What's "NO" got to do with it?
Boundaries. Such a small word for such a large task. I often wonder why there wasn’t a class in school or
a manual handed out? In a world that urges us to say “yes”, “no” has become a four-letter word. When
did boundaries become passe’ instead of necessary?
Boundaries teach people how they are allowed to treat us and how they are not. They are about
protecting our space, energy and person. Sometimes they are hard to set. Have you ever said yes to a favor and
then think later, “Why did I do that?” Enter that gut feeling, that lets you know your boundaries were
So, here is a tip: when someone asks you for something next time, instead of immediately
saying yes, allow yourself time to think about what you want and what works for you. Tell them, “I’ll
think about it and let you know if that’s feasible.” Don’t allow the pressure of an immediate answer to
coerce you into to giving more than you are able. I often hear people say, “But, it’s mean!" Here is another way to look at it - when you say no, it also gives the other people in your life permission to say no too. Saying “no” can make “yes” more meaningful.
So, here is the manual we never got in the hopes that boundaries become easier to navigate.
Step 1: Know what your boundaries are and listen to your gut. Take some time to figure out how you want other people to speak to you, interact with you emotionally and even touch you. Think about how much time you have
available to give to others and how much energy you need for yourself. Pay attention to what your body
is telling you. If your gut says no, listen to it.
Step 2: Communicate your boundaries. Try to educate the people in your life about what actually works
for you. This can save you from awkward conversation later because, essentially, they already know
what you are going to say.
Step 3: Give yourself permission. Sometimes people need to be reminded of our boundaries but this
shouldn’t happen more than once. If it does, there is manipulation at play. A person that respects your
boundaries is not going to ask why you have them. And you don’t need to explain. Read that again.
Boundaries need no explanation. If you find yourself justifying why you have said “no”, stop. And “no”
doesn’t require an apology either. Save the apologies for when you have actually done something
Step 4: Enforce them. This is the hard part. If you have set a boundary, you have drawn an invisible line
in the sand and people need to know what happens if they cross it and you have to follow through. This
is a good time to let your behaviors speak for you. End conversations that are unhealthy. Walk away
from toxic situations. Put your energy into the things and the people that respect your limits.
And remember, boundaries, are the best form of self-care available to us. They are a proactive way to
prevent later crisis or misunderstandings. Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships and don’t
let anyone tell you otherwise.
Shanna Dickens is licensed clinical social worker in Wilmington, NC. Shanna has been a therapist for over 12 years specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults who experience trauma, anxiety, depression, chronic pain and secondary trauma in helping professionals.
The Therapist Blog
Musings from the other side of the couch