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Setting Boundaries: Say Yes to Saying No

Have you ever said “yes” when you really wanted to say “no?” It’s exhausting! You’re a busy woman with many arms juggling lots of balls in the air – work, family, friends, PTA meetings, exercise, goals you want to achieve, and on and on. Which ball will get dropped? What will happen? Will you disappoint? When you effectively set boundaries and say “No” to some of the balls, you have room to say “Hell Yes” to what’s truly important to you without guilt, shame, or feeling selfish. I know because I’ve “been there, done that” until I was exhausted and diagnosed with fibromyalgia. There were several actions I took to recover, but a big one was being okay (saying yes) to saying "no." Let's see how to say "no" in a way that works.

What’s a Boundary Anyway

A boundary is not about erecting a wall between yourself and others or being a “cold-hearted bitch.” And it’s not always about saying no; sometimes you can say “yes” within limits (ex: “yes, I’ll do it until 4:30;” “Yes, I’ll do it, but which 'x' tasks would you like me to drop today?”)

A boundary is about taking care of yourself so you can be the “best you” for yourself and others. It’s a limit that you set in your relationships and then communicate it. It could be about time, money, privacy, behavior, or anything else that matters to you. And it’s about training others to respect you, depending on how you respect and treat yourself.

Top Reasons Women Struggle with Boundaries

Why do women particularly have so much trouble being okay with saying “yes” to saying “no?”

  1. Feeling Guilty – We’ve been programmed explicitly or implicitly to believe that our needs either don’t matter or are secondary to everyone else’s. Otherwise, we fear being viewed as “selfish.” These messages come from our parents, caregivers, educators, institutions, and the society within which we live.

  2. Buying into the “Good Girl Syndrome” – Society has told us this is what a good girl looks like – don't be too assertive and serve others first, regardless of how it affects us.

  3. Needing to be Perfect – We think we’ll be worthy of the love and approval we seek if we’re perfect at doing and being everything to everyone. If we’re in the corporate world, we may think we have to do things “better” to be on par with men. In the long run, how far does this strategy really get us?

  4. Believing the Myth of Superwoman – We may feel that no one can do it like we can, or it’s easier to just do it ourselves. The result is we take on too much without delegating or asking for help. This is related to perfectionism (and possibly a sense of misguided control). Or perhaps we don’t want to bother anyone so we're seen as the “good girl.”

  5. FOMO - Even if it’s something we really want to do, it doesn’t mean we have the time for it. Sometimes setting boundaries means saying “no” to ourselves so we have room for the “hell yes” of what’s truly important to us.

  6. Denying Self-Care Needs – We don’t make time to nurture ourselves. Instead, we say, “I need to ________ (work, take care of the kids, not make anyone upset, keep the status quo, etc.).” This diverts us from taking care of ourselves, but if we let go of our perfectionism, feelings of guilt, and inability to seek help, we can still nurture ourselves.

The “How-tos” of Saying No

Here are some effective ways to say no:

  1. Decide What Matters Most – I don’t mean getting that new house or car; I mean what’s most important to you in life. Some suggestions to identify this:

    1. Write a “What Matters Most” list - These are your “hell yeses.” Some questions to ask yourself: What makes your heart sing? What makes you come alive? What makes you feel balanced and well? (Examples: self-care, family, relationships, playtime, etc.)

    2. Prioritize the list - Some items are fixed, while others are moveable, depending on the priority for the day, week, stage of your life, and what needs to happen and what doesn’t. Flexibility is part of adapting to life, but consistency is still necessary for the integrity of your boundaries. You are in control of your “yeses” and “nos.” If you don’t protect what’s most important, then you can be pushed around.

    3. Keep the list with you - Perhaps put it in your pocketbook and take it out at intervals to remind yourself.

  2. Trust Your Gut - If your “yeses” don’t align with this list, trust your gut to guide you in keeping your boundaries by saying “no” so you can live your “hell yeses.” If you're feeling angry, resentful, depressed, frustrated, these may be signs that you are misaligned with your list.

  3. Communicate Your “Nos”

    1. Don’t be apologetic – You can briefly explain but don’t justify. Example, “Thanks for inviting me to your party, but I can’t make it.”

    2. Be polite, calm, and to-the-point – Say “no” to the request but not the person. It’s possible to empathize without feeling guilty or allowing yourself to be manipulated into saying “yes.” Remember that boundaries are important for healthy relationships.

    3. Provide solutions, when possible - “I can’t do it, but Harry has some free time.”

    4. Develop consequences for boundary violations - Be prepared for strong emotions from other people, especially in the beginning. Don’t threaten but be prepared to communicate consequences for boundary violations. Example: “If you keep screaming at me, I will need to hang up.”

Setting boundaries is not always easy, especially when you’re not used to making or maintaining them. Sometimes you need guidance to keep you on the right track. A trained coach can help tailor strategies to your situation. Schedule a complimentary call with me to see how we can work through it together for your physical health and emotional wellbeing.


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