Setting Boundaries: six steps for how to say no, with or without feeling guilty

Illustration by EH. Shepard for Rice Pudding from When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

Is it time to say NO (thank you)?

When you first begin to set boundaries with others you may feel guilty and hear a self-critical voice telling you that you’re selfish or mean. You will need to be willing to experience this and put it to the side in order to speak up for your needs and say No. It’s an old self talk tape, a way of being or primary self you will have learnt as you grew up.

1. Be in touch with your right to say no

Know you have this right, and know your true inner reason. For reasons of kindness, politeness or social convention, you may not tell the person your actual true reason, but it is the ground on which you will need to stand: your own truth. For example, if you just find them unpleasant to be around, look for a phrase that states what you prefer to be doing. The key thing here is that you realise your needs are valid, just as theirs are. Saying NO is a decision you make for yourself – a choice which says that your happiness, feelings and well-being matter. Phrase your reason as a simple, clear statement and stick to it. E.g. “… because I want to get on with …….” “because I want a break.”

2. Know your weak spot buttons

You may fear being rejected, or judged by the person as selfish (especially if you used to be a bit of a walkover). The person may use methods of persuasion, eg, flattery; really needing you; there‘s no-one else; guilting you; saying ‘please, you’ve never refused before!’ etc. These reveal your ‘weak spots‘ where you‘d usually, habitually, give in and say yes. So your job here is to centre yourself and state your version of “No, sorry, … I have decided not to … because… ” or “I won’t be going because I’ve other priorities.” “I’d like to help but I won’t be getting involved this time.” “No, thanks for the invitation though. I’ve decided….”

3. Don’t make excuses!! Excuses have no power

Excuses often don’t work and they typically leave us feeling disempowered and sneaky, not true to ourselves. You will also open up a whole new area of persuasion for the other person, for as they argue against your excuses you will keep having to come up with more and better inventions. You don’t need excuses – you need personal power. What has power is your respect for your own needs. Stay with your true reason. Your needs are valid (this is a recording…..). Generally people will need to hear a reason – that’s understandable – but whatever your reason is, what they will actually hear is the personal power you are owning as you speak. That is what they will find themselves responding to.

4. Use your own body language as your personal power reference point

Centred in your belly, still, with your spine firm from its base, equals empowered. Take a moment now to connect with that feeling of strength. It’s not tension, nor resistance of anything – just a calm, quiet, central core within you. If you find yourself moving around, looking away, leaning towards them, or feeling your eyes drawn into theirs (like a deer in a spotlight), it will generally mean that you have moved out of your power centre. When I notice myself doing this and then re-centre again, it feels like I am ‘calling myself home.’ When you move out of your power your eyes, strangely, will get drawn into their reality and their ‘story’, especially if they press one of your weak spot buttons. If this happens you will instantly feel that you are somehow responsible for solving their problem for them. It’s fascinating to watch how this energy stuff happens between yourself and another, especially if you somehow perceive them or their needs as more important than you, or yourself as ‘less than.’

5. Yield (as in Tai Chi)

Yield?? Yes, but in this way: instead of arguing with them and justifying yourself, you agree with their case, then say NO again, e.g. “Yes, it may mean more work for the others and – I’ve decided I won’t go because I want this time to myself.” or “Yes, it probably would be fun – and I’ve decided not to do it as I have something else I want to do” (or whatever your true reason is). The “Yes” means you are not caught up in having to fight against them. All their reasons are perfectly valid for them – but it just hasn’t got anything to do with what you are needing for yourself right now. How about that! If you try this, you will notice that it actually becomes really easy to say NO, kindly, understandingly, but very clearly.

6. Stay self aware

Notice the parts of you that want to say Yes, then centre again and get back to your truth. This takes practice, so it helps to start with easier situations and build up to the trickier ones. Rejection or criticism is often our biggest fear, but people often find that when they begin to create clear boundaries, they actually get more respect, not less. It’s very good for one’s self esteem, and it is SO worth ‘feeling the fear (or guilt) and doing it anyway’ – to paraphrase the title of a book by Susan Jeffers. It is also one of the quickest ways to increase your personal power and self worth. And it’s free!!

Summing up how to create boundaries

Be kind, yet clear. You now know that their activity is part of their life, but does not belong to you*. From a calm centre, you are honouring your needs and yourself. You may want to make helpful suggestions to the person for other solutions or options, but let the other person be responsible for their request and their situation. For you rescuers out there, it’s about empowering the other, without rescuing them. Of course, say Yes if new factors or options come up that make it really ok for you to do it, and if it is your Yes – not guilt, fear of rejection, feeling responsible for others etc.

* The wonderful, simple and powerful phrase “it doesn’t belong to me” came from Dr Hal Stone, now in his 80s, as he realised that his priorities were changing as he got older and that activities he used to do with others still ‘belonged to them’, but not to him anymore. He had other wants and needs to attend to.

 Copyright Kris Hines 2014