The ADHD Challenge of Saying “No”

ADHD Strategies, Adults with ADHD    November 14, 2011

“ Half of the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” ~Josh Billings

Sometimes I feel immense pressure to do things I don’t want to do. Other people’s priorities end up being my priorities and then I wonder why I struggle with overwhelm. For some reason there seems to be many things I should do. Or things I should want to do. Or things other people expect me to do…in addition to what I already have to do or want to do. Whether it’s because I want to be liked, seen as competent, like to have many interesting projects going at one time, or simply because I said “no” last time, there is tremendous pressure to give into other people’s requests, and say “yes”.


Having ADHD means that it is likely that I have let someone down previously and I don’t want to do that again. I tend to say “yes” so I can make it up to them, not certain when the inconsistency of my brain might interfere. Or I forget that I have already committed to doing two other “some things.” Remembering to use, let alone check a planner, takes constant vigilance. I have discovered that for me, committing to two things at a time is doable, we call that multi-tasking…right? Three is just “crazy” and tends to have me completely paralyzed. And then there is the fact that I enjoy having a full and varied life.

To be honest, it also is a fairly new concept to me that saying “no” is OK. That saying “no” does not mean I am unfriendly, unsocial, not “good” or not a team player, or not competent. This difficulty setting boundaries, being OK with saying no is a challenge many adults with ADHD face.

It’s OK to say “no”

Today I invite you to join me in remembering it’s OK to say no, and our world (or other people’s worlds) won’t fall apart because of it.

  • Say: “No” if your plate is already full.
  • Say: “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.”
  • Say: “I’d love to help…let me get back to you later.”
  • Say, “I’d love to, but now is not a good time…when can we reschedule?”
  • Say: “I would be happy to do you a favor…if I can.”
  • Say: “Can I have a rain check?”
  • Say no if you’d rather relax than go out—or go out rather than stay in. Only we know when we need to recharge and take care of ourselves.
  • Say no—even if a part of you feels a little guilty about it. Feeling guilty means we are stuck between two things that are important to us- like wanting to help others, but needing to take care of current responsibilities. There are always going to be requests. I like to be asked. Sometimes I’ll be able to help; sometimes I won’t.
  • Say no because you don’t have time.
  • Say no even without a detailed excuse—“This isn’t the right fit for me” is perfectly valid.
  • And perhaps the hardest, say no if you change your mind, even if you’ve already said yes.

When we say “no” it means we are honoring something else that is equally important to us. It also gives someone else the opportunity to say “yes”. Believe it or not, it is likely someone else can step in. Being OK with saying no, setting boundaries, allows us to take care of our own needs and really be able to give fully the next time when it works for us to say “yes”.

3 Responses to The ADHD Challenge of Saying “No”

  1. Hillary Roberts     February 14, 2012    12:36 pm    Reply

    Dear Laurie,
    Is there any way to e-mail this to a friend who really needs to read the articles on this wonderful site? Neither of us uses Twitter or Facebook….both are too complicated and are potentially “time pits” one can easily fall into. Thanks. And Happy Valentine’s Day!

  2. Laurie     February 16, 2012    9:07 pm    Reply

    Hi Hillar! Thanks for your question. Can you copy the url from this page and send that to your friend so she knows where to read the blog? Just a thought. Keep in touch.~Laurie Dupar

  3. Maggie     March 23, 2013    12:24 pm    Reply

    The last bullet point is the most interesting to me, “And perhaps the hardest, say no if you change your mind, even if you’ve already said yes.”

    I find that to be such a shameful, emotion-laden decision. I often say no after saying yes and feel like I’m developing an unreliable reputation.

    Any suggestions for people who remain stuck saying yes too soon?

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