How to Cancel Plans Without Feeling Guilty and Hurting Feelings

By April Snow, LMFT
5 min read

Making plans all starts out so well.  You’re feeling energetic or generous and you make a commitment with someone down the road.  But then the day comes and you’re feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, or just don’t feel like doing anything.  You go back and forth, wanting to cancel, but weighing the pros and cons of doing so.  If you do cancel, what will you say, how guilty will you feel, will the other person be angry with you?  There’s just so much to think about!    

Feeling guilty about cancelling plans is so difficult because we care about the impact on the other person and we value the relationship with them.  This guilt is born out of empathy and conscientiousness, a desire to honor our commitments and care for our relationships.  

There are times when it’s inevitable to cancel, so how can we make this decision without so much guilt and anxiety weighing on our shoulders and hurting the other person’s feelings?    

Start with Kindness
The way we deliver the message is so important.  You may be cancelling plans because you’re feeling overwhelmed or exhausted and when we’re in this state it’s easy to get defensive, especially if others haven’t honored our needs in the past.  Take a moment to think through what you need to say and how you can present your needs in a kind and considerate way.  This will allow the other person to hear your needs without getting defensive themselves.  

Be Direct
It’s easy to be vague or make an excuse when cancelling plans, but this can create more harm than good for the recipient.  As humans, we often fill in the blanks and make something about ourselves when we don’t have all the details.  Be direct and let the person know why you’re cancelling plans.  This will create an opportunity to have dialogue about each of your feelings about the situation.    

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Offer Yourself Compassion
Cancelling plans is extremely difficult, so know that you wouldn’t be making this choice if you didn’t absolutely need to.  You’re tired, over-committed, sick, or just needing to take something off your plate.  Remember that your needs are valid and it’s okay to cancel sometimes.  If you don’t honor your needs and say “yes” when you really need to say “no”, resentment starts to build and deteriorate relationships. 

Not following through with plans we’ve agreed to can bring up a lot of guilt, but not honoring our needs builds resentment and can threaten the health of our relationships.  When the guilt arises meet it with self-compassion and communicate your needs to others kindly and directly.  Going forward, take a pause before making plans and listen to your gut at the first sign of dread.  The earlier we can cancel plans or not make them to begin with, the better. 

Additional Resources
The Undervalued Self by Dr. Elaine Aron
Self-Compassion Exercises
How to Manage Guilt as a Highly Sensitive Person

April Snow, LMFT is a licensed psychotherapist in San Francisco, who specializes in working with Highly Sensitive Introverts. April strongly believes that being a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) doesn’t have to stop you from living a fully engaged life and is on a mission to help HSPs create a life on their own terms so they can manage the overwhelm and start to thrive.  Find out more at www.expansiveheart.com or follow on Instagram


Stories, tips, and resources from others who have experience with anxiety can be found below:
Mental Health as a Priority in the Workplace
The Young Introvert’s Social Survival Guide
Tips to Manage Anxiety Around Work
5 Ways to Feel Less Anxious When You’re a Sensitive Person
Holiday Travel – Stop Trippin’

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