For some of us being able to say “no”, turning down offers, and choosing to disengage is incredibly difficult. To do so comes with guilt, anxiety, and even shame. And so we just keep saying “yes”, we just keep stretching ourselves too thin. All to avoid those unpleasant feelings and inner stories that come with saying “no”.
For some of us saying “no” is easy, it’s knowing when to say “yes” that’s hard. Some of us know very well how to set boundaries and we do it with full confidence and assurance. There’s no equivocating over whether or not to say “no”, in fact “no” is our default.
I confess I am someone who has had a hard time setting boundaries, being able to say “no”. So I certainly know that dynamic from the inside out. And I’ve worked with several clients who are automatic boundary setters, who for them “no” is the default. Both of these dynamics that I’ve described above are unhealthy. When I don’t say “no” when I really need to, then I end up overstretched & overtaxed, and that takes a toll on my mental, emotional, physical, and relational health. And I can see that for people who “no” is the default they tend to experience more isolation, have more enemies, and have more conflicts.
So what can I say in less than 500 words to help you if you’re in either of these camps?
Pay attention to your needs.
Let me start with those of you who have a hard time saying “no”. I know when I said “pay attention to your needs” that probably just set off all your inner stories of “being selfish”, “being overly needy”, and “but helping others is more important!” You have learnt that to focus on your deepest needs is “selfish” and “wrong” from how you were raised, maybe because your family confused “wants” and “needs”, and maybe because when you were younger in your family it was actually not safe for you to express or assert your needs. Maybe when you were younger in your family there were other family members or life circumstances which were so extreme, were such a crisis, that there just wasn’t room for your needs. None of that was healthy, and none of that means that you’re selfish for taking care of your needs.
You deserve to have your deepest needs met. You deserve to have rest, peace, your own time, and your own space. And if you can actually pay attention to your deepest needs they will show you where you need to say “no”. So try this, each day identify moments where you said “yes” and that was emotionally taxing for you. Yes, even the smallest moments where this happened. And then open that link above and note what needs of yours saying “yes” didn’t meet. Do that for a few weeks and you’ll see dramatic changes in your ability to set boundaries.
Now for those of you who automatically set boundaries. My advice to “pay attention to your needs” may seem very counter-intuitive. And it is. From the outside it looks like that’s all you do is pay attention to your needs. But actually you’re also operating from your own mental stories. You have learnt to be overly protective of your space and self because maybe when you were younger there wasn’t enough attention given to your needs, or your family modeled overly strong boundaries even with you, or maybe there was something that happened that really hurt you and you are still reacting against that.
And so folks who have overly strong boundaries, I advise you to pay attention to all your needs. Not just your needs for security, space, and freedom, but also your needs for connection, participation, closeness, and intimacy. If you pay attention each day, do you notice times when your “no” leaves you lacking connection, closeness, and intimacy? If so just begin to notice that, and if you keep noticing it each day for a few weeks you’ll also see dramatic changes in your ability to say “yes”.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.