How To Stop People Pleasing and Learn To Say No

Hello it's Ange The ACT Counsellor. I’m located in Bendigo, in Central Victoria. I offer counselling and clinical supervision services right across Australia and I support women, virtually.

More and more we are becoming accustomed to engaging with services and courses online.

I often support women who are busy juggling competing demands for their time so online services can be a really convenient option, saving on travel time and costs. It can also provide a sense of security, knowing that we are not likely to bump into our counsellor in the local supermarket.

Online counselling means that we can connect with a therapist that is the right fit for us. That gets it and gets us.

My particular speciality is supporting women with complex PTSD and relational trauma. This is trauma that has arisen in relation with another person, rather than trauma that has arisen from a natural disaster or accident. Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is an evidence based approach to working with trauma and is a beautiful fit with poly vagal theory, compassion focused therapy and parts work.


While many of the people that I support are busy and overwhelmed, one of the common themes that arises is difficulty with saying no.

While I was reading in preparation for this episode I found many articles about this challenge. It seems that many, many people feel stuck with saying “Yes” when they would prefer to say, “No”.

In this episode I’ll have a look at what might be going on here and how we can strengthen our ability to say no.

By the end of this episode you’ll have 10 strategies to support you in developing better boundaries by being able to say no.


Do you often say yes when you really want to say no?

I used to do this all the time. I was so agreeable. I don’t think I knew how to say “No”. Someone would ask me to do something, and I would immediately say, “Yes”, then I would realise afterwards that I really should have said, “No”, I would then build resentment towards the person for asking me to do something, and then realise that they actually have every right to ask, and I have every right to say “No”.

I would then chastise myself for saying “Yes”, tell myself that I needed to get better at saying “No”. The next time I was asked to do something, I would say “Yes”.

Is it like this for you too?

It seems to me that learning to set boundaries is a really important skill, and one that we need to, firstly develop an awareness of, and secondly, practice.

If you do say no, do you then feel guilty?

The thing that I became aware of is, if I did manage to say “No”, I would begin to feel guilty. I would enter into lengthy explanations about why I was saying “No” or go into extended periods of second guessing myself wondering if the person would think badly of me.

Any wonder I was feeling overwhelmed all the time.

Why does it feel so difficult to say no?

If we think back to our early learning we can get some clues as to how it might have become difficult to say no.

Sometimes saying no got us into big trouble when we were kids. Sometimes saying no might have felt very unsafe. Saying no might have meant withdrawal of care, affection or kindness in subtle or overt ways. Saying no might have resulted in being shamed. Consider the way saying no might have resulted in judgement, being called a troublemaker, naughty, argumentative. Saying no might have resulted in anger or rage from our caregivers or other family members.

We have two things at play here: our attachment system and our nervous system.

As young children we have physical, social and emotional needs that we seek to be met by our primary caregivers. We need food, shelter and warmth. We seek attachment, connection, belonging and acceptance. We learn how to behave to get these attachment needs met. Over time we subconsciously might have learnt that to be agreeable was the best way to continue to get these important needs met by others, particularly our caregivers.

Our nervous system is continuously scanning our environment for cues of safety and cues of danger. We might have learnt to say yes as a means of survival. Sometimes saying yes when we would prefer to say no is a trauma response. This is called the please and appease response.

If you feel that your difficulty saying no is a deep seated pattern that has arisen from adverse childhood experiences, I would recommend working with a therapist to support you in making changes.


What if you were able to learn effective ways to say no?

Choose discomfort over resentment.
Brene Brown

Learning to say no might indeed involve some discomfort.

ACT supports us in allowing the discomfort to be present. We open up and make room for the discomfort. We notice it and name it and then connect with our values and take action.

If you’ve made a decision that you need to say no more often here’s some ideas that may support you in your decision.