Have you ever agreed to do a favour for a friend when you didn’t really have the time to spare? Have you gotten involved in a loved one’s emotional crisis when you barely had enough energy to handle your own life’s challenges? Do you say “yes” to things and then wonder how you’re going to do them, sacrificing your own happiness to help others achieve theirs?
If so, you know from experience why healthy boundaries are important. You are probably also well aware of how difficult they are to create and maintain. Many books and articles have been written about boundaries.There is a lot I could say. But I want to focus on the first, crucial step: learning to say “no”.
The Power of Saying “No” for Your Wellbeing
Why Is Saying No So Hard?
Many of us haven’t learned how to set the boundaries we need to protect ourselves from intruders and burnout. Our own boundaries were often crossed when we were children, with our parents and teachers telling us, “It’ll be good for you,” or, “Don’t make a fuss.” As a result, it can become hard to find them in our adult life.
As adults, we become the “polite ones” that just want to keep everyone happy. We say “yes” to things that we would rather not, continually pushing down our objections in order to keep others happy or do what we think is expected of us.
Parents can also struggle to say “no” to their children. Many of us grew up with very strict parents or felt that our boundaries weren’t respected as kids. We might feel like we have to be extra understanding and supportive of our children because of that. But sometimes we take it too far, and it can start to feel like our kids are running the show, while we toil away backstage.
Healthy Boundaries Are a Healthy Habit
What Happens When We Can’t Say No?
If our boundaries are not set properly, we can’t let those around us know what’s appropriate for us and what’s not. If you are always saying yes, people will assume it is fine for them to ask, and expect that you will acquiesce. And you probably will, whether you feel up to it or not.
What happens if we keep repeating this pattern over and over? We become resentful and frustrated on the inside, while still trying to be sweet and accommodating on the outside. But under that sweet exterior, a storm is brewing, and it is only a matter of time until we can’t take it anymore.
What happens next usually isn’t pretty: we completely overreact because we are angry that everyone is walking all over us. That’s when we have to figure out how to find a healthy balance between what we want and what others want: by setting boundaries, and learning to say “no”!
The Power of “No”
Many of us have trouble saying “no” because we think we will upset someone. But if you set clear rules for those around you about how you wish to be treated, and what is acceptable to ask of you, something surprising happens: people will take you more seriously.
When you say “no”, and stick with it, you demonstrate how you expect to be treated, and others will take your lead. The more you make your boundaries clear by saying “no”, the less often people will cross those boundaries.
Learn to Say “No”
It doesn’t matter if it’s your partner, family, friends or a colleague at work—relationships need boundaries in order to flourish. But setting them takes practice, just like riding a bike. It can be challenging to introduce new behavioural patterns, especially if those around you aren’t expecting it. They might prefer the boundary-less version of you, because it’s just so much easier to get along with someone who says “yes” all the time.
Be persistent and keep practicing your “no” — maybe even in front of a mirror. Try writing it down in a notebook when you make a decision about something, and plan out how you will communicate it with others. Be prepared, be strong, and keep going down the path of healthy boundaries. You deserve them!
Have you struggled to set healthy boundaries, or found a way to say “no” effectively? We invite you to share your experiences and ideas on the forum.