The Guilt of Saying No

Got a phone call from a good friend in distress today.  She wondered if I might be able to help her with boundary setting.  She kindly gave me permission to explore these ideas in a blog post!

Ah…. yes, the fine art of recognizing when to say No, and not carrying the guilt forward. As mothers, so many of us carry a very strong caregiver archetype, always willing to go above and beyond when there is someone in need.  As we talked it was clear that there are several people in her life who are dearly in need of support.  With each she described a very different scenario:

1.  Family in Crisis #1: In this scenario she feels called to provide active, loving support.  Her involvement leaves her feeling positive and connected.  She is offering what she is able and acting out of love.

2.  Family in Crisis #2: Her involvement is more out of obligation and a sense of responsibility, and the support provided leaves her feeling drained and conflicted, and wary of becoming overly engaged in the crisis.  She finds herself offering above and beyond what she feels emotionally capable of giving, and feeling a heavy load of guilt.

As we talked about Family #2, it became clear that she was relying on excuses to avoid further engagement in the crisis.  These “white lies” were only compounding her sense of guilt, feeling that her real reason was not acceptable.  We’ve all done this – yes? – altered the truth ever so slightly to avoid having to do something.  The lie seems simple, and much easier and kinder than telling the truth.  Still, we know the real reason behind our “No”, and we carry the guilt of not being there when we really could be.

Is that true?  Could you be there?  What does it mean to go beyond what you feel capable of giving? How does this impact you? Your family?  Your work?  Do you really have the ability to give in that way?

What might it look like if you spoke the truth rather than hiding behind excuses?  Guilt is a heavy emotion, one that tends to last far beyond the initial white lie.  By not setting her boundaries in an authentic way, my friend is setting herself up for months of guilt around not being more supportive.

A healthy community depends on individuals who are willing to support one another through the good and the bad.  I would propose that it also is based on each of us giving authentically in ways that both honor our connections, and our individual needs.  Sometimes the need is so great that we have to say Yes, even if it is truly above and beyond what we feel we can give.  When this is the case, mamas, I invite you to get really really clear on what you can offer and set your boundaries in stone.  You are needed by many, and most of all by yourself.


How have you experienced this dynamic in your own life?  What helps you set healthy boundaries?

Mama Renew

About Sarah Juliusson

Sarah Juliusson, founder of Mama Renew, is a gifted facilitator and writer on the journey of birth & motherhood. She brings two decades of experience supporting families through pregnancy, birth and motherhood to her work. Sarah is mother to two growing boys, a playful crafter with cloth & wool, student of traditional food preservation, and a diva at heart. Join the conversation on & on facebook at

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