Unlisted: When to Say "No"

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For some of us, when a friend offers to help us after learning about our chronic illness, we feel shame when we can’t or won’t take them up on the offer. It could be for a variety of reasons: the timing isn’t right, we don’t need the help, or we are too afraid to accept. While there is a comfort to be found in having people offer to help us, there are times where the offers for help are too much.

I’ve mentioned it before, sometimes offering to help is the only way people can manage their feelings surrounding your illness. When coupled with a person who insists on helping and “won’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” our feelings of shame intensifies. And there are people out there who will push us into saying “yes,” when all we want to say is “no.”

While we are responsible for our actions, and saying “yes,” when we don’t want to is an action, it can be hard to say “no” to someone persistent.

I wanted to tell you this: you are under no obligation to take someone’s help when offered, no matter how much they insist.


I have little experience with the insistent helper, but I’ve seen countless examples of it in other’s lives. But the few times I’ve directly experienced it, it is overwhelming. I feel worn down after the encounter and even frustrated after the contact.

I don’t know the motivation behind it, other than perhaps there’s a sense of validation that comes from feeling useful. The person wanting to help view brushoffs as a rejection of them, even though that is rarely the case. I am speculating, but I sense that it might be part of it.

The problem is, while coping with symptoms and managing stress, we also must contend with a bully.

Insisting on helping someone to the point that they won’t take “no” for an answer is a form of bullying. This person is saying that they know what’s best for you, your feelings on the matter don’t matter, and that you are incapable of deciding for yourself. They are a bully; therefore, you must treat them as such.

This person may not even realize they are engaging in bullying behavior, which is why your response will need to be a compassionate one. This individual wants to help “fix” us, but may not understand your boundaries. Often the help they insist upon giving is some form of “magic” cure or regimen that will cause our symptoms to lessen. 

We are not fixable. Our diseases, until there is a cure or the perfect management drug, will always be present no matter how much outside help we get. There is no magic cure, nor is there an ideal regimen that will help us. We are individuals, and what worked for one person may not work for us. 

Or more concerning, the cure they are pushing on us can kill us.

Yet, with the confidence and persistence, we may be left second-guessing ourselves and give in to accepting their help.

No Obligation

You may already know this, but you are under no obligation to accept help. Even if someone makes you feel obligated, you can and should always say “no,” holding to your values and boundaries.

If you do not know how to say “no,” consider putting the person off. Reflect that you heard their suggestion, appreciate their input, and will look further into the matter. This technique can work for tangible help: “I understand that you want to help me out. I appreciate your kind thoughts, and I will need to take some time to find something for you to do.” It will also work with the “cures”: “I realize you found something that works for you/a friend/a family member. I appreciate you sharing it with me. I will look into it further on my own.

Hold firm to your statements. Tell them that when you need help, you will come to them. You don’t have to approach them, but you can keep putting them off until you are ready to say, “no, thank you.”

While interacting with them, be gentle and non-judgmental. You are not responsible for their feelings, but you don’t need to meet their insensitivity with your own. You are looking to minimize a defensive response, and being compassionate will help. The idea is to walk away with minimal stress without feeling bullied into accepting help.

The key is understanding your boundaries. You may not be looking for help or disease management suggestions. Hold to it and keep that in your mind during your interactions. You, and you alone (outside of your doctor) know what’s best for your care. Be confident in that knowledge each time you interact with a persistent person.

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