Assertiveness Strategies: How to Say No When You’re Scared to Death!

By , The Time Finder Expert, Founder of Finding Time

Solo-E Certified Solo Entrepreneur Expert

Paula Eder - The Time Finder Expert, Founder of Finding Time

Sometimes, saying no is the easiest thing in the world. You speak honestly and communicate clearly. As a result, you exercise a lot of positive control over how you spend your day.

But other times, the word gets caught in your throat. Breathing gets hard. You’re just scared to death to say no.

How do you handle this now? Here’s a quick quiz to help you understand how you might approach this stressful situation. Try jotting down how often you resort to each of these actions, using “0” for “never” and 5 for “always”:

“When I feel scared to death to say “no”, I:

____  Put it off until the ideal time, like … never.

____  Trash myself for being fearful.

____  Fume over how impossible the other person is.

____  Push past my fears and charge blindly ahead.

____  Imply that my refusal is the other person’s fault.

____  TOTAL

If your score is 0-5, saying no is not a big problem (unless you’ve figured out a self-defeating strategy that we missed!)

But what if your score is higher? In that case, your reluctance to say no probably hurts you even more than you know. Resentments simmer, and relationships and self-esteem suffer. Over time, anxieties compound. Paralyzing fear takes quite a toll.

There’s another way to handle this impasse. You must break outworn promises you made to yourself long ago!

Start by asking yourself 3 powerful questions. Ask them as often as you need to. Let the answers bubble up, and listen to each response. They will be chock full of useful information for you!

Ask yourself:

1. Where did your fear of saying no originate?
   It’s helpful to identify how much stronger and more autonomous you are  

2. How did you believe silence made you safe?
   Give some thought to how circumstances have changed.

3. How does this trap you now?
   Seeing all the ways your old promise to yourself holds you back helps
   you replace your outworn approach with a more appropriate one.

The less you judge yourself for your fear, the more readily you’ll overcome it.

So now:

  • Forgive yourself for your reluctance to take risks.
  • Gently affirm that those old promises to never take major risks need to be broken.
  • Commit to carry the best of you forward, and list ways you might do that.

It’s so exciting to build the strengths and internal structures to foster your autonomy!

TIP: Overrule Fear with a Stronger Voice.

Can you turn to yourself in times of need? Developing this strength can be life-giving when you need to take a difficult stand. Then you have a clear voice to address whatever you may feel. Fear may manifest as unwillingness. Perhaps part of you says, “I cannot,” or “I will not deal with the consequences of reclaiming my time and my power.”  So by affirming your
willingness to take responsibility, you dissipate a lot of anxiety.

ACTION STEP: Write yourself a letter of support to marshal your strength.

Take the time to thoughtfully assert your capability and your need to redirect your time and your energy. Specify all the compelling reasons to risk saying no. Remind yourself of all the risks you’ve taken up until now that worked well.

Equally important, detail the lessons you have learned from the risks that proved to be more challenging than you’d anticipated. Seeing life as a series of considered risks puts fear in its proper perspective.


As you are creating a foundation of assertiveness, you are also achieving another vital accomplishment: you are becoming the lifelong traveling companion you have always needed. Once you establish your inner authority, you free yourself from illusory dependency upon others.

Autonomy feeds authenticity, and makes old relationships new.

What will you discover about yourself? One thing I can promise you; the more responsibility that you take for your life, the more you will find to like about yourself.

Paula Eder, PhD is an internationally-known coach and published author who specializes in mentoring heart-based entrepreneurs and small business owners, from the inside out, to align their core values and energy with their time choices and behaviors so that they make more money, create more freedom, and find more time.  To learn more about Paula’s unique, Heart-Based Time Management™ System and begin your transformational journey, sign up for her Finding Time Success Kit. Discover how you can find time for what matters most.

© Copyright 2011 Paula Eder, Ph.D.

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