How to Say “No” When You Want to Say “Yes”… But Can’t


Has there been a time recently when you said “yes” to something, when you knew you needed to say “no?”  I’m sure many (if not all) of you would concur, the answer is a resounding YES! We all know that saying “yes” when you knew you should have said “no” on a regular basis can cause major physical and emotional burnout.   This is true whether you have lupus or not.  However, what is exponentially clear, is that if you do have lupus or a lupus overlap illness, the stakes can be higher, the water may be muckier and pressure cooker can get turned up to high.

Why you ask?

Because, unfortunately, even in 2018, lupus is barely understood by the general public, or even taken seriously.  Trying to explain to your loved one, friend, neighbor or associate that you have to say “no” sometimes in order to function, can be tricky.  Mainly because they may not see you as “sick” and/or are confused by the fluctuations of your illness. “You don’t look sick…so why do you need to work from home?” or “You looked fine the other day…why can’t you go on the camping trip?”  The inaccurate perceptions of your illness can perpetuate shame and guilt, and that can lead you to saying “yes” when you should have said “no.”  Before you know it all your spoons have long disappeared.

Here is an excerpt from the “What Should I Look Like” blog that explains this idea further:  

“Sadly, we as a society are quick to make snap judgements about who a person is and what they represent – in a few seconds.  For example, if one sees a person in a wheelchair, he or she immediately assumes that person is sick or injured. Usually that memory establishes a permanent assumption which allows the onlooker to label him or her “sick” or “disabled.”   

On the flip side, when one sees a person at the park, taking a nice stroll with friends, he or she would assume that person is healthy and in a state of well-being.  When the same onlooker sees that person the next week in a wheelchair, or in a hospital bed, it is confusing. “But, they didn’t look sick when I saw them the other day” would probably be the exact words he or she would utter.  With lupus, the baseline of “wellness” is in a constant state of flux, and due to the variance of illness, comes a variance of tolerance from the onlooker. The onlooker did not see the transition from the park to the wheelchair, so in his or her mind, they are left to fill in the gaps of what he or she considers the social norm.  Most of the time, sadly, the gaps are filled with negative thoughts and assumptions. Words like “She/he must have been faking then” or “She/he must be faking now” or “She/he couldn’t be that sick, if she/he looks this way…” float in a person’s mind like dandelions in the wind.”

I included this snippet, because if people around us have difficulty understanding the variances of our disease, then the understanding that is offered when you say “no” may be in short supply.  To try and balance obligations to friends, family commitments and such… can be nearly impossible. However, if your friends and family are informed about the ebb and flow of the illness,  they might have a better understanding of why you needed to pass, and why it is important for you to rest.


The word “no” is such a short and simple word, in fact, my preschooler says it all the time to me without a care or moment of hesitation!  And yet, to the majority of us, saying it can be incredibly complex, stressful and agonizing. I wonder when we as humans start to shift from the thinking of a preschooler, to the “people-pleasing-can’t-say-no because-you-don’t-want-to-let-anyone-down” stage?  Because at some point, many of us start to lose the capacity to opt out of something. As if, we don’t think we actually have a choice in how we choose to live our life.  

Saying “no” does NOT have to be associated with negativity.  Shocking right? Saying “no” can, in many cases, be the honest, smart, and right thing to do!  Saying “no” can help you set clear expectations, save relationships and help your mental and physical health.  

So, how do you kindly and lovingly say no?  

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make it a clear NO:  “We need to learn the slow yes and the quick no” – Tom Friel. If you are unsure, don’t give a definitive yes, take some time and let the person know when you will tell them an answer.  But, once you make your decision, stick with it. Wishy washy decisions only lead to confusion and frustrations on both ends.

  • Don’t apologize for saying No:  Speak in truth and love and then…move on.  I know this is hard, because sometimes people don’t want to hear “no”.  But, you need to be true to yourself, stand up for what you feel your priorities and convictions are, and stick with them.

  • Encourage the person and say “thank you”. “No” does not mean “no” forever.  Just because you cannot commit to something doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate being asked or love the person any less.  Thank them for asking and be encouraging.  



You only do yourself and the person (or people) making the request a disservice by saying “yes” when you can’t honor your commitment.  You already have lupus, do you really want add the “disease to please” to your mix of problems? The author of The Best Yes Lysa Terkeurst says about this:

“We must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please. And it’s not just because of the vicious cycles of people pleasing, although that’s part of it. I miss Best Yes opportunities sometimes because I simply don’t know they’re part of the equation. I get all twisted up in making the decision to check either the Yes or No box, not realizing there is a third box that reads Best Yes. We must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please. What is a Best Yes, you as? …its most basic form, a Best Yes is you playing your part…

At church.

At school.

At work.

At wherever you are today.

…You’ll live your life making decisions with the Best Yes as your best filter….Your undistracted love will make your faith ring true. Your wisdom will help you make decisions that will still be good tomorrow. And you’ll be alive and present for all of it.”



The “disease to please” is something we all suffer from at different times in our life, and sometimes you do have to pick your battles, show up and be present even when you wish you were in bed.  However, if you are honest, vulnerable and straightforward about your circumstances, it should help with confusion and misinterpretations when it comes to your overall decision-making process. As Paulo Coelho stated so perfectly, “When you say YES to others, make sure you are not saying NO to yourself.”   It is important to make the right “yes”, the best “yes” for you, so you can have meaningful relationships and memories.

Because in the end, life is not about overextending or withdrawing, but leaning into opportunities where you want and should be saying yes.



Article by : Kelli Roseta

Kelli Roseta has been living with lupus since she was diagnosed at 11 years old. She is a tireless advocate for those living with lupus.