“No” is a Complete Sentence
Over the past decade of working in private practice with a caseload consisting predominately of women, I have recognized a clear pattern of women who are experiencing depression and anxiety, burnout and resentment, interpersonal problems and physical exhaustion in great part due to their difficulties saying no and setting healthy boundaries. Learning how to set healthy boundaries can be life-changing and possibly even life-saving. Patients have said to me, “I feel so guilty saying no” and “I don’t want to seem like a bitch.” Changing one’s perspective about setting boundaries is a necessary start to becoming a more assertive person. Setting boundaries is an important component of self-care. Self-care is not just what you do (massages, exercise, therapy); it is also what you don’t do. Saying no and setting boundaries is one of the most healthy versions of self-care there is! Having stronger, more consistent boundaries will actually lead to increased productivity and increased inner peace.
A lightbulb moment for me, personally, was when I realized that by saying “yes” to one thing, I was saying “no” to something else. By saying yes to that extra, optional project at work, you are saying no to time with family or to more sleep or to time to finish that book you’ve been wanting to complete for weeks. There are only 24 hours in a day, how do you want to spend them?
Let me be honest here. You aren’t going to become a boundary-setting expert right away. Learning to become more assertive is like learning a new language, it takes practice. But with practice, you’ll become more comfortable with the language of assertiveness. It will become more natural, less effortful, less guilt-producing. You’ll start to realize that you feel less resentful towards people, less exhausted physically and emotionally. Many of my patients have reported that as they became more comfortable and proficient with setting limits, they felt less anxious and depressed. Their loved ones commented that they were more pleasant to be around.
So, given all those benefits, how does one become more assertive?
- Don’t lie. There is no need to diminish your integrity in order to set a limit.
- Don’t over-explain. Again, no need.
- Don’t apologize and definitely don’t over apologize. You didn’t do anything wrong by prioritizing your needs.
- Don’t commit to something else that is equally as stressful.
- Decline and offer a less taxing option. “No, I am not able to bake cookies for the PTA meeting, but I can pick some up from the grocery store.”
- Decline with a brief explanation. “Thanks for asking, but I won’t be able to participate. I am working a lot of hours this week and won’t have the time.”
- Become a broken record. People have become accustomed to you being available to them. When you start setting limits, some people may push back. Stick to your guns. “I’m busy this week. I can’t help with the Christmas party.” “Oh come on! Just make some sandwiches.” “Again, I can’t.” “Please…just drinks then. Bring the sodas!” “No, I am not available.”
- Ask for time to think about it.
- Know that it is perfectly ok to rescind your offer if or when you realize it’s too stressful for you. You’re allowed to change your mind.
- Just say no. “No” is a complete sentence.
And finally, from the perspective of a psychologist – if difficulties setting boundaries is a chronic problem in your life, if you recognize a detrimental impact of your people pleasing behaviors, I strongly encourage you to explore this with a psychologist. Did you learn that women are helpers at any cost? Are you conflict avoidant? Perhaps you are afraid of disappointing others. Sometimes understanding why you behave in the way that you do makes it easier to change the behavior.
Author: Dr. Beverly Pedroche