How To Say: “No.”

“No” is a complete sentence.”
Anne Lamott

“I don’t want to!”

Humans are wired for social connection and it can be challenging for some of us to set boundaries and say no; especially if the other person really wants us to say yes (and maybe part of us wants to say yes). First, we must believe that we have value as a person even if we say “no.” Meaning, that you are absolutely still a good person and worthy of love and compassion even if you don’t extend yourself to the person asking that of you.

“Will you stop being my friend or loving me if I say no?”

By saying no and setting a limit you are treating yourself with respect. And, it is so important to treat yourself with respect on a regular basis. Our lives are finite and our moments are the most valuable things we have. We must spend them wisely and honestly. Please don’t waste the precious and fleeting moments of your life on people, places, and things that don’t mean everything to you (I understand you have to go to work).

“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

It is true, some people will not be happy if you set a boundary in the relationship (it feels like rejection to them, but it usually isn’t about them at all). A good friend will be understanding of your limits and boundaries even if they really want you around.  Please, don’t make the people in your world feel guilty for not doing what you want them to do. I don’t think we always make people feel guilty or bad on purpose, its just sometimes we really just want the person to do what we want them to do. But, if you are wielding guilt as a way of manipulating the person into doing what you want, that’s not okay.

If someone says, “I can’t make it.” They don’t owe you an explanation, and your relationship can still be fine. Naturally, if this is a pattern of behavior, maybe it is time to let the relationship go for awhile and sometimes, the relationship will come back around. People have a lot of stuff going on in their lives that does not include you and if you remember this, you will be more compassionate and understanding.

It is unhealthy to make other people’s lives easier/better/happier at the cost of your own. 

How do you manage your bad feelings when you want to say no/set a limit:

  1. Breathe (number one on almost all of my lists is breathe), it slows you down, calms you down, and reminds you that in this moment you are safe.
  2. Remember that saying no to them is saying yes to something else. If I say no to you, I am probably saying yes to a bubble bath, glass of wine, Netflix, a night alone with my partner, or to time with someone else. All of the above are important.
  3. Remind yourself that if you force yourself to do something you don’t want to do, you will probably be unhappy doing it (and build resentment towards the person). In that case, is it really fair to bring your grumpy self to a situation “just because you said you would“?
  4. If the person is making you feel guilty or bad for setting a limit, end the conversation. Please, do not go into anxious detail about how or why you are saying no. You don’t have to explain yourself.
  5. Breathe and sit through the anxiety around saying no (and stick to it because it is a form of self-respect) and do the thing you said yes to. It gets easier. You will realize that most people get over things (forget about it) pretty quickly because again, they have a lot going on in their own lives.
  6. If they stay mad at you for saying no (and hold it over your head), that tells you an awful lot about how much they respect you and the relationship.

“When enforcing our boundaries, first and foremost, we are caring for ourselves, but we are also helping others to have a clear understanding of what we consider acceptable behavior. We are reflecting back to them what is not acceptable and, therefore, providing them an opportunity to consider that information and make necessary changes. If we ignore the behavior or accept the behavior, not only are we undermining ourselves, but we are denying the other person an opportunity to learn about themselves and to grow, and ultimately, we deny them the opportunity for a healthy relationship with us.” -Psychotherapist Donna Wood in The Inspired Caregiver



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