I am in a situation where I am overwhelmed by school mates constantly asking for my help for their assignments and tests. (They have been doing this since grade 10!) And this has resulted in serious consequences on my health and school. I am constantly helping other people and left no time for the wellbeing of myself. Recently, my grades have worsened (relative to my usual grades) and my health has seriously deteriorated.

To tackle this, I want to shrink my "help circle" and helping my close friends only. Which means rejecting other people. And I want to do this as politely as possible, however, I am struggling to come up with appropriate responses. I define "appropriate" in terms of how "unsatisfied" they are. Most of them seem unhappy once I decline.

Some of my responses (more or less) are like:

"Look, I am very busy at the moment maybe go and talk to Greg. He can help."

"Listen, I had a rather emotional day so I will appreciate enormously if you could leave me in peace."

"Look Not Now, as you can tell I am very busy."

I want to own my choices. I want to let them know that I am not obligated to help them in any way. I want to get appreciated.

My goal is to come up with a response where I can decline them without damaging the relationship between me and them as well as hinting to them that I do not want to help in the future. I want a response that doesn't project my ego too aggressively? (if that makes any sense)


2 Answers 2


Your goal to come up with a response where you can decline their requests without damaging the relationship may not be attainable. These people have come to rely on you to help them for assignments and tests. That is what the relationship consists of. They love you for your free and reliable services. They will be nice to you all semester in return for this while you want to be loved for being you, no strings attached.

I come to this conclusion because you are already being firm with your boundaries. Based on your examples, I can see that you are gently but firmly telling them to get help elsewhere, that you are unable to help them. You are even telling them who might be able to help them instead of you, i.e. Greg. For some reason, they trust and value your services.

What most people in the service industry do to keep things manageable is put a price on their services. Inform them that from now on you will be charging for your services and set the fee just a bit higher than most are willing to pay.

Maybe you feel such an action is too aggressive. On the other hand, these people have already stolen your health and your grades with their demands for your free services. If this is not the time to stand up and fight for your rights in some way or another, I'm not sure when that time is. I'm not suggesting to charge your close friends whom you want to help, just these other people who won't go "ask Greg for help" as you suggest.

Another suggestion: Just look them in the eye and say, "No, sorry, I can't." No apologies, no excuses, just the blunt hard truth spoken clearly, firmly, but in a friendly tone. You may have to repeat it a few times till people get the message. It may seem less aggressive than charging for your services. The consequences may be the same: People drifting away with regards to friendships.

That will leave you more time for your own assignments and studies and close friends. It seems you may also need time to recuperate from health issues so that having fewer friends may not be a bad thing right now. What you don't need is free-loaders.

As for friends in the next stage of your life, I would not expect these people to be around even to bid you the time of day when they no longer need your services. I base that opinion on many a person's story of life after high school, especially if one person went on to higher education while the others did not. My point: Don't sacrifice too much in the hopes that you will have friends for life by helping them now.

The world is full of people and you will meet some of them after you finish with this part of your education.


You need to prioritize your needs over others' wants. You also need to get used to dealing with disappointed faces. It's honestly fine. Put yourself in their shoes; if you hoped that someone would help you and got turned down, would you be all smiles? Probably not. But disappointment with the situation doesn't mean they're disappointed in you specifically.

You want to know how you can be both gentle in turning people down, but firm and in a way that will get others to appreciate you. Let's address each point in order:

Being Gentle

As with most things, the situation is rather nuanced. You've been consistently providing help, and now you've suddenly stopped. If I were your classmate, I might wonder if it's my fault and if you're simply too nice to tell me to my face that I've overstepped my boundaries. When letting them down, imply that you're swamped by other issues rather than by theirs. This will emphasize to them that you're not upset with them.

I personally also say I'm sorry when I'm not able to help. This may be a cultural thing, as I'm in the US, so I feel compelled to point out that the apology is not about remorse, but rather out of empathy, i.e. it is a gesture of good will, not an expression of guilt. People tend to be a lot kinder in response, in my opinion. If apologizing feels wrong, you could also say: "I wish I could help." Based on your question, this seems like a true enough statement and also makes your rejection feel gentler, because it appears to be out of your hands.

If I am used to using certain resources, I'll also forward them along. Links to textbooks, helpful StackExchange posts, old notes of mine, etc. are all fair game if I like the asker enough. This also incentivizes people to be nice to me, rather than to approach me only to ask favors.

Being Firm

You already acknowledged that you don't owe anyone your help. For that reason, you shouldn't have to explain yourself, either. However, omitting any explanation whatsoever can seem a bit callous even if you're in the right. If that's what you prefer, then you also need to accept the social consequences of being standoffish.

However, I'd say the key is to not cave into peer pressure while emphasizing the reason you can't help. If you give in after being asked a few times, people won't take your rejection seriously. They'll see "being busy" as a flimsy excuse, a euphemism for not wanting to help others. If you say that you have a lot of homework at the time they're asking, stick to that. It demonstrates that your time is important, and that you can only help conditionally.

Getting Appreciated

Getting appreciated is always a tricky thing. Honestly? Your altruism will most likely be underappreciated no matter what you do. As the comments above suggested, some people will not take "no" for an answer. Full stop. Some people are entitled, arrogant, and an absolute pain to even attempt to help. If you're willing to give, many will be more than happy to take. You're not going to see a return on your gesture, and that's something you just need to accept sometimes. For me, it's actually a good motivator to spend my time only on those who actually deserve the help.

However, I've generally noticed that busy people who occasionally help others (but on their terms) tend to garner more respect than those who help all the time (or not at all). Here's an example dialogue:

A: "Hey, Fred. I need help with this math problem. Do you have a minute?"

You: "I actually need to finish this assignment right now. If I finish it early, I will let you know."

A: "I'm really confused, though, and it's due tomorrow. Can you help me after class?"

You: "I have to go to a club meeting. But if you bring it to me after my club meeting, I can help you for a few minutes before I catch my bus home."

A: "I can't do that, though. I have a swim meet."

You: "Then I unfortunately can't help you, as much as I wish I could. However, maybe [resource] can help?"


You can't really control what others feel or do. Emphasize that you want to help because you care, but that you are unable. Most importantly, stick to taking care of yourself FIRST even when under pressure.

I hope this was helpful. I'm in my twenties and still learning how to say "no" properly, but I have faith in you, young Padawan!

  • 1
    Thanks eurieka, I will make sure I keep these in my mind!
    – CountDOOKU
    Commented Mar 22, 2020 at 2:12

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