• Marybeth Cale

Got "Can't Say No" Syndrome? Maybe it's time to draw some lines in the sand.



Today, I want to talk to you about a syndrome that long afflicted me….


“Can’t say no!” syndrome!

Yup. A longtime (but recovering) pathological people-pleaser, I had “can’t say no” syndrome. Anytime anyone asked me to do ANYTHING, it was a quick yes with a big smile. 


I woke up one day exhausted. Looking at my calendar, which seemed to be double- and triple-booked, it dawned on me that I was suddenly serving on 4 nonprofit boards, working a full-time job, trying to launch a new business, volunteering on several committees, mentoring, and, most importantly, trying to be present as a mom, wife, friend, sister, daughter, neighbor, and more. 


I chuckled as I considered the possibility that I may have even passed myself on Route 9, the corridor that runs north-south in Dutchess County NY, which I traveled multiple times a day to get from one meeting or commitment to another.


I knew something had to give. I was burning out - and had an awakening - I was saying yes to everyone except one person. ME. In doing so, I wasn’t REALLY doing anything WELL for anyone. It was time to learn the art of boundary-setting. Time to draw some lines in the sand.


I see this all the time with clients. Trying to be all things to all people, they wake up one day tired on every level. If you’re struggling with this “can’t say no” syndrome, here are some tips for overcoming it:


  1. Make a list of your activities, responsibilities and commitments. Where are the energy drainers? What things are not aligned with your values and goals? Move them to the bottom of the list and consider letting some of those things go.

  2. Understand that when you say “yes”, it should mean something. You wouldn’t say “I love you” to every person you meet, because it would lose its meaning. Same with saying “yes” to volunteer work, extra tasks on the job, certain activities, even social engagements. Start considering YES as a real RESPONSE that shows commitment to something.

  3. Put together some “no” responses and put them in your back pocket so you have some go-to language. Things like “I can’t commit to that at this time”....much easier than saying no, just a “no for now”....feels gentler put sets a boundary.

  4. Remember that if you aren’t healthy - mind, body, and spirit - you’ll have nothing to give to others. We all have a finite amount of time, energy, and resources. At the end of the day, it’d be awfully nice to go to bed feeling like you had a FULL day, NOT a depleting one.


If you need support overcoming “can’t say no” syndrome, I’ve got your back! Visit estuaryleadership.com to set up coaching sessions.


In the meantime, be well  - and say YES to yourself - and those things that help you thrive.


Learn more about Estuary Leadership’s coaching programs, which will empower you with the tools you need to communicate confidently, clarify your vision and action steps, navigate challenges, and lead with heart, humor, and humility! Group workshops or one:one sessions available with Certified Coach Marybeth Cale. Call 845.876.2220 or use the contact form on our website, estuaryleadership.com.

Marybeth Cale

PO Box 409 Rhinebeck, NY 12572

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