Don’t Let Guilt Stifle Your “No”

posted by Andrea | 02/10/2020

how to say no and not feel guilty

Have you ever wondered how to say “no” without feeling guilty or like you’re letting others down?

If so, I hope this post empowers you to advocate for yourself and your choices!

My Story: 

For the last 3 years, I volunteered for a committee and performed a key weekly task (I’m intentionally being fairly vague here!) 

I’ve always enjoyed being part of this group and volunteering my time. However, that one specific weekly task was starting to feel like “too much” for me and my current stage of life. 

It wasn’t difficult, but it required a fair amount of time, and I could feel the burnout creeping up this past summer already. 

Once the school year started and I suddenly had FOUR different school schedules to keep track of, I realized I could no longer devote the time required to this weekly volunteer task.

I emailed everyone in the group and explained that I would continue doing this weekly task through the end of the calendar year, but then I would be finished.

I felt good giving them almost 4 months’ notice, and I made it very clear that I still planned to be part of the group and volunteer in other areas. I just couldn’t devote the time necessary for the additional weekly tasks. 

Of course, everyone was very quick to thank me for the 3 years of weekly volunteer work I had already done and they said they “understood” but in the same breath, many of them suggested I should “reconsider”. 

I did not reconsider.

I had already “considered” so many different options in the weeks before I actually sent the email.

My mind was made up.

After several more weeks went by, I sent a reminder email to the group at the beginning of December. I listed the weekly tasks I had done and reiterated that I would no longer do any of those tasks after the New Year. 

That email was met with more “but you are so good at it”, and “I don’t know who else will do it” responses.

Now, almost 7 weeks into the New Year, no one else has stepped up to take my place. 

I should clarify that these weekly tasks are NOT difficult.

They required NO physical activity, NO computer knowledge, NO organizational skills, NO special training, NO dedicated “work hours” (Nora and Simon even helped me at times!)

The tasks simply require a bit of time and consistency.

Any other person in the group (many of whom are retired individuals) COULD easily do it.

In recent one-on-one conversations with 3 different individuals from that group, I casually asked if they would be interested in doing these tasks for 6-12 months… but of course, they were all “too busy”. 

That’s fine — I know we all have different thresholds and tolerances when it comes to “being busy” and I don’t ever want to be THAT person who pressures people into doing something they feel too busy for.

What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the guilt they tried to put on me!

One individual even came right out and asked, “Don’t you feel guilty since no one is doing those tasks anymore?”


Why would I feel guilty? 

I’m the one who freely VOLUNTEERED my time for over 3 years, doing something no one else was willing to do. I gave 4 months’ notice. I tried to find someone to take my place! 

I (calmly) explained that while it’s sad no one else is willing to step up, I don’t feel guilty as I know there are many others who could take over (the person seemed visibly shocked). 

Later that day, I found myself wondering why anyone thought I would feel guilty… and I realized so many others actually might feel guilty in this situation. 

In fact, guilt is one of the main reasons many of us shy away from saying “no”.

We feel guilty that if WE don’t do a particular task, there might not be anyone else who will do it either. 

Am I right?


It’s normal to feel a little sad or bummed when you can’t help out, or when part of a ministry or volunteer organization falls by the wayside. 

But I want to let you in on a little secret…

It’s not YOUR fault! 

A vast majority of the time, there are plenty of others who could take your place, fill your shoes, pick up the slack, and take their turn saying “yes”.

You already said your “yes” and now it’s time to move on. 

Please don’t let guilt stifle your “no”!

Don’t let yourself feel guilty for saying no and doing what’s best for your own life. 

Don’t compromise your health, your family, your sanity, or your joy because you’re worried what others will think if you say “no”.

It’s not worth it! 

how to say no and not feel guilty

Yes, of course, there are seasons of life that are much busier than others.

Sometimes we absolutely must say “yes” and figure out a way to squeeze everything in. 

But there are other seasons of life when “no” should be our answer.

Letting guilt stifle and silence our “no” will only create more issues, more stress, more chaos, and probably even more guilt.

If you’re in a season of life with more breathing room and the ability to dole out your “yeses” a little more freely — I highly encourage you to do so. 

However, if you’re struggling to make time for everything that’s already on your ever-growing to-do list, you should probably refresh your memory on how to say NO!

How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty:

There are so many ways to say no — and still be helpful (which will help to alleviate any guilt you might feel over the situation). 

Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Offer A Helpful Alternative: “I can’t, BUT here is a resource or person who might help.”
  2. Turn it Into a Compliment: “You’ve done a fantastic job planning this. I wish I could be part of it.”
  3. Be Casual but Unapologetic: “That sounds like a great idea. I’m not your gal, but I know you’ll find the right person.”
  4. Keep It Short and Sweet: “Not This Time”
  5. Delay The Response Until You Can Write It: “Let me check my calendar when I get home and I’ll email you” 

If you need a little more help, motivation, and encouragement to get that little 2-letter word out of your mouth, here are 99 effective ways to say “no”.

A few of them are bound to work for you — plus, several are just really fun!

ways to say no

I shared MY story today – I know you have a similar story as well. 

A time when you felt guilty for saying “no” because the job or task would be left undone. 

I know it’s frustrating.

I know it’s aggravating.

I know it can cause guilt. 

But it’s NOT your fault, and it’s not your problem! 

This might come across as selfish, but that’s not my intention.

I simply want to empower you to advocate for yourself, to stick up for yourself, to make the best decision you can make, and to make it without factoring in other’s opinions or comments.  

I loved listening to this podcast on “How To Say No Without Feeling Guilty”. It’s from a psychologist, and I love her no-nonsense approach to this topic! 

Don’t let guilt stifle your no.

Saying “no” to one thing always means saying “yes” to something else (like another opportunity, your family, your health, or even your sanity!)

Filed under: LifeDaily Life

Leave a comment


  1. Nellie


    This post reminds me of your post about spending money: ”It is not in my/our budget right now”. This goes for time as well.


    Andrea Reply:

    yes, exactly! They are basically the same thing– just different resources (time versus money!)


  2. Mary


    Sometimes those jobs that no one wants to step up and do don’t really need to happen anyway. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty saying no after being approached about keeping the organizations newsletter going. I wanted to spend time actually volunteering rather than sitting home trying to put together a newsletter. Well, no one ever stepped up to take on the newsletter and guess what? 3 years later no one ever mentions missing it. How much unnecessary busy work do we all do that no one would miss anyway?


    Andrea Reply:

    yup — I couldn’t agree more!


  3. Heidi


    Thank you Andrea for sharing this blog. Yesterday’s post couldn’t have come at a better time. Last week I resigned from a portion of my Position at work. I will be going from full time to part time status next month. I had been thinking and praying about this decision for a couple months. I knew last week, it was time.
    It was time to say no to more work responsibilities and yes to other relationships In my life that have been neglected. The decision was the “easy“ part. I am a people pleaser and want people to like me and the guilt crept up all too quickly. This post was extremely helpful to keep my guilty thoughts at bay.
    You are so right, it’s not my fault that my department doesn’t have the amount of staff it needs to function well. I need to take care of myself, my family, and my relationships. 8 hours of less work stress each week will be coming back to me and oh I am looking forward to it.
    Thank you again for sharing!


    Andrea Reply:

    oh good — I’m so glad it helped you process some of your guilt 🙂
    Good for you for taking charge of your time and doing what you feel is best for you and your family at this point in your life. You will not regret it!


  4. Muriel


    My dad was a minister. I remember one time a church member thought some work needed to be done on a holiday. They told my dad he should do it and that they would not be available because they had a family to spend time with. Apparently we didn’t count.


    Andrea Reply:

    oh my — the things some people say!


  5. Sheila


    Was it box tops? 🙂 I did that for a while, and then had to quit before a move to another state, and I don’t know if anyone ever stepped up or not. I had a similar experience with leading a girl scout troop. I couldn’t get anyone to help, and I was one of only two working moms for the troop. The other working mom was leading another troop. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand that they were busy, but I didn’t think they were so much more busy than I that they couldn’t take a rotation of simply assisting the meeting. I was drowning and told them so, but heard crickets in response. So I quit and enjoyed doing things with my own daughters. However, most of my volunteer experiences have been good. I absolutely agree that we should all do our part, and I am so appreciative of the many ways my kids have benefited from the volunteer efforts of others. I’m pretty much an empty nester now, and have tried to volunteer even more now than ever, because I have more time and I can see how easy it would be to become selfish.


    Andrea Reply:

    haha — no, not box tops 🙂

    and yes, most of my volunteer experiences are very good — this one was/is good too. I just know how often the same people volunteer over and over again and do it out of guilt. It doesn’t need to be that way!


  6. Meredith


    Good for you! I would 100% be someone inclined to guilt in that situation but you are absolutely right, you’ve done enough. The nerve of people to blame you!!!


    Andrea Reply:

    I do think we should all “do our part” when it comes to volunteer work — but I am 100% against pressurized please for help and the guilt that accompanies!


  7. JJ


    I love your brain and how you share logical processing! Ironically, I used to have no problems saying no, but I inwardly felt horrible and guilty. We had several children in a short amount of time, and we have no family nearby–not even in the state. That being said, others at our church had children the same age but grandparents they would have them stay with while they served. I felt looked down upon because I wouldn’t. I felt judged. I was such a people pleaser and want everyone to like me. One time I did VBS while wearing a baby and having my husband watch our toddler in the same room, because it was something I wanted to do so badly but it just didn’t go well. That’s when I realized I needed to be a little more practical. I stepped down from helping with VBS for a few years. And honestly, it was awesome! After a few years something in me snapped where I realized that if someone judges me or looks down on me, they can. I don’t answer to them. People try to be the Holy Spirit to others by pushing guilt. Without apology, my first priority is my family. I was a Christian school teacher. My husband comes from a long line of people who served(pastors, missionaries, etc.). We saw the affects of being Martha’s. Relationships and family units were broken. I’m not willing to sacrifice that or my sanity. I had one person ask me to help with something and then in the same breath tell me but one of my kids wouldn’t be able to come. So I’d need a babysitter. I said I’d love to help but cannot at this season of my life. She totally understood and thanked me for telling her no. I was shocked. But it also relieved any guilt that might have crept in. Thank you for this!!! I know I’ll come back to it. One reason I love your blog is you give me the OK that I feel I need. You help give backbone. Keep being you!!!


    Rebecca Reply:

    I agree with you JJ and Andrea! Every year I feel guilty and volunteer for VBS. But I just really don’t like it. It’s long, is super loud and over stimulating, and makes for a really late night the whole week. I feel like I “should” volunteer since I’m a teacher and have school-aged kids. But after having my 3rd baby (who goes to bed really early) I’m just going to have to say no.


    Andrea Reply:

    You know — I’m not a big VBS person either. I volunteer in lost of other ways at church, but that is not one of them for me!


    JJ Reply:

    Yes, it is often expected if you’re a teacher. When I first started teaching, my husband started working with a youth group. I joined in helping and would bake snacks for the kids. But youth group was on Friday nights. So after a long week of teaching, it was just too much. And I went from my happy and fun-loving 3rd graders to blank-faced teens. Everyone is called to different ages at different stages in their life(at home and/or at church). Haha!!! I finally told my husband after praying about it I just couldn’t help with YG anymore. Then people would try to get me to help with AWANA. But I knew it was a no. My no is a yes for someone else. I think when you have a baby less is best. Opportunities will always be available, but you can never get time back. When they are really little it’s important for Mom to be available to meet needs and train. You’re doing an awesome job, Rebecca!!!