What will it mean for your job or relationship? What will you lose?


Session one of resilience coaching is all about the “why.” We take an in-depth look at what has brought you to me, where you want change to happen, what’s standing in the way of that and what we need to do to move you past it. And in this initial session, one of the most common sentences I hear is this one: “I feel like I’m letting people down if I say no.” It is almost always followed by “I struggle to set boundaries,” “I don’t feel confident or assertive” and “anxiety is constant and overwhelming” (and/or “I feel so angry/resentful”). 

No one can say it for you

Not being able to say no is not a sustainable way of living. But when you feel like the worst could happen if you do say it then it’s a place where you can stay trapped. I think the worst thing about this is that no one is going to come and save you from it. You aren’t going to suddenly be rewarded with all your dreams coming true just because you’ve never said no to anyone. In fact, it’s more likely to be the opposite.

Question: why are you prioritising other people over yourself?

Because this is what you’re doing when you don’t say no. You’re abandoning you. To try and avoid anxiety. Not being able to say no is one of the hallmarks of people-pleasing, and people-pleasing is essentially a way of managing anxiety. You may have seen it as keeping the peace or being nice so others will like you, but the cold, hard reality is that doing this damages connections in the long run because you’re not being honest. And it can leave you feeling resentful because - in simple terms - you won’t get what you want from your life if you never make your life a priority.

But when you stop doing it? This happens:

I finally felt like I was being myself and being honest with people - the relief was huge. I just don’t have the same anxiety anymore.

- My client, Rachel. 

Ultimately, not being able to say no is just habitual behaviour. It’s not part of your personality. You learned it at some earlier point in life and, even though it may not be serving you anymore, you’re still doing it. It’s out of date and unhelpful - but familiar. We all do this. And we all suffer for it - until we realise we can stop.

My approach as a coach is to show you exactly how to stop. It’s not hard, it’s just understanding how your brain works. Which is, essentially, on the basis of repetition and consistency. Once you understand that then you can completely shift how you approach your challenges. I can help you move from people-pleasing (or self-doubt or negativity) to ease with boundaries, creating confidence and feeling more optimistic and empowered. We’ll tackle both the practical steps to help you do this and also the emotional response you’re likely to have and how to manage that.

Anyone can make this shift from guilt to freedom - and it will change your life (and the lives of those around you) to do it. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP cert coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She works with resilience to help clients build confidence, motivation, recover from burnout, set boundaries, find joy and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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