Last week in our boundaries series, we discussed how to set boundaries with others. Let’s explore this a little further with one of the hardest parts about establishing boundaries: Saying No!

Developing the ability to say ‘No’ can empower your life, save you time and mental energy, and help you accomplish your goals. 

Have you ever gotten to the end of your day and thought, ​What did I even accomplish today?

  • You helped a co-worker complete a project.
  • You listened to your friend process a problem.
  • You ran to the store to grab something your child needed for school tomorrow.

You did accomplish a lot, but it wasn’t what YOU needed to get done. You came through for others while your own to-do list just kept getting longer.

So how can this change? ➡️ The key is to learn to say ​NO to others​ so you can say ​YES to you​.

What keeps people from saying No? I can think of three common roadblocks:

  • Feeling guilty
  • Feeling inferior – believing others are more important than you
  • Being afraid of offending others (We’ll touch on this one in Part 4)

Feeling Guilty

Guilt says you have done something wrong. I encourage you to question the guilt. Are you really doing something wrong by spending your time and energy on what you need to get done? If the situation were reversed, would you want someone to help you out of guilt? Would you want them to neglect their life in order to help you? Probably not.

When someone tells you no, how do you feel? You may be disappointed, but can you survive that disappointment? Yes, you can. And so can others. So if you say yes to everyone, are you protecting them from all disappointment in their life? No. That is impossible. We all disappoint each other. Don’t let guilt drive your life.

Feeling Inferior

Most of us wouldn’t say that other people are more important, but the message is clear in our actions: ​I believe others are more important than me.

I know what some readers are thinking: ​Isn’t it selfish to put myself first?

I’m not suggesting you say no to others EVERY time, or that you are much more important than everyone else. I am suggesting a balance between yes and no. I’m saying ​you are EQUALLY as important as others!

Allowing yourself to matter is healthy. ​When we always say yes to others, we are actually in an unhealthy place.​ Being healthy means you can consider what your goals are before you say yes to others, and ​trust that you are not the only person who can meet others’ needs. I often remind myself, “I’m not all they’ve got.”

I have mentioned before that most of my therapy clients are Christian women. When we talk about setting boundaries people often respond with, “But aren’t we suppose to be lay our lives down for others?” Yes, AND we see great examples of boundary setting in the Bible. There are MANY times when people surrounded Jesus asking for healing; He healed some people but also left the crowd to pray. 

Luke 5:15-16 – “But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray.” 
Also in Luke 10:38-42 we see Mary sitting at the foot of Jesus to learn from Him. This is an example of Mary setting her own implied boundary. Even though Martha was working around the house she chose to do something different.

This takes practice. I know this is a hard concept for many people, and it takes practice. Find a friend who is safe, and tell them you’re practicing saying no. Then do it, and see what happens. Tolerate how it feels – maybe challenging!, to say No, and compare that feeling to when you accomplish your priorities.

This week, look for opportunities to practice a more empowered life, and enjoy the outcome!

~ Donna Durham, MMFT

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash