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How to Say ‘No’ to Your Friends Without Feeling Guilty About It

Have you ever found yourself saying ‘yes’ to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of saying ‘no’? Perhaps most of the events or activities you participate in aren’t ones you’d choose for yourself, but rather ones that your friends have chosen for you. 

You may also struggle to prioritize your wants and needs because you’re too busy tending to your friends’ requests. If all of this hits home, it might be time to reassess your boundaries. 

Friends are likely to overstep boundaries when they don’t know what they are or you don’t enforce them enough. If you’re always saying ‘yes’ to what they ask of you, they are likely to make more asks in the future. 

Do you avoid the word ‘no’ to avoid offending others? It’s fairly common. Fortunately, strengthening your boundaries isn’t nearly as difficult as you think.

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About It

According to research, people are less likely to say ‘no’ if they anticipate feeling guilty about it. 

Our brains love to play tricks on us. As we think about the repercussions of setting a boundary, our brains jump to the worst-case scenario. Just remind yourself that the only person whose actions you’re in charge of is your own. You can’t influence the way others may react to your boundaries, so let go of what you cannot control. 

New boundaries may mean changing the dynamic of a relationship. However, genuine and authentic friends will respect your needs and honor your self-preservation. Saying ‘no’ may hurt their feelings at the moment, but healthy friendships should only grow stronger in the long run.

5 Good Reasons to Say No

We all have different days and different moods. Some days we feel like being social, while on others we might want time alone. That’s a perfectly normal and healthy friendship dynamic. 

Social obligations are about setting personal boundaries and connecting with people who share common interests and values. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of new acquaintances, shared activities, and mutual friends with other people from those circles. 

Here are five good reasons why you shouldn’t commit to something.

You’re Busy With Other Aspects of Your Life

As children, we spend a lot of our time creating and sustaining friendships. With age requires more time for our personal growth, careers, and families. This doesn’t mean that we can’t nurture our relationships. It just means that we can’t overextend ourselves into pleasing people. Otherwise, we will constantly be pouring from an empty cup. 

Saying ‘No’ Is a Form of Self Care

As we grow older, we begin to understand how important it is to take care of ourselves. Many of us grow up to believe that the more we say yes, the more likable we become. Does being liked equate to happiness? Not in the least. 

Saying ‘yes’ may bring us a false sense of peace at the moment but lead to resentment as we face the consequences of our actions. Saying ‘no’ helps us prioritize our wellbeing over obligations that may (unintentionally) drain us of our time and energy. By setting boundaries, we protect our peace.

They Only Check-In With You When They Want Something

One-sided friendships can have you feeling slighted in many cases. There’s no way around the feeling of being used when you realize that you’re only a friend to someone when it’s convenient for them. This is another reason why friendship boundaries are crucial. A few ways to spot a one-sided friendship include: 

  • They rarely ask how you’re doing.
  • The conversation always revolves around them.
  • They drain your energy.
  • They only call or text you if they want or need something from you.

Sound familiar? If you feel like you’re in a one-sided friendship, it’s good to evaluate the friendship from time to time. Does this person genuinely make you feel good about yourself? Are they adding value to your life or just taking from it? 

In this situation, the best route to take is to be honest and transparent with them. If this is a friendship you wish to continue, vocalize how you feel. While some people may be engaging in a one-sided friendship for personal gain, others may not even realize that they’re doing it. 

You’ll have a better outcome by using an open-minded approach rather than an accusatory one.  

Take heed: If this friend is only in your life for nothing other than self-gain, they may project their selfishness on you after setting boundaries with them. Just remember that boundaries are more so for your benefit than theirs.

You’re at Odds with Each Other

Studies show that most adults only have the capacity for five close friendships at a time. If you feel as though a friendship in your life has come to a head, boundaries are necessary to reevaluate their place in your life. 

Under challenging circumstances, friendship boundaries can help give space and clarity to determine if this is a relationship that should continue. 

If you’re someone that struggles with feeling ‘selfish’ for saying “no” to a friend, understand that in dire times like these, it’s okay to be a little selfish with your time and energy.

You Don’t Feel Like It 

There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘no’ because you don’t want to do something. 

We don’t owe explanations for our actions, schedules, and behaviors. When our bodies automatically resist plans, we’re telling ourselves that we don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to give an actual yes.

Ignoring that causes us to compromise our authentic desires. We pile more and more responsibility onto our plates when we engage in what others want of us. This takes time away from being able to participate in things we want to do or participate in things that make us genuinely happy. 

How To Respectfully Decline a Friend’s Invitation:

What do you do when that uncomfortable situation arises? A friend asks you to do them a favor, but you already have a busy schedule. How do you say ‘no’ without being rude or uncaring? I’ve got some pointers for you. 

Don’t Commit Before Giving It Thought

Giving a quick ‘yes’ is the easiest way to get caught up in errands, activities, or favors you don’t want to do. We’ve all been there: We say ‘yes’ at the moment and begin to regret it as the event approaches. You can avoid this by taking time to think before committing to anything. 

Avoid canceling at the last minute as much as you possibly can. While you’re entirely entitled to opt-out of plans, the respectful thing to do is give your friend a heads up in advance. Backtracking before an event may rub them the wrong way, even if it’s not your intention. 

Be Gracious With Your Delivery

It’s not what you say that matters. It’s how you say it. Miscommunication is the root of many relationship problems, and your tone of voice is the catalyst. When saying no to a friend, communicating in a kind and respectful way ensures that nothing gets misinterpreted.  

Smiling and remaining empathetic while firm can go a long way in diffusing a situation. This can also reassure your friends that although you have boundaries, you wish to stick to, you still love and genuinely care for them.

Spare Them The Fabricated Excuses

Many people can see through weak or fake excuses. This counterproductive approach may cause people to call you out or see it as a loophole. 

Avoid beating around the bush by being upfront and clear with your reasoning when setting a boundary. Friendship boundaries are all about honesty, so state your reason without overdoing it. The less said, the better. 


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here