What I Really Mean When I Say No

Her cell phone suddenly rings, jarring her awake. She peeks at the screen and sees the name of one of her dearest friends. Her phone so rarely rings that she’s not sure whether to answer it or not. She only has two options, answer or leave it.


She has been in this situation so many times before that it’s almost routine.

“Should I answer?” she asks herself. “I don’t want my friend to think I’m being rude. I really don’t. But what if she asks me to do something with her?” In that millisecond she has already envisioned all of the possible scenarios. Because she values the friendship so much, she finally answers. The word “no” is already resting on her lips.

Does this sound like someone you know? Or maybe this describes yourself? You see, I am that person! Saying the word “no” is only a response or reaction, but the meaning or reasoning behind the declination is entirely different. If only my friends knew…

What I Mean When I say No

Unless I’m lying on a hospital gurney or on vacation, the word “no” hardly ever means what it says.

Many people, such as myself, suffer from social anxiety. In fact, I would venture to say that everyone experiences some level of anxiety in certain social situations. However, when that level of anxiety is so high that it interferes with your quality of life, well, that is entirely different.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by a significant amount of fear in one or more social situations, causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in at least some parts of daily life. These fears can be triggered by perceived or actual scrutiny from others. Physical symptoms often include excessive blushing, excess sweating, trembling, palpitations, and nausea. Stammering may be present, along with rapid speech. Panic attacks can also occur under intense fear and discomfort. 

For those who don’t understand and also to my own friends, here is what I mean when I say no.

  • No hardly ever means no. Over a long period of time, this response has become my go-to. It is, in fact, tried and true and safe.
  • No means I anticipate being incredibly uncomfortable. In fact, sometimes I think I’d rather die first.
  • No means I can’t deal with people looking at me. I know they’re judging me.
  • No means that, in my case, I can’t deal with more people staring and pointing and whispering about my visible scars.
  • No means that I don’t feel as though I belong, at all. This means I feel like I stick out like a “sore thumb.”
  • No means that I would rather hang out in a cave by myself than have to face the inevitable degradation of others.
  • No means I feel awkward, like a “freak show.”
  • No also means that I have chosen loneliness and depression over socializing.

At the same time, this is what “No” doesn’t mean:

  • No is NOT personal.
  • No is NOT forever.
  • No DOESN’T mean I don’t want to talk, participate, or go somewhere.
  • No DOESN’T mean I will always say no.
  • No DOESN’T mean I have completely given up.


  • The thought of what it means to say yes is so incredibly anxiety provoking and stress causing that it’s the only word I can think of to say.
  • No means that I care about you so much that I didn’t let voicemail tell you no. (This is a compliment)

What to Say or Do When I Say No

It’s difficult to know what to say to someone who always says “no.” I get that. I know it’s also difficult to not take it personally and to eventually give up. But, I want to tell you there are other things you can try.

If you truly want to help someone that always says no, there are different coping mechanisms and skills to help. That is an upcoming title for later.

Whatever you do, don’t give up! Don’t give up on your friend and don’t give up on yourself!

©Julie Corbett

Please Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s