Episode 136: How to Politely Say No

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Discover the roots of people pleasing, tied to upbringing and challenges with perfectionism. The podcast dives deep into the toll on mental well-being and introduces practical mindfulness, including the art of saying no politely. Amy Robeson guides listeners in recognizing self-worth and cultivating self-compassion for a more balanced life, making this episode a succinct guide on "How to Politely Say No."

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How to Politely Say No: Navigating the Art of Boundaries

Let’s explore a common challenge many of us face—people pleasing. In today's blog/episode, we'll delve into the intricacies of this habit, its roots in our upbringing, and most importantly, how to master the art of saying no politely. Welcome to the journey of self-discovery and boundary-setting.


People pleasing often stems from a genuine desire to be kind and compassionate. However, saying yes to every request may not always serve your highest good or that of the other person. Learning to recognize when saying no is not just an act of kindness to yourself but also empowers others to take responsibility for their lives.

Many of us are conditioned to people please, often rooted in our upbringing. Acts of service might have been the language of love in our households, leading us to overextend ourselves without receiving the reciprocation we crave. It's crucial to distinguish between genuine kindness and behavior driven by the need for love and approval.

Perfectionism, often inherited from family dynamics, can contribute to people pleasing. The pursuit of an unattainable standard can lead to burnout, resentment, and internal strife. Embracing imperfection and setting realistic standards for yourself is key to breaking free from this cycle.


People pleasing extracts a toll on our energy, both physically and emotionally. The constant effort to meet others' expectations can lead to burnout and foster deep-seated resentment. Recognizing the signs of imbalance and addressing them is essential for maintaining overall well-being.

Saying no is not a rejection; it's a form of self-care. Understanding that it's acceptable to decline requests, set boundaries, and prioritize your well-being is crucial. It's about finding the delicate balance between saying yes for fulfillment and saying no for self-preservation.


Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in combating people-pleasing. Taking a moment to assess your reactions and choices allows you to identify when you're veering into people-pleasing territory. Mindful decision-making enables you to make choices aligned with your well-being.

Implementing mindfulness in your responses can be as simple as buying yourself time. Instead of immediately agreeing to a request, try saying, "Let me get back to you on that." This gives you the space to evaluate the feasibility of the commitment without feeling pressured.

If you've already committed to something and realize it's overwhelming, honesty is your best policy. Communicate your situation, express regret, and, if possible, offer a solution. Transparency and authenticity go a long way in maintaining healthy relationships.


The foundation of mastering the art of saying no lies in recognizing your self-worth. Acknowledge the value you bring to relationships and activities. Understand that disappointing others occasionally is a natural part of the human experience, and it doesn't diminish your worth.

Self-compassion is your ally in the journey to assertiveness. Remind yourself of your kindness and generosity, even when faced with disapproval. Accept that it's okay to upset others occasionally for the sake of your mental and emotional well-being.

Realize that not everyone will react positively to your boundaries, and that's okay. Disappointment is a normal part of life, and it's essential to differentiate between someone else's expectations and your own standards. You have the right to set boundaries without guilt.

In wrapping up our exploration into the art of saying no, remember this: it's not just okay to say no; it's necessary. Setting boundaries is an act of self-love and self-preservation. Recognize your self-worth, embrace self-compassion, and navigate disappointment with grace. You have the power to shape your relationships and experiences by learning the delicate dance of saying no politely. Until next time, take care and prioritize your well-being. Bye for now!

If you enjoyed this episode with Amy Robeson, we would love to invite you to check out other inspirational episodes by clicking here. Enjoy!

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Full transcription of the episode:

Hello, everyone, and welcome to today's episode. I am so excited you are here. Oh, my Lord, we are going to talk about something big today, and that's people pleasing. I know that a lot of you have this problem. I'm putting that in quotations. That's because it's like a puzzle. Maybe it's how you grew up. Maybe you're striving for perfection. This is something that I am examining in my behavior throughout the year because I am a people pleaser, and I know that I'm a people pleaser. When routine changes, I know that I have the tendency to put way too much on my plate, and I have to say no. I have gotten so much better at saying no. It still doesn't mean that I don't have tendency to people please. There is like this incunito people-pleasing that cannot even seem like you're people pleasing, but you are. It's really important to recognize when you are people pleasing.

But let's first talk about the puzzle of it, so we understand what and how people pleasing can occur. The first one is that you want to be kind and compassionate. Just because you want to be kind and compassionate does not mean that it serves your highest good or serves the other person or the other party's highest good because you say yes. Because sometimes you say no actually puts them in the driver's seat of taking responsibility for their own life and their own actions. I've recently have had someone that I love dearly and I do all sorts of stuff for, but it's been costing me greatly in terms of time, in terms of completing projects without stress. I have to say no, and it's really important to say no. The other piece is you've been conditioned to people please. Sometimes if you grew up in a household where by doing acts of service was the way that you were taught love and affection, or when you only receive love and affection, that that's the way that you understand how to do it. You go out of your way to do all sorts of acts of service for people, but they never reciprocate in the way that you want to.

It's just because it's a learned behavior to seek love and approval. That can sometimes be really hard and challenging because this might also be your love language where you genuinely feel love through acts of service, but no one's reciprocating that for you. You have to take a really honest assessment. Is this people pleasing or is this just me doing this out of the kindness of my heart? Because I really enjoy doing it and I know that this person loves it and they're going to reciprocate it some time. Again, it doesn't have to get out of balance. Then that causes disease within the body and disease within the mind and disease within the soul. And it can be so challenging for that. And this is somewhat on the same lines of seeking perfectionism. For me, I grew up in a household where my stepdad was extremely OCD and everything had to be done in a particular way. If it wasn't done in a particular way, you had to restart all over and make sure it was perfect. It was his way of controlling what he could control based on his mental health disorder because he was an alcoholic.

And also he had a lot of childhood trauma. And so that was what he was taught, and then that was what he was teaching us, that we had to strive for perfection. And guess what? Nothing is perfect. It's perfectly imperfect, and that's where it's at. And we don't have to try to be perfect. You get to decide what the standard of perfection is. If it is causing you, which is another piece of the puzzle, if it is causing you resentment, burnout, anger, is not worth it. It's totally not worth it. You've got to put different boundaries up. That piece, which is the true cost of people pleasing, is that energetic burnout, the physical burnout as well. Then resentment. Resentment goes strong and deep because when it starts to fester and you don't start to look at it, it will manifest itself in your mind, body, soul, and all sorts of different ways and wreak havoc in your life if you don't address it because you are living out of alignment. You're doing too much for others, and you're not doing enough for yourself. And enough for yourself is simply saying no sometimes. Enough for yourself is resting.

I know that sometimes people, because I hear this a lot, that sometimes people think that if I rest, I'm being lazy. Oh, and totally, you are not. You are not, especially if you have a neurodivergent brain and this is ADHD where you're just on the go, go, go, go, go, go. And if you are numbing out because you've gone too much, that is a direct result from doing too much. And so we want to find a good, healthy balance between doing, resting, saying no, and saying yes. Because I do believe that saying yes does bring fulfillment. I do enjoy doing things for other people and helping other people out. But I also know that I can't pour from an empty cup and neither can you. It's impossible. You have to reset. You have to rejuvenate. You have to fill your cup back up. You can fill your cup back up in many different ways, but you need to make sure that this is a boundary that is set. You can start breaking the cycle with people pleasing by mindfulness practices. When you're people pleasing, you can look at your behaviors like, I just said yes to that.

I'm already starting to feel overwhelmed. And maybe you're too far into it where you can't say no now. So now you go, Okay, I know that I'm overwhelmed. I know that I can't take much more onto my plate. I have to give myself permission to rest. So after I'm completed with this, I'm done. There's no extra projects that I can take on at this moment in time. There's no extra things I can do for other people. I need to rest. So that might be it. Or you might go, Oh, I said yes, and I regret it. Okay, I'm going to actually be honest with the person and tell them I have too much on my plate, and I'm so sorry that I'm not going to be able to do this for you. Then offer a solution to them if you have a solution. If you don't, don't make up one. It's okay. Just say, I'm extremely overwhelmed. I can't do this right now, and I'm so sorry. I wish I could, but I realized that I said yes, and then I didn't take into account X, Y, Z, and I'm so sorry. Here's the thing.

You just have to be mindful of your actions and reactions. If you say yes to something and all of a sudden you're overwhelmed, ask yourself why. Ask yourself what's the alternative? The alternative will be to say no. The alternative might be to complete it. The alternative might be to get support. There's many different alternatives. And so practicing mindfulness in your decisions and how you're reacting and your choices that you are making are very helpful with people pleasing. Which for me, I know that I will now say, instead of like, if I know that I want to help someone, instead of saying, Yeah, I'll do that this day, I'll just say, I'll have to get back to you. Let me get back to you on that. So that I can have time to step away, look at it, and see if it's even feasible. Also, if the person gets upset, I don't take it personal because I know what I said and how I said it and how much I give. And so that one's person's reaction is not the truth of who I am or the truth of my worth or the truth of my kindness or the truth of my compassion because they get to also choose how they react as well, which is really important to remember too, which brings us to this topic of the art of saying no.

That piece, the first piece is understanding and recognizing your self-worth. Because like I was just saying, I know the truth. I know that I give and I give and it's okay for me to rest. I know that I'm worthy and that I'm kind. It's okay if someone gets upset if I say no because guess what? There's going to be moments of disappointment in life and I'm going to disappoint people and people are going to disappoint me. And that's okay. That's a part of the human experience. I know that I was kind, I know that I was compassionate, and I did the best that I could do. And sometimes people are going to get upset because I can't live up to their expectations that they set, and they're the ones setting those expectations, not me. You got to remember that. You also get to set your own expectations on how you perceive how someone's perceiving you. Most of the time, people aren't going to get upset. They're going to go, Okay, no problem. The other way to practice the art of saying no is self-compassion. By having self-compassion, reminding yourself your kind, reminding yourself that you do a lot and that you give a lot, and that it's okay if someone gets upset with you.

It's okay if you are facing the repercussions of your people pleasing by saying yes to things. What I mean by that is when you recognize you've said yes to too much and you are feeling overwhelmed, you can make peace with that decision and go, You know what? I'm going to do something different next time. I'm going to give myself compassion in this moment. I know I'm going to get through this, but I'm going to rest afterwards, and I deserve that. That self-compassion piece is really important, just like the self-worth piece, because it's reminding you that it's okay to be human. It's reminding you it's okay to set boundaries, and it's reminding you where you're at in that moment in time and to give yourself love, because love is so necessary when you've experienced people pleasing for probably the majority of your life. It's not just like a habit that we all of a sudden and start doing as an adult out of the blue. It's something that's probably been ingrained in you since you were a kid or a teenager. It could be very incognito. This can happen if you're in a really weird relationship as an adult.

People pleasing can all of a sudden happen if you're in a relationship with a narcissist or someone that gaslights you and then all of a sudden your brain can't decipher what's reality and what is truth, and that causes people pleasing as well. But the majority of people it's going to happen in childhood because we want to please and we are seeking love. Then that is just a personality trait that we can fix. My people pleasing now is completely different than it was 10 years ago. Ten years ago, it was off the chart. I would have said yes to everything. I would have been overwhelmed. I would have been doing all these things. Where now if I people-pleasing is not to the same degree, but I know it's there and it's a habit. When I catch myself in it, I have to give myself compassion. I have to recognize my self worth. I have to recognize where I'm vibrating at and what is important for that as well. There's two things I want to leave you with, and that is it's okay to say no and it's okay to set boundaries. Setting boundaries is crucial. If you are having someone that's constantly taking advantage of you and they are not reciprocating in the relationship, because here's the thing.

A relationship should be balanced. It's not going to be balanced where it's always 50-50 every day. It's not like that. Where some days, weeks or months, a relationship can be 70-30. And then all of a sudden, the pendulum will swing the other way and it will be 70-30 on your end or 40-60. And it will navigate this day to day, week to week, month to month. I wouldn't want it to be year to year, but that can also happen because someone in your life could be going through a really challenging time where maybe they lost some loved ones, maybe they lost a job, but they just had these crazy things that just keep happening to them. It could be where it's not 50-50 for six months or a year because of all the things. I had a friend that had many, many, many, many people die one after the other after the other. This person had a really challenging year of grief. And so you understand that. But what's not okay is if in the majority of the relationship, it's never balanced, that's where you know that there's boundaries that have to be put up.

And even if the relationship is balanced, boundaries are necessary because they allow people to recognize what you're okay with and what you're not okay with. It's the same vice versa. You recognize what that person is okay with and they're not okay with. You get to do you. You get to do your life the way that you want to do your life. It's okay to set up boundaries. If you would like to go deeper into boundaries, I have an episode. I will put it in the show notes and in the description on boundaries. You can also check out my website on theamyrobeson.com/podcasts/, and you can type in the search box boundaries and find that episode there as well. All right, my friend, you deserve to recognize your self-worth. You deserve to say no, especially when your heart is telling you to say no. You also have the ability and capability of learning how to say no and set boundaries. You also get to set boundaries. All right, I hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please make sure you like and subscribe. Share this with a friend. I love you all. Take care. Bye.

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