Do You Have A Fear Of Saying Yes? Here's How To Overcome It

Forget FOSY – we want to say yes to 2023 (as far as our bank balances allow).
Westend61 via Getty Images

January is a month we often spend reflecting and planning for the next 12 months. Whether 2022 was good or bad for you, the new year feels like another chance to be the best version of yourself. And, sometimes being the best version of yourself means saying “yes”, even when it feels a bit scary.

Of course, boundaries are important and consent even more so. We shouldn’t be saying “yes” to something we really don’t want to do. But some of us have been saying “no” far too much. We are struggling with a “fear of saying yes”.

We procrastinate and turn down opportunities because we don’t feel like we can live up to the expectations of the opportunity. There’s a small voice inside of us, that imposter syndrome, that makes us doubt our ability to handle things.

The “fear of saying yes” – or FOSY for short – may even hold you back from social events. Some of us have residual social anxiety from the pandemic and those long months of lockdown. Then, add to this more practical worries.

Cost of living worries can make socialising a stressor. No one wants to be that person on a night out who can only afford to buy one drink. Or the one who has to leave early so they can get the night tube instead of paying for a cab home.

I’ve turned down several social events this month out of fear that I won’t have enough money to enjoy the event. Equally, as I’m doing Dry January, there’s also the anxiety I have about being completely sober for the evening. But does that mean I should say no to seeing my friends this month? Absolutely not.

How do you know if you have a fear of saying yes?

Psychologist Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo believes if you suffer from FOSY, your automatic response to any invitation or plan will be to keep yourself safe.

“Are we taking time to weigh up and consider?” Dr Quinn-Cirillo asks.

“Quicker “no” responses are often more reflex-type responses guided by fear or anxiety. [Are we] using rule-based approaches based on our view of ourselves or our past experiences ie. ‘I can’t do that’ or ‘I am never good at that”? We may be using what others have said to guide our responses eg. “you are no good at that.’”

Everyone has fears, but you don’t want to spend them to hold you back from experiencing life. The best way to tackle them is to try and understand where the fear is coming from and how you can overcome it.

What are we usually afraid of when we have fear of saying yes?

Dr Quinn-Cirillo says that any of the following factors may be involved:

  • We may have a history of rejection, failure.
  • We may fear being judged by others in a negative way ie if we fail/perform badly/don’t execute a task properly
  • We may say no if we are feeling we have reached our capacity for what we can manage right now or possibly overwhelmed.
  • We may have a baseline of low self-esteem/self-worth.
  • We may be cautious- life circumstances such as previous decisions going wrong (financially, career-wise etc)

How can we tackle our fear of saying yes?

Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you find it a hard thing to say yes, Dr Quinn-Cirillo advises. It may help to work through the following three steps.

  • Try small steps: a smaller thing to say yes to
  • Create some space if you can between the request and feeling the need to respond. Put boundaries in such as “can I get back to you” and “let me check how this will work”
  • Remember why you want to try/do something – what are the values or meaning behind wanting to try something?

You might also want to experiment with another little word – “maybe” – and see where it gets you.

Before You Go

Go To Homepage