The ADHD Challenge of Saying "No"

November 16, 2011 Laurie Dupar, PMHNP, RN, PCC

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 feeling overwhelmed. 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”.

<img class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-136" src="" alt="The ADHD challenge of saying &quot;no&quot;" width="170" height="170" />
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 okay. 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 okay with saying no is a challenge many adults with ADHD face.

Today, I invite you to join me in remembering it’s okay 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 okay 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”.

APA Reference
Dupar, L. (2011, November 16). The ADHD Challenge of Saying "No", HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: Laurie Dupar, PMHNP, RN, PCC

Doc Pressman
November, 21 2011 at 9:42 am

Great article. Re-posting it on Yes, limit setting is very helpful for ADHD. See for a huge study on bedtime and ADHD.

November, 17 2011 at 2:54 pm

I have a 17 yr. old son who was diagnosed with ADHD when he was around 5 or 6, its been a struggle raising a child with this disorder,lightly said!! I did not accept the so-called label the teachers put on him, he could not cope with this disorder and had to be put on phsycotropic meds., we tried several, Ritalin 10, 20 mgs, concerta, risperidol, etc.. you get the picture,anyhow I found the meds turned him into a zombie like person, and decided to accept my son as he was or is...he and i went through alot together...he has been in and out of different schools sinse grade 4, eventually because we could not find the help in our under-funded school system to get him the help he needed, or they would get him an aid, then he/her would be replaced the next school year, which left him not trusting any one of them:(so i tried home schooling, what was i thinking!! it did work for awhile, but then my frustration level, and lack of knowledge on ADHD, and behavior modification only left me discouraged!! then we decided to put him in sports, hockey was the sport he decided he wanted to try, as he was able to skate since he was 4, finally we found something that he was good at!! he was very successful at this sport, and may have made it to the national level, if only he knew how to say "NO!". i love my son dearly, he is very unique in his own way, has grown up to be quite mature for his age, he says what he feels, has respect for people and himself, and is now finishing his education in a Outreach program, which makes me so happy for him and he is learning to say no:)

Leave a reply