How to Say “No” to Selfish Friends

"How to Say "No" To Selfish Friends" Text over a dark background image of two people sitting together on a bench in a park

I can say that I have only ever had one selfish friend. This friend wanted me to spend time with him almost every waking moment and would turn manipulative when I said “no.” It took me a few weeks to learn to tell him “no” but when I did, his true nature came out and I ran from that toxic relationship quickly. He was a selfish friend that wasn’t worth keeping around. Some of us have selfish friends that don’t know that they are taking advantage of others.

Sometimes we have friends that are just selfish in nature. They expect you to drop everything for them when they need or want you to. They might even seek you out more than your other friends because they know you will say yes. And you do say yes.

But what if you had said no? What would have happened? Would your friend have accepted your answer or would they have turned against you?

Is this selfish friend worth keeping around?

Sometimes being a good friend feels like its too much. You’re helping friend A in an hour but you will be crunched for time to help friend B in two hours between classes and your shift at work. Then you are helping friend A again after your shift, even though you have two days worth of homework due tomorrow morning and you haven’t slept and you feel a little off today. Yet, you still feel obligated to help your friends.

You feel like you have to help these friends. That it’s an obligation simply because you are friends. You feel like saying “no” to them for any reason is selfish and that you owe it to to them because that’s what friends do. I want to tell you that its not selfish to put yourself first.

There is a difference between being self serving and taking care of yourself.

Self serving people only do things because it serves them in some way and will say “no” simply because what you are asking them doesn’t serve them. This isn’t inherently negative and only becomes a problem when they always ask or expect others to help  or “serve” them without ever returning the favor.

Taking care of yourself is knowing when saying “no” is in your best interest. If you don’t have the time, money, or energy to help someone, its okay to say “no.” Overextending yourself isn’t helpful to you or anyone else. If someone asks you for a ride and you just spent a lot of money on gas and can’t afford to do it again for a while and you know this friend can’t or won’t pay you for the gas, its okay to say no. If you have homework or work and you have a friend that needs help moving into a new place, its okay to say no. Its in your best interest to meet your other responsibilities first.

When someone asks a favor of you that requires you to drop everything you are doing, spend money you can’t afford to spend, or take time out of your day that you need for your other responsibilities (work, rest, etc), its okay to say no. Saying no doesn’t make you selfish, it makes you self aware. If they insist after you say no or guilt you for saying no, they are the selfish one and probably also a toxic friend.

So how do you tell these people no? First you need to evaluate the friendship. Are they someone that contributes positively to your life? Do they help you when you need them as often as you help them? Or do they ask too much of you and never return the favor? Do they make you feel bad about yourself for having your own interest in mind?

If you want to keep this person in your life, communicate with them. Let them know when you can’t help them and why. If they are a good friend, they will understand. Maybe you tell them who else might be able to help. You could also negotiate a different time or date when you can help if what your friend needs is not time sensitive. You can say “no” without actually saying “no.” Although, its best to be clear so there isn’t any confusion. “I can’t help you with that” is the perfect way to say “no” without saying “no”, but remaining clear in your message.

If your friend is toxic or a negative influence but you don’t want to loose them, again communicate with them. Tell them how you feel. Maybe you start the conversation this way:

“I do a lot for you that that often requires me to neglect my other responsibilities and I feel like you are unwilling to do the same when I need it.”

or

“I listen to a lot of your problems when you need me because I care about you, but sometimes I feel like you don’t want to listen to mine when I need someone to talk to.”

Remember to focus on “I” statements and how you feel about the problem. The more “you” the conversation has, the more accusatory it sounds and may send the other person into the defensive.

If your friend is willing to sit down and talk about the problem maturely, they will. A friend that doesn’t want to change will refuse to talk about it, get defensive and accusatory, or will tell you obvious lies or make big promises you know can’t be kept. You will know, especially if this is not the first time you have had to have this type of conversation.

If you are ready to step away from your friend because they are toxic or not contributing positively to your life, tell them “no” when they ask something unreasonable of you, or even the next time they ask. You do not owe them an explanation at this point. Stick to “no.” If they pressure you or attempt to manipulate you into helping, call them out. Let them know that you don’t appreciate them manipulating and using you. Be civil, don’t let yourself get ugly. If they get ugly, know you made the right decision.

The first thing to drop from your life when you are unhappy, are the people who contribute to that unhappiness. You do not owe anyone anything if they make you miserable.

Friendship is only friendship when both parties benefit mutually. If you feel like you are working harder for the friendship than the other person, you probably are. Talk to them about it and if they are willing to work for the friendship they will. Someone who says they will and don’t, aren’t serious about the relationship and will say anything to make you feel better about sacrificing your time, money, and friendship and continue to use you.

You are the master of your story and life. If someone is taking advantage of your kindness, time, or money; they are not a positive character in your story. Learn and practice saying “no” to these selfish friends. If they respect and value your friendship, they will change their ways.

If one of your friends talks to you about you taking advantage of them, listen. It means they value your friendship enough to try to work on it.

You do not owe anyone anything simply because they allow you to be their friend. Friendship is, at its core, a loving relationship. Any friendship that does not involve mutual respect or affection is not a friendship. Its a social transaction that is meaningless to one or both people. Selfish friends and selfish people will capitalize on their lack of respect for your time and person. They will treat interactions with you as a transaction where they benefit at your expense, whether they do this consciously or not.

Don’t be afraid to say “no” to selfish friends. You owe it to yourself. Your friendship is of value and if someone doesn’t recognize that, they do not value you.

Learning to say “no” will help you simplify your life and is a step towards learning how to take care of yourself first. You can’t help people to the best of your ability if you are overwhelmed and exhausted.

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