Anxiety and Guilt: Feeling Guilty for Saying No (Part 3)

guilt-bergen-county-njMost of us have probably had friends, families, or acquaintances ask us for help that we didn’t always want to give. Maybe you have a friend that always misses class because he oversleeps and he asks you for your notes every single time. Or perhaps your friend is going through a breakup and she’s messaging you 24/7 about it. You were fine with it at first, but now it’s getting a little overwhelming. Maybe that friend isn’t just going through a breakup and is dealing with something more serious—maybe she is depressed or someone close to her is very ill.

No matter what the situation may be, there are going to be times when we feel obligated to help someone. The closer this person is to us, the more obligated we feel to help them. But sometimes there may come a point where you continuously helping them will no longer do any good. In the case of the oversleeping classmate, if you keep giving him notes, he will never go to class and learn how to pass a class on his own. If you are your friend’s 24/7 boyfriend replacement, then you are encouraging her behavior and not actually helping her to get her mind off it. If your friend is depressed, there also comes a point where your advice can no longer help—the best solution would be to see a psychotherapist.

The question is: when you reach the point where you can’t help anymore, how do you go about saying no without feeling guilty? First, try to understand why you feel guilty about saying no. Is it because you want to help but you just don’t have the time to do it? Is it because you’re afraid the person will think you don’t care about him/her? If you understand why you have a hard time saying no, then it will help you be more rational and help you better explain to the person why you need to say no. Understanding your own feelings and thought processes can facilitate and encourage a healthier conversation when the time comes.

Second, recognize that you can’t do everything and that you can’t please everybody. There’s a difference between being a good friend and being an easy target. A more colloquial term for this might be a “pushover.” Of course it’s good to help a person as best as you can, but you have to use your own rational judgment. You can’t expect yourself to do everything for everyone—it’s just not possible and it’s not fair to you either. If helping is becoming a burden and you know it’s no longer doing any good, then it’s okay to say no. Explain to the person why and offer them alternatives. In the case of someone who is struggling with an illness, you can do your part by suggesting or helping them to contact a professional who is actually qualified and able to help. For your friend that keeps asking for your notes, perhaps offer instead to call him before each class to make sure he’s awake. There are alternatives, and you never need to carry a burden that you can’t handle.

Lastly, put yourself at ease by thinking about all the times you have actually said “yes” instead of the times you are saying “no.” You have probably helped them a whole lot already, so just know that you’ve done your best and done your part.

If you or a loved one live in Manhattan or Bergen County New Jersey and are having trouble dealing with guilt, self-criticizing thoughts, or self-esteem issues, the psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling can assist you. Contact our Bergen County, NJ or Manhattan offices of psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment.  Visit http://www.acenterfortherapy.com for more information.

Written by Kassandra C.
 Sources: Krauss, Susan W. (2012, Aug. 11). The Definitive Guide to Guilt: The five types of guilt and how you can cope with each. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201208/the-definitive-guide-guilt
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