The Raggedy RiRi Series:  The Art of Saying No

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Dear Readers,

On the bustling northside of Lansing, MI, where lights never dim, lived Joy, a kind-hearted and diligent woman known for her unwavering willingness to help others. Joy worked in a small, yet bustling, newspaper office, where her smile was as famous as the articles she artfully crafted. Despite her positive and helpful disposition, Joy’s inner world was clouded by a relentless storm of stress and fatigue, the result of her inability to say “no.”

Joy’s journey began on an ordinary production week Tuesday, as she juggled multiple tasks at home with three young children. Her salesman approached with a seemingly innocent request, “In order to land this sale.  I am going to have to give them half off of the normal cost. But since you are  so good at handling customer service, I need you to contact them tomorrow regarding the creation of the advertisements!” His words, laced with flattery, were a classic manipulative tactic. Joy feeling valued and needed, reluctantly agreed, even though her schedule was brimming with commitments to herself and her children.

Later that day, Julia’s friend, Ana, called. “Joy, I know you’re busy, but could you help me move this Saturday? You’re always so organized and efficient.  Besides you have that huge truck so that I do not have to make so many trips,” Ana pleaded, playing on Joy’s desire to be seen as a competent and reliable friend. Once again, Joy found herself saying “yes,” despite the growing mountain of her tasks and an inability to concentrate due to her own responsibilities piling up.  Ana did not have children and frivolously spent her money on things that she could have used to pay for a moving company.

As the week progressed, Joy’s inability to refuse requests led her into a labyrinth of commitments. Each “yes” was a thread in the web of obligations that ensnared her, leaving her feeling trapped and overwhelmed. Traveling down the rabbit hole was the next option and she could no longer remember half of what she had promised. 

The Psychological Toll

The constant pressure to meet everyone’s expectations began to take a psychological toll on Joy. She found herself perpetually exhausted, her once-joyful demeanor replaced by irritability and anxiety. Her sleep was haunted by the endless to-do lists, and her dreams and aspirations were pushed to the back burner, simmering in a pot of forgotten desires and goals.

The burden of being the “go-to” person made Joy ponder why people always turned to those who habitually said “yes.” She realized that her predictable willingness had painted her as an easy target for those looking to offload their responsibilities. Her reliability and efficiency, once her pride, had become her shackles.

The Turning Point

The turning point came on a rainy Thursday evening. As Julia finished the newspaper two minutes befor the deadline with one baby asleep and the other feeding, her salesman approached her with yet another request. “Joy, I need you to complete an advertisement for the website for tomorrow.   I know I can count on you,” he said, with an expectant look.

For the first time, Joy paused. The weight of her exhaustion, the echo of her neglected desires, and the realization of her exploited kindness converged into a moment of clarity. She looked the salesman in the eye and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t.”

The words felt foreign, yet liberating. The salesman was taken aback, simply nodded, and walked away. Julia felt a surge of empowerment. She had broken the cycle but it came with doubt and an understanding that she took on more than she should most of the time.  

The Aftermath

The days that followed were a revelation for Joy. Each “no” she uttered was a step towards reclaiming her time and energy. She noticed that some people, surprised by her newfound assertiveness, stopped asking her for favors as frequently. Others expressed respect for her boundaries. And some tried to make her feel guilty. 

Joy’s transformation was not just about refusing requests; it was about redefining her self-worth and understanding that her value did not hinge on her ability to accommodate others. She learned the art of balancing generosity with self-preservation, and in doing so, found a deeper sense of peace and fulfillment.

On the northside of Lansing, under an annoying flickering neon street light, Joy rediscovered the joy in her work and life. She realized that sometimes, the most powerful word one can utter is a simple, yet resolute, “no.”  But she did put one more thing on her list and that was to call the power company to fix the street light.  It was one thing that would benefit herself and the entire neighborhood.

Above was a very simple story but for most of us manipulation comes in very different ways.  Usually, the people who are closest to us are the ones who engage in manipulative behaviors.  

Simple Yet Clarifying Definition of a Relationship

A connection between two or more people involving some level of interdependence, attachment, or influence.

In other words, a relationship refers to how people are associated, connected or involved with each other in an ongoing manner. There is some bond, impact, dependence or understanding between those in a relationship.

Relationships can take many forms, from brief encounters to long-term commitments, and range from casual acquaintances to close emotional connections. They allow people to interact, support each other, exchange resources and information, and typically involve some degree of trust, care and investment over time. Even minor relationships involve some awareness and recognition between parties.

The key elements are that relationships link people together in lasting ways, and involve reciprocal interactions that impact those involved. The specifics may vary greatly, but at its core, a relationship implies an association between parties that stretches beyond isolated moments. There is shared history, influence and interplay for as long as the relationship endures.

Expanded Manipulative Tactics and How to Counter Them

Manipulative tactics can be particularly challenging to navigate, especially when they involve emotional appeals based on long-standing relationships or comparisons to others. Let’s delve deeper into these tactics, adding to the previously discussed ones.

  1. Long-Standing Relationship Leverage


This tactic plays on the history and emotional bond between two people. Phrases like “We’ve been friends for so long, how can you say no?” are used to guilt-trip based on the duration and depth of the relationship.


Acknowledge the value of the relationship but recognize that true friendship or any long-term relationship does not obligate you to comply with every request. Your decision should be based on your current capacity and priorities, not solely on the history of the relationship.


  1. The Comparison Trap


Here, the manipulator compares your actions or willingness to help with that of others who are close to you, such as a sibling. “Your sister always does it” is a typical phrase used to incite a sense of competition or inadequacy.


Remember that your abilities and willingness to help are not legitimately measured against those of others. Each person has different circumstances and boundaries. Affirm your decision based on what is right for you, not based on comparisons.

Integrating These Tactics with the Previous Ones

These two tactics add layers to the complex web of manipulative strategies. They are particularly insidious because they exploit deeply personal connections and feelings of loyalty, obligation, and inadequacy. Whether it’s about leveraging long-standing relationships or making unfair comparisons, the goal is the same: to make you comply against your better judgment.

To effectively counter these tactics, it’s essential to:

  1. Maintain Perspective:  Understand that your worth and the value of your relationships are not contingent on your compliance with every request.
  2. Communicate Clearly:  Express your position honestly and kindly. If you cannot fulfill a request, explain why, emphasizing that it’s not a reflection of your feelings towards the person or relationship.
  3. Set and Enforce Boundaries:  Be clear about what you can and cannot do. Healthy relationships respect boundaries.
  4. Stay True to Yourself:  Remember that you have the right to make decisions based on your needs, capabilities, and circumstances.

In conclusion, being aware of these tactics and understanding how to counter them is crucial for personal well-being. It is the exercise behind the win and the practice of saying “no” takes time but it is so worth it. Having control of what you choose to do empowers you to make choices that are in your best interest, while still maintaining healthy and respectful relationships.  And if you can not maintain the relationship, it is all right to let it go.

I know this is long but here are some of my favorites:

  1. I’m unable to commit at this juncture, but I appreciate you thinking of me.
  1. My current circumstances won’t allow me to move forward, though I’m grateful you considered me. 
  1. While the timing isn’t right, thank you for extending this opportunity my way.
  1. I regret this situation doesn’t align with where I am presently. Thanks for reaching out.
  1. I wish I could take advantage of your kind offer. Maybe our paths will cross again down the road.

The key is to avoid specifics about why you are declining while still conveying regret. Using vague phrasing like “current circumstances” or “the timing isn’t right” allows you to politely refuse without details. Expressing appreciation and leaving the door open for future opportunities maintains goodwill. Also if you do say “yes” and you do not receive a thank you or some other token of appreciation, then you may want to reconsider ever saying yes again.  The idea is to be positive yet  “stand your ground.”

Spend your time doing things you love or nothing at all.  Let us know how it works out for you.

Love people.


Rina Risper aka Raggedy RiRi