How to Say No: Actual Phrases for Better Boundaries – Part 1

Some people seem blessed with the ability to simply say “no.” But there are those of us who struggle with boundaries. For us, it can feel like we aren’t allowed to say no or don’t deserve to do so. It can feel like we need to be armed with bulletproof excuses. We might feel obligated to cater to other people’s feelings at the expense of our own.

Re-framing this mindset about boundaries is life-changing. On the downside, you’ll learn that you might’ve actually been hurting both yourself and others by lacking boundaries. On the upside, once you start practicing these phrases, you’ll discover that saying “no” to one thing is actually saying “yes” to something else, whether that is yes to more free time, yes to healthy solitude, yes to an activity you actually want to do, or simply yes to exercising your autonomy.

Before I started practicing these phrases, I did whatever people wanted — to the point where I was no longer in touch with what I actually wanted. I only recognized my misery once I was deeply entrenched. I said yes to extra work tasks I didn’t need to, yes to social events that drained me, and yes to dates that weren’t right for me.

Here’s what I learned: I would eventually back out of things anyway, but because I had previously said yes, I made it a lot harder on everyone involved. So, instead of saying no to begin with, I found myself having to painstakingly resign from job after job I should never have taken, awkwardly leave parties I should never have taken up couch-space at, and heart-wrenchingly push away dates I should never have led on.

No one likes a martyr

Guilt, shame, socialization, and fear of repercussions can make it hard to rebel against providing the response we assume people want. And sometimes we just don’t want to let people down!

This sounds nice on the surface, but below this façade (sometimes even unbeknownst to our conscious selves) can lurk resentment. No one likes a martyr. It’s not actually kind or noble to say yes when you secretly resent it. I would feel awful if fear or self-sacrifice was the only reason someone was saying yes to me. Please, trust me enough to be real with me! The people who care for you don’t want you to say yes when what’s best for you is to decline. In fact, there are hidden benefits of saying no, explored in the “Why” sections below.

A panic-yes is cowardly, not kind

Whether it’s an invitation to a dreadful event, a committee, a date, or anything else you aren’t so sure you want to spend your finite, precious time on, you can practice these phrases to say in the moment so you don’t give a “panic-yes.” You can also bookmark and come back to this page for the explanations of not only why you are justified in setting these boundaries, but also how it’s the kinder, clearer, and overall more socially good thing to do.


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