Handling the Disappointment and Hurt of Being Told “No”

What to do when someone refuses your request for help.

Posted Oct 19, 2019

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Source: Rawpixel

I’ve written before about the importance of learning to ask for help, especially if the state of your health necessitates relying on others. (See “How to Ask for Help.")

I know from experience that it does not feel good to be turned down after asking for help, whatever the circumstance—health-related or not. Here are four suggestions for handing the disappointment and hurt of having been told “no.” 

1. Begin by engaging in some self-reflection.

Was your request reasonable, given the other person’s circumstances and abilities? A mom with two toddlers is not the right person to ask for a ride to and from the doctor’s office, and to wait until until you’re done. A friend who’s unemployed is not the right person to ask for a loan. Sometimes we don’t realize until after we’ve asked for help that our request was unreasonable. If that happens to you, forgive yourself immediately and move on. (Who doesn’t misread a situation at times?)

2. Ask yourself, “Am I sure?" before deciding that the person who turned you down doesn’t care about you. The idea to ask “Am I sure?” comes from Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh. (I ask myself this question whenever I’ve decided that my opinion about something is irrefutably right. It amazes me how often I realize that I’m not absolutely “sure.” This allows me to let go of a major source of stress in life: clinging to views.)

If you’ve been turned down after requesting that someone help you in some way, ask yourself “Am I sure?” before deciding that the person doesn’t care about you. There could be several reasons you were turned down.

First, like many others, the person may be uneducated about chronic illness. (Chronic illness includes chronic pain and can include mental illness.) Because most chronic illnesses are invisible, the person you asked may not know that you can look fine but feel sick or be in pain. This ignorance can persist even if you’ve explained your situation. (I’m constantly amazed at how often people will suggest that I go to this or that event, even though I’ve explained over and over that I cannot be far from my bed for an extended period of time.)

A second reason to ask “Am I sure?” is that the person may care deeply about you, but be facing difficulties of his or her own, with family or work or even health problems you don’t know about. 

Finally, some people may turn you down because they’re uncomfortable around others struggling with their health. Our culture does a poor job educating people about the fact that pain and illness are a normal part of the human life cycle. Family and friends who aren’t present for you may think about you frequently and wish you well, but not be able to be part of your life due to their own anxieties and fears. (I remember the day I realized this and forgave the people who’ve “gone missing” from my life. It brought me the peace that comes with anger-free understanding and acceptance.)

The next two suggestions are always good to try, but are especially important if you’ve considered the two above and have decided that your request was reasonable and that you are “sure” that the person you asked for help was callous in turning you down.

3. Administer self-compassion immediately!

It can hurt badly to be turned down when you ask for help. When you’re hurting, the best thing to do is to ease your suffering in whatever way works best for you. That’s all self-compassion means: treating yourself with care and kindness. 

You might do something special for yourself, or you might do what I do. Try this: Speak silently to yourself about what happened, using a comforting voice and words that express how you feel. Your words might be, “It hurts to be told ‘no’ by someone I thought would be there for me.” When you give voice to your feelings, you let yourself know that you care about your suffering. In my experience, being kind to myself never fails to ease my emotional pain.

4. Practice equanimity.

It can help to minimize your hurt and disappointment to recognize that, for everyone, life is a combination of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, successes and disappointments. Sometimes people come through for us and sometimes they don’t. Such is life. You may never know why a person has said “no." The best thing to do is to chalk it up to human unpredictability and move on. When you cling to the way you want others to be, it only makes you feel worse emotionally. This adds a second layer of suffering on top of your disappointment and hurt at being told “no.”

Having practiced equanimity and self-compassion, move on by mustering the courage to ask for help again. And again, if necessary. I hope that’s what you’ll do.