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  • Tracy Douthwaite

Managing your Boundaries The art of saying No

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Saying No is an area of our lives that can cause stress and anxiety. It can feel selfish but healthy boundaries enable others to appreciate us in a new light and empower us to have space for the areas of our life that give us meaning and purpose.

How often have you thought next time I’m going to say NO, only to find yourself agreeing to that extra work project, or that visit to relatives on your day off! We can often feel a sense of guilt or feel that people will think less of us if we don’t say yes, but this can lead to stress and lack of self-care. Saying yes to everything will deplete us mentally and physically. It is also impossible so you do things half-heartedly and not give them your full attention, people sense that you give a half version of yourself. Saying no is a loving authentic response for yourself. We can spend too much time worrying about what people think of us leading us to say yes from a place of fear. So how do we start to change this dynamic? We need to begin by valuing ourselves and our needs, deciding what is important to us, and standing by these values. Respond rather than react Before any conversation, we want to move from reacting to responding. Reacting is automatic and doesn't allow us time to process our thoughts and feelings. You can practice this by taking a breathe before answering, landing into your body by dropping your shoulders and connecting to the floor or the chair will give you a moment to notice how you are feeling and this will inform your response. Practise saying No Use a mirror to help support you with this. Pick an event or a request you have to respond too, and practise talking to the person concerned, think about the words you will use, how they may respond. Notice your body language and tone of voice, the more you practise the more comfortable this will feel. You may want to write down some ideas of what you may say, try out different approaches. Ways to say No We will all use different ways and our own language to say no, below are a few different ideas to help you plan your best responses.

  • ‘ No’ as a complete sentence: “No, thank you” or “No, thank you. I won’t be able to.” (Say it, don’t apologise, probably the most difficult to do initially)

  • Vague but firm: “Thank you for asking me, but that is not going to work for me.”

  • Referral/Delegation: “I won’t be able to, but why don’t you ask Joe? I bet he’ll be able to.”

  • Last Minute Boundary: “I can’t add anything onto my calendar this month, but the next time you’re planning to go _____, let me know as soon as you can because I would love to go with you.”

  • It’s Not Personal: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I am not doing any extra tasks this month while I am focusing on starting my new course”

  • Showing Gratitude: I’m so touched that you thought of me and I really appreciate your enthusiasm and support. I’m sorry I won’t be able to help out at this time.”

  • It’s Not Whether, But When: “I would like to, but I am unavailable until September. Could you ask me again closer to that time?” or “None of those dates work for me, but I would love to see you. Send me some more dates.”

  • Gracious: “I truly appreciate your asking, but my time is already committed.”

  • Word of Mouth Is the Best Recommendation: “I won’t be able to, but let me recommend someone to you who would be able to help you.”

  • Someone Else Asked First/Family: “I already told my partner/friend/coach/etc. that I would not be taking on more at this time. I am working to create a more balanced life.” or “That is the day of my son’s football match, and I never miss those.”

  • Know Yourself: “No. But here is what I can do….” (Then limit the commitment to what works for you.)

  • Time To Assess: “Let me think about it and I will get back to you.”

  • Give Others a Chance: “You know, I feel like I'm always organising family get together's. Let’s ask....... this time, they may have some better ideas.”

Learn how to deal with others' reactions If you have always been the go-to person at work or home when you start to change your boundaries so they work for you others may be unhappy with the change. Accept this may happen, you can still work to firmly maintain the boundaries that you have set. You can actually improve your relationships in the long run. If you do not respect your personal boundaries (perhaps in fear of someone else’s reaction), it is likely to lead to bitterness and resentment over time. The people you want to surround yourself with are those who will respect your boundaries, even if they initially feel upset or disappointed. You cannot pour from an empty cup Making these changes can be challenging but remember you deserve the same kindness and compassion that you give to others. Set aside some weekly time for acts of self-care and self-compassion and maybe enlist a trusted friend to support you through the changes.


Practise saying No, value yourself, accept not everyone will like the change, but this is your life and you deserve to priortitise your needs as well.


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