Saying Yes When You Mean No


Quotes + Episode Excerpts:

“Between stimulus and response, there’s a space. And in that space is our power to choose our response.” Viktor Frankl

“And if your goal is to make sure everyone else is happy, what does that cost you? Because your yes comes with corresponding no’s. When you say yes to someone else, what no’s are you saying to yourself? As you’re earning everyone else’s approval, how do you feel about yourself? And as you’re giving to everyone else, what are you taking away from yourself? What does it cost you to meet other people’s desires? What desires of your own aren’t met?”


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Guilt Over Setting Boundaries



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Gracious Ways to Say No:

  • That sounds nice but I’m not available.
  • Thanks for the offer but I can’t do it.
  • I’m sorry but I can’t help you.
  • Unfortunately, it’s not a good time.
  • I’m not available at the moment but keep me in mind for next time.
  • I appreciate you asking me but I can’t commit to that right now.
  • I don’t have the capacity.
  • Thanks for thinking of me but not this time.
  • I understand you need help but I can’t say yes to that.
  • No, I can’t do that, but I can do this…
  • I hope you find the help you need but, unfortunately, I can’t help you.
  • I can’t give you an answer right now but you’re welcome to check back with me. 
  • I need to say no for now but I’ll let you know if something changes.


Episode transcript:


Welcome to the Overcoming Sexual Abuse podcast where you get the tools and inspiration to help you overcome childhood sexual abuse. I’m your host, Christina Enevoldsen, certified coach, author and incest survivor, and I’m here to help you heal and live your very best life!

Childhood sexual abuse can lead to perpetual people-pleasing even after the abuse ends. I’ll share the damage it causes to yourself and to your relationships and why it’s vital to treat your yes as sacred. I’ll show you the best way you can own your no and take back control of your life.

In abuse circles, there’s a lot of shame around people pleasing. It can even be viewed as an identity, where it’s not something you do just as a behavior, but it’s as someone you are like, “I’m a people pleaser.” And so I want to take away that shame and help you first of all see it as a wonderful way that you took care of yourself and there’s no shame in that and also to help you to develop more tools so you don’t have to rely on people pleasing to get your needs met.

When you were a child you had complete dependence on other people you had to to rely on their good opinion of you, of them liking you, on their wanting to help you because you couldn’t take care of yourself.

And in childhood abuse, a major violation is that your no is stolen. And that means so much more than just simply that you’re not allowed to say no to the things that you’d like to say no to. And that’s bad enough, but not having a no means not having a defined self. You don’t have a self. You don’t own anything. You can’t control what’s taken from you or what’s imposed on you. That lack of a sense of self leads to a perpetual dependence on other people.

And a fantastic coping strategy is through people pleasing. As is true with with all coping methods, it’s meant to be used temporarily. But they also come with a downside, and in many cases, many facets of downsides.

So I’m specifically talking about one characteristic of people-pleasing, saying yes when you mean no. And that’s anything that is a conflicted yes. Like, not a wholehearted yes.

Childhood sexual abuse is about disconnection. It’s the separation from your true sense of self and identity, from your present moment, from your experiences, from your memories, from your wants, opinions, from your body, and from your connection with other people.

That external yes while having an internal no perpetuates that split. And it’s part of why things feel burdensome and heavy and dead when you do that. Because when you have a true yes, when you’re wholehearted, when you’re doing things out of love, that’s joyful. Yeah, you might get tired, but it’s a good tired. You still feel energized and you feel fulfilled and satisfied.

And continuing to say yes when you mean no, keeps you as perpetual child. You’re keeping yourself in this position of needing other people’s approval and validation.

And if your goal is to make sure everyone else is happy, what does that cost you? Because your yes comes with corresponding no’s. When you say yes to someone else, what no’s are you saying to yourself? As you’re earning everyone else’s approval, how do you feel about yourself? And as you’re giving to everyone else, what are you taking away from yourself? What does it cost you to meet other people’s desires? What desires of your own aren’t met?

So some signs that you’re saying yes when you mean no include maybe something like doing something to so-called “make” someone happy or to avoid so-called “making” someone unhappy or disappointed or feel rejected. And this is actually just control because you don’t have the right or power to control other people’s emotions. Their emotions belong to them. And we’ll get more into this in another time. But another one is saying yes because you want to appear kind or loving or to avoid appearing unkind or unloving or selfish. And this again is controlling someone else. It’s trying to control their thoughts and opinions and /or their emotions. And that’s not your business either. Another one is feeling like too much is being asked of you or too much is expected of you. And so someone asking you doesn’t obligate you and neither does their expectations. So if those things dictate how you respond, pay attention to how you’re giving away your power. Another one is feeling like you’re the only one who is serving or giving. And so if you’re eating your favorite dessert and you’re the only one eating it, do you complain about that? So when you notice that you’re the only one who’s doing the giving or serving, then that might mean that you’re not actually a
true, wholehearted yes. Also, another one is feeling like you owe them. You owe someone. And that’s really about guilt and obligation. And we’ll get into that in the rest of this in a few minutes. And we’ll talk about reciprocation and how to distinguish the reciprocation from obligation. Another one is saying to yourself, “I don’t have a choice.” Or saying to yourself, “I should do this,” we’ll get into that. And then also saying yes with your mouth, but no with your actions. So it might be like you say yes, but then you procrastinate doing it following through. Or you avoid it or passivity. Maybe you don’t do your very best job. Another one might be feeling unappreciated, just feeling like you are not getting the appreciation from the other person. And if that’s a condition of you giving and serving, then maybe you’re not saying yes wholeheartedly, or maybe you are not saying yes wholeheartedly anymore, and maybe you might need to change your yes to a no.

So part of reclaiming your no is treating your yes as valuable and it is very valuable because you only have a limited number of genuine yeses, those yeses that you actually commit to and follow through with.

You devalue your yes when you say, “Yes, I’ll be there,” but then you don’t show up. Or “Yes, I’ll do that”, but then procrastinate or don’t finish it or do a bad job. And so that’s the kind of yeses we have when we don’t have a no, when we feel like we can’t say no. That procrastination or that doing a bad job, that’s supposed to say no for us.

And that breaks down trust. Trust in yourself, like can you believe you’ll do what you say you’ll do? When you can’t trust yourself, that contributes to that disconnection, that split that we talked about, that split from your true self. And then also not following through with your yes, also breaks down trust others have in you. Can they believe your yes? If you say yes, can others trust it and count on you 100%?

And healthy relationships are built on trust. That’s just foundational.

And this trust issue is so important because childhood sexual abuse involves betrayal and lies. The very foundation of your world is destroyed and there’s nothing solid to count on. Like a constant earthquake, you try to grab ahold of something, but nothing else is stable either. Everything gets shaken at the same time. You can’t count on circumstances or people or yourself, and you just get used to that and think maybe that’s all there is.

But part of healing and reclaiming your life is creating a solid foundation in your life of living in truth, and that’s not easy. But you deserve to live in a way that doesn’t keep you off balance.

Maybe you can’t control what other people do but you can control if you’re in a relationship with them or not. And maybe you can’t control circumstances but you can control how solid you feel within yourself within these circumstances by the relationship, this trust, that you create within yourself.

And so your yes is sacred. You deserve to be protective of your yes. And when you’re faced with a choice, when a request comes in, when an opportunity arises, pause.

There’s a quote from Viktor Frankl. He said, “Between stimulus and response, there’s a space. And in that space is our power to choose our response.”

And it may seem like there is no space. You might feel the pressure to respond immediately. But who’s creating that pressure? What do you believe will happen if you pause first? So that’s the first place to say no. “No, I won’t be pressured to give an instant answer.” And it’s your responsibility to be the manager of that space, to pause and consider.

And when you say yes to one thing, a genuine yes, that’s a no to a million other things. I’m not exaggerating, a no to a million other things. If you say yes to helping a friend move on Saturday, you’re saying no to reading that novel that you’ve wanted to read, teaching your child how to ride a bike, finishing that project you’ve been trying to find time for, going on a hike, joining other friends for lunch, planning meals for the week.

When I used to give out my yes indiscriminately, I might commit to several different things for one particular space of time and I wouldn’t consider how I’d even do it all. That’s something Saturday Christina will have to worry about. So when I said I’d commit to several different things, I wasn’t actually committed. Commitment is when you’re in it, when you’re present, when you follow through, when your heart is there. That’s not what I did. I canceled, I showed up half-heartedly, or I just did the minimum. That’s not a true yes.

To give a true yes, pause and let know be a consideration. Know that it’s a choice. So even when someone is counting on your yes, even when it’s expected, even when you’re afraid of appearing selfish, even when you’re afraid of disappointing someone.

And I know pretending all of those things feel safer than honesty and integrity. It feels safer to control other people’s opinions of you and to control their feelings. But think about what control actually does. Control is the opposite of love. It squashes love. It’s based on what you can get from the other person. And when you want to appear loving or kind over being kind, because it’s not kind and loving to do things you actually resent.
It’s the appearance of love, but it’s hollow. Appearance isn’t what people actually need. Love is what people actually need.

So the question is, do you have to always be excited or happy about serving or giving or what the things you say yes to? And there’s a belief that a lot of my clients have, and that’s when you learn boundaries, you shouldn’t say yes to anything that you don’t actually want to do. And it’s not as simple as that. It’s not black and white. It’s not all or nothing. There are nuances to consider.

And that’s because your yes and no isn’t just about what serves you right now in this moment. It’s also what serves your future self. And your future self is dependent on the choices that you’re making right now. And so that’s what I was saying about saying yes to doing something on Saturday that Saturday Christina has to do. She’s got to worry about how she’s going to fit it all in. And it’s the same for my future self years from now. That’s actually what debt is. It’s satisfying my present self and asking my future self to take care of it. She’s got to pay for it. She’s got to figure it out.

And saving is the opposite. You pay now for the benefit of your future self. So that’s very important when you’re managing your yeses and your noes.

So how do you manage that? One way I like to think about this is with my child self and my adult self. So your child self is the one who is so concerned about everyone liking you and making everyone happy. And what do we know about children? They are very much about immediate gratification. You don’t count on them for planning or investing in the future. They’re very much about the here and now, and that is absolutely wonderful. It’s just that if you’re making decisions about the future, it’s probably not wise to consult with a child about that.

And the problem comes when you let your child self be the one to make these decisions about your yes and your no. She’ll probably make decisions that will feel good in the moment. It feels good to see someone happy when you say yes to them. And the child self feels the need to protect herself from people’s judgments. And it’s the child self who doesn’t feel like she has a no and can only say yes. And it’s the child self who feels victimized by having to say yes.

But there’s a difference between giving in, and that’s what your child self does, and true giving. And true giving comes from your adult self. To gain your true yes and no, to give and say yes with your whole heart, you need to step in as your adult self. Because that’s the part of you that’s able to see the big picture and the long-term consequences of either saying no or saying yes.

Some yeses are long-term and some aren’t. Saying yes to a 30-minute phone call probably isn’t long-term unless maybe there’s a consequence for saying no to something else that you’re not doing. So if you were saying yes to the phone call but saying no to getting on your flight on time, it might come with longer-term consequences. But generally a 30-minute phone call, that doesn’t impact you long-term.

Some yeses that are long-term include marriage or having a child or getting a pet or buying something on credit. Consider all of the no’s that come with those things that you say yes to. And your child self can’t possibly estimate that or navigate that. Only your adult self can do that. 

Only your adult self, your higher self, can work through those nuances because a major thing to consider in your long-term care for yourself is also your relationships.

And so relationships depend on reciprocation. They’re not just one-sided, so both people giving and receiving. I don’t know about you, but I’ve invested a lot of my life in giving and giving and giving and relationships hoping I’d get something in return and just settling for crumbs, just hoping that the other person would think that I’m worth keeping around for all that I do for them. But that doesn’t feel good. That’s not getting something in return.

And you probably don’t want to be that kind of person who doesn’t give back and maybe to avoid being that kind of person maybe you over give just to make sure. And that’s coming from your child’s self too, afraid of being abandoned.

But since healthy relationships are reciprocal, you have to be coming from your adult self because you might not always feel like doing something that’s in your best interest to do, like showing up at work or like getting out of bed to feed your child. And saying yes when you don’t want to can be a part of something else that’s good for you. That’s why we do it, right? So there are times when you don’t want to do something, but it would be prudent to do it anyway.

So let’s talk about what to do and when that might be. It might be because of a long-term gain. An example of that for my life is family events. We have nine grandkids. Now, do I want to attend the dance recitals and choir performances and plays? I know a lot of grandparents just love that, but I don’t. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but I make sure that I attend enough of them that I can encourage them in their talents and I can be involved in their interests. So maybe this particular performance isn’t that exciting to me, but what is really gratifying is the thought that my grandkids will look back on their childhood and know that I was there for them and that I was with them and I loved them and that I encouraged them because that really is important to me.

So there’s a concept of self-sacrifice and I know in abuse that term is really warped because you’re the one who gives up everything. It’s someone else who gets everything.

But what sacrifice actually is, is it’s giving up a a smaller or less important thing now for a greater thing later. Like parents do this all the time. There’s a future payoff for what parents give right now. So sacrifice really means investment. Where is the payoff? In our relationships where reciprocation is part of relationships, where’s the payoff? So all the memories and the experiences in a relationship are created one moment at a time. So maybe you go to some family or friend event that you’re not excited about, and maybe you help a friend where you’d rather be doing something more enjoyable, but you know that it’s about the bigger picture, it’s about the long term. And that’s the way to turn your yes into a wholehearted yes. So you don’t want this, but you do want this more important thing. And to get this more important thing that you want, you have to do something else that you don’t want this lesser thing. But make sure it’s actually an investment that there is a payoff in the long-term, even if it’s not in the short-term.

There have been times in the past where I’ve said, “I don’t have a choice.” And that is very disempowering. It comes from the child self who feels victimized. I actually do have a choice. Maybe I don’t like the options or maybe I don’t like the consequences of making a choice but that just leads to a feeling of not only feeling disempowered but angry and resentful too.
Like I don’t want to have to work today or I don’t want to have to fix dinner today.

I used to say to myself, “I should do that anyway” meaning,”I really don’t want to have to do that but I’ll suck it up and do it”. And that just feels like I don’t get what I want. And something happens in your brain and your body follows that feeling of I don’t have a choice, feels like disempowering. It actually weakens you. It feels forced and controlled and you feel victimized and your energy goes down.

So just know that that “should” is coming from another want. Like I wanna stay home from work but I also wanna get paid or I wanna eat cookies for breakfast but I also wanna fit into my clothes or I wanna sleep in today but I also want my dog to pee outside. So it’s empowering to acknowledge all the wants in a decision and acknowledging that it is a decision. And you do have a choice. And that can be really helpful for navigating a decision when you feel conflicted.

For your life to be your life, you need to treat your yes as sacred. And for your yes to be sacred, you need to own your know. At the end of your life, if you can look back and feel satisfied and fulfilled, it’s because you’ve navigated your yes and your no wisely.

Well, thanks for joining me today. You can find a list of gracious ways to say no on the show notes page by going to

I’m bringing you lots more on healing and self-care and boundaries and family and relationship issues, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any of it.

Saying Yes When You Mean No