Some people appear to be endowed with the ability to just refuse anything. But some of us have trouble setting boundaries. We may feel as though we aren’t entitled to or aren’t allowed to say no. Sometimes it seems like we need to have strong justifications on hand. It’s possible that we feel compelled to put other people’s feelings ahead of our own.
Life-changing is a new way of thinking about boundaries. On the negative side, you’ll discover that your lack of limits may have actually caused harm to both you and others. On the plus side, once you begin using these words, you’ll realize that saying “no” to one thing actually means saying “yes” to another—whether that other thing is having more free time, enjoying some healthy isolation, engaging in an activity you truly enjoy, or simply asserting your independence.
I did whatever people requested before I started using these expressions, to the point where I lost touch with what I truly desired. I didn’t really understand my anguish until I was already there. I agreed to extra work assignments that I didn’t need to complete, social gatherings that left me exhausted, and dates that weren’t suitable for me.
I discovered that although I would eventually back out of things, doing so would be far more difficult for everyone concerned because I had previously said yes. Consequently, I found myself having to slowly quit job after job I should never have accepted, awkwardly leave parties I should never have taken up sofa space at, and heartbreakingly reject dates I should never have led on instead of simply saying no to begin with.
People dislike martyrs.
It might be challenging to rebel against giving the answer we feel people want because of guilt, shame, socialization, and fear of consequences. And on sometimes, we simply don’t want to disappoint folks!
On the surface, this seems good, yet resentment may be hidden beneath this niceness (sometimes even without our conscious awareness). People dislike martyrs. Saying yes when you secretly hate it is neither kind nor honorable. If someone simply said yes to me out of fear or selflessness, I would feel dreadful. Please be honest with me and give me your whole trust! When it would be in your best interest to decline, those who care about you want you to do so. In reality, as discussed in the “Why” sections below, there are unspoken advantages to saying no.
A panicked yes is unkind and cowardly.
You can practice saying these words so you won’t say “yes-in-panic” when faced with an invitation to a terrible event, a committee, a date, or anything else you aren’t so sure you want to spend your limited, precious time on. You can also save and return to this page for the justifications for why creating these boundaries is not only appropriate, but also the kinder, clearer, and more socially responsible thing to do.
Words to Help You Establish Boundaries
Maybe say, “Let me get back to you,” when you have a thought.
Why: You can make the claim that you’re going to check your calendar, and as a bonus, you can do so! In the end, though, you are not committing and then pulling out; rather, you are allowing yourself time to consider whether you really want to do anything. I’ve let folks down by bailing off far too often in my life. I used to think it was “nicer” to say yes to everything, but as the event drew nearer, I would scramble for any plausible justification to escape, attempting to maintain my appearance of being “kind” and “willing” while inadvertently unable.
Trusting that the person asking can manage your response, that they want an open discussion, and that they have your best interests in mind is really more kind. When I give myself time to ponder before making a decision, my life is lot easier. I can then respond with a genuine yes or no. This strategy is based on the idea that the inviter and the invitee are on an equal footing, and that both parties’ sentiments and time are valuable. The best way to respect another person’s sentiments is to believe they want and can handle honesty rather than denying your own feelings, being patronizing, or pretending you desire something you don’t. The best way to respect someone else’s time is to communicate your requirements and boundaries so they may make other plans rather than by giving up your own time and acting like a pushover. I’ve had friends complain, “If you had just said no earlier, I could have invited someone else,” after I gave a wishy-washy yes that I later had to cancel.
Remember to reply to them promptly if you use the words “Let me get back to you”!
Whenever you feel: no
Say, “I’ve got enough on my plate already.
Why: It is all-inclusive and doesn’t rely on particular justifications. It’s a valid remark that your emotional capacity is more important than your schedule.
Any time you make a particular justification, you open yourself up to countless modified alternatives. Instead of taking a firm stance on your limitations, you are framing it as a problem to be solved. “Oh, Wednesday is dog-shampooing day? Next, we’ll work on Thursday. Oh, you want to get sick on Thursday? Then it’s Friday! Anytime you rely on the crutch of being unavailable, you leave the door open for the appointment to be rescheduled, which forces you to either make up new excuses, which will start to look shady, or to admit that you simply didn’t want to all along.
The more time you allow people to make alternate plans, the sooner you can say “no” with confidence. Allow them to do so!
When you tell yourself: “Not now, never”
Say, “Thanks for inviting me, but it’s not my thing.”
Why: Being able to gracefully excuse yourself from wasting your time while expressing when something isn’t your style might be helpful. You are demonstrating to others who you are, what you enjoy, and what new things you are and aren’t open to trying. You are establishing your limits and demonstrating how you want to be treated. They may believe that when you say yes, it’s because you really want to if they know you are honest and willing to say no when necessary. Additionally, it enables them to invite a different person—one who could be a better fit—in your place. It doesn’t hurt to express your decline with thanks for the consideration, inclusion, or invitation. It’s also acceptable to say, “I’m not going to make it, but thanks for thinking of me.” Avoid going into too much detail on why. I’ve been surprised by how frequently this brief statement suffices. Bonus: Offer an option if you truly wish to do anything else. However, avoid doing it out of duty. Would you want someone to do things for you out of obligation if the roles were reversed?
Say “…………..” when you feel like: “absolutely-Not-Please-Stop-Contacting-Me.”
That’s correct, complete silence.
Why: Although this strategy would be impolite in most situations, it works wonders. Therefore, it is our secret weapon that is only used against those who have disregarded all previous responses.
One of the ideal situations in which to use this strategy is in opposition to a persistent ex who continually attempting to reenter your life. To this individual, no matter how many times you repeat it, they simply won’t listen. You may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve told them a million times I don’t want to converse.” And that’s the issue; you’ve answered them a gazillion times. If you are saying anything at all, you are still engaging, regardless of how gorgeous or great your boundary assertion is. The answer at this point is less talking rather than more talking. The best response is always a response.
There is no intention to ghost a perfectly wonderful person, to be clear. The optimum time to apply this strategy is after you’ve tried expressing no and the other person has disregarded that.
Making jerks uncomfortable is good
Regarding sexual harassment
Say, “No.” “That’s not right,” “Go away from me.”
Why: Many of us have been raised to be courteous and accommodating, especially women. We may have this ingrained in us so firmly that we uphold politeness even when doing so puts us in peril. Instead of listening to our instincts, we look for the appropriate social cues—anything that will make the other person feel at ease.
This serves as a reminder that if someone is acting inappropriately, it is both acceptable and beneficial to make them feel uncomfortable. It’s acceptable for me to respond, “That’s unacceptable,” if a client remarks crudely about my appearance while I’m at work because it might deter them from saying the same thing to someone else.
If you are concerned that speaking up for yourself would make you uncomfortable, take a minute to acknowledge that you are already uncomfortable in this circumstance. Why not then? You’ve already felt uncomfortable because of someone making offensive remarks, harassing you sexually, or pressing you to interact with them. Why are you working so hard to avoid upsetting them? No more pretending to be grateful while secretly grumbling inside. Stop grinning while you’re dying within. In this instance, asserting your authority, setting boundaries, and perhaps even setting an example for others calls for aggressive action instead of elegantly declining.
Of course, navigating this area can be challenging. As a self-defense mechanism, it can be instinctive to be courteous to creeps in some situations because an outright rejection of a man might result in a violent reaction. Numerous women have written on this, and I will delve deeper into it in upcoming pieces. Consider the empowerment of just telling someone “no” and letting them experience the discomfort they have caused for themselves by choosing to act improperly in the first place, though, if you feel it’s physically safe to do so.
For the Wizard of Absolute Boundaries
the moment you say “no thanks”
“No, thanks,” you say.
Why: It sort of blends all of the aforementioned. Save this one for later. The only thing you owe the other party is that it clearly communicates your response.
After all, the only thing you owe is to communicate your response clearly; you don’t even owe the person asking a “yes” response. “No, thanks” also expresses appreciation and civility without coming off as phony or martyrdom. It establishes your limitations. Your hobbies and disinterests, which are acceptable to have, are expressed. It teaches others how to interact with you and what to anticipate from you. It’s a prompt response that kindly enables individuals to change their plans or extend an invitation.
It also demonstrates your mutual trust that your friends and acquaintances will respect your boundaries and act like adults. They can also believe that your “Hell yeah” is genuine if you say “no, thanks.”
After Boundaries, My Life
I was pleasantly pleased by people’s reactions after using these phrases in addition to finding peace of mind:
“This project choice isn’t for me, but I’m enthusiastic to do this alternative,” I said to my employer. I honestly feel the same way, she retorted. And I’m so happy that you’re looking forward to the alternative!
This dance class isn’t exactly my style, but thanks for including me, I said to a buddy. I’m so glad you said anything, she retorted. I felt horrible for pushing it on you because I knew it probably wasn’t a good fit for you. I’m so happy you felt at ease telling me! We can very certainly get coffee instead.
It was lovely getting to know you, and I think you’re a cool person, but I don’t think we’re compatible, I said to a date. Okay,” was his response. I’m disappointed, but I accept it and value your candor.
And what about the dates who obstinately disregarded my “no, thanks”? Well, the only thing I could say to them to quit harassing me was this:
“. . . . . . . . . . . .”