How To Say No

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In her new book Therapy is Magic, Jo Love addresses people pleasing (amongst other things) and shares her tips on how to say no.

Learning How To Say No

Two little letters. One small syllable. One word, but also an entire sentence. Something so small, but something I find almost impossible to utter.

I’ve never been good at saying no. Instead I am a habitual yesser. I comply, I please, I agree. I am a yes girl.

But scratch the surface and being a yes girl is not quite so wonderful; the life of a yes girl actually has some pretty big drawbacks.

The problem is that I say yes to everyone and everything. I say yes to more work when I really need to rest, meaning in the past I have walked into the office on Wednesday morning and not left until late Friday night. When I’m asked on the street if I’d like to take part in a survey, I say yes, when I’m already running late. I say yes to favours from so-called friends, who only moments earlier have been deeply offensive to me. I’ve found myself in scary and dangerous situations because I’ve been too polite to speak up. I’ve been on dates with people I have had zero interest in. I’ve paid for botched hairdos and left with a smile rather than a complaint.

The list goes on and on.

But somewhere along the way, therapy has helped me see that by doing this I’m not quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that is a strange combination of mainly meeting the expectations of others, a fair bit of what I think I should be doing and only a tiny slither of what I actually want to do. The result? I have a never-ending to-do list that often leaves me overwhelmed and unfulfilled. I go to events I don’t want to go to; I buy things I don’t want to buy; I hang out with people I don’t like; I go for a drink when I decided I was going to stay sober that week; I am chronically overbooked and overwhelmed. Yes so often feels easier than no – no is obstructive, no is awkward, no could hurt or insult, no is rude. I really don’t want to disappoint people, I don’t want to let them down.


  1. Stop elaborating. Too often, I over-explain myself into a corner. My default tends to be, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I have another thing that day, and it probably won’t end in time, though I guess there’s a chance it will finish early, and if it does, then maybe I can…’ and then I end up doing the thing I didn’t want to, on top of everything else. I’ve got to get better at ‘I’m sorry, I won’t be able to make it’ and then shutting the hell up.
  2. Stop apologising. OK, so there are definitely times I do need to say sorry for things, but if sorry becomes too extreme a habit, then we can start convincing ourselves we are doing something wrong by setting normal healthy limits. ‘I can’t take that on right now, but I hope you’re able to find someone’ is a good alternative to ‘sorry I can’t do that’ at work.
  3. Suggest an alternative: ‘It’s such a shame I’ll have to miss your party. But can I take you out to lunch sometime instead?’ But of course, this is only to be used if you do actually want to do the alternative!

Therapy is… magic: An essential guide to the ups, downs and life-changing experiences of talking therapy by Jo Love (Yellow Kite Books, HB, £14.99, out now)

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