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The Power of Saying 'No'

When we say "yes" to everything and do not set boundaries with people, we often feel stressed, overwhelmed, and burned out. Most of us want to be well liked and to please other people. It can be difficult to turn down opportunities or requests that others have made of us.
06/03/2016 06:42pm ET | Updated June 4, 2017
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For many people, it can be difficult to know how to set boundaries or say "no" to others. This can be especially challenging for those who self-identify as people-pleasers. There are tons of articles, books, and talks on the power of "yes." Of course, there are many times when saying "yes" is a great thing! But learning how to set boundaries and how to say "no" is the key to sustaining a healthy relationship with yourself and others.

When we say "yes" to everything and do not set boundaries with people, we often feel stressed, overwhelmed, and burned out. Most of us want to be well liked and to please other people. It can be difficult to turn down opportunities or requests that others have made of us. It may also be challenging to set limits with difficult people. The following are three tips for learning how to set healthy boundaries.

1. Practice tuning in to your inner sense of "yes" and "no."

The first step in learning how to set boundaries is to try to uncover what your personal limits and guidelines are. I recently watched a brilliant TEDx talk by Sarri Gilman, MA, MFT, a psychotherapist and author of Transform Your Boundaries, who explains that we can think of our boundaries through the metaphor of an inner compass. Gilman, says that this compass has two words written in it, "yes" and "no."

We all have an inner sense of wisdom, which intuitively tells us when something is a "yes" or a "no." The problem arises when we ignore or argue with that inner voice. If you are not used to tuning into your intuition, it is important to practice paying attention to how you are feeling in the moment. Using tools such as, meditation and mindfulness is one way to practice paying attention to your thoughts and feelings in the moment.

2. Learn how to tolerate the reactions of others.

Gilman says, "When you listen to your own "yes" and "no," other people are going to get angry or they may get disappointed. Boundary setting will unleash emotions." The reality is that when you set boundaries with people, they may not always have a pleasant reaction. However, you still can work to firmly maintain the boundaries that you have set.

Setting boundaries with people can actually help to improve your relationships in the long run. If you do not respect your personal boundaries (perhaps in fear of someone else's reaction), this is likely to lead to bitterness and resentment over time. The people who you want to surround yourself with are those who will respect your boundaries, even if initially they feel upset or disappointed.

2. Engage in acts of compassionate self-care.

You may have heard the popular saying, "you can't pour from an empty cup." If you want to be giving and compassionate towards others, it is critical that you apply the same compassion towards yourself.

Set aside some weekly time for acts of self-care, which can help you to relax, recharged, and to connect with yourself. We all have different things that feel relaxing and pleasurable for us, so pick what works best for you. Some ideas for self-care include, cooking yourself a good meal, taking a bubble bath, lighting candles, reading a book just for fun, taking a walk, doing a yoga class, getting a manicure, or spending time with your pets. If need be, you can even put it in your planner, as a way to hold yourself accountable.

Ultimately, you deserve to treat yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you give to others.

The Importance of Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries can be difficult, but is such an important part of having healthy relationships and an overall sense of well being. It's helpful to remember that when you say "no" to things, it frees up your time to focus on the pursuits that truly energize and excite you. Having good boundaries also enables you to experience less stress and to follow your life's passion and purpose.

I had a conversation with Gilman, where I asked her why she chose to dedicate her career to helping people transform their boundaries. Gilman explained that in her work as a psychotherapist she recognized that boundaries really were at the core of so many relational challenges and conflicts. Helping people learn how to set healthy boundaries is her life's passion. After all, as her TEDx talk is aptly named, "Good boundaries free you."

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a mental health therapist, intuitive eating counselor, and blogger on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She specializes in treating adolescents, survivors of trauma, and individuals with eating disorders and mood disorders. "Like" Jennifer on Facebook at Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW. Or check out her website at www.jenniferrollin.com