Have you ever found yourself agreeing to do things you didn’t really want to do? Going to a party when you just wanted to stay home? Agreeing to a favor you don’t really have the capacity to handle? Eating something you didn’t want because you wanted to be polite?
I can relate.
One of my teachers recently told me how the single most important word for creating intimacy, authenticity, and aliveness in a relationship is NO.
When you can say “no,” It means that you are comfortable in a relationship enough to show up fully and say what you want to do and what you don’t want to do.
So why do we all struggle with saying “no” and setting boundaries? Here’s an exercise to work through the common struggle.
Grab a pen & paper, and think of a situation when you found it difficult to say “no.” Now, write down the reasons why you thought you had to agree to do something you didn’t want to do.
Most of us will have very similar reasons:
- We want to avoid confrontation.
- We’re on autopilot. (It’s more common than you would think–that’s why is so important to pause and think/feel into your body before making any decisions.)
- We fear we’ll being rejected or disliked by the other person if we say no.
- We feel a sense of obligation to the other person (a boss or parent, for example).
Now, have a look at what you did instead of saying “no.” Thinking of the same situation, write down how saying “yes” to something you really didn’t want to do made you feel. Did you feel resentful? Regretful? Did you just keep postponing what you agreed to do?
The most common things we do instead of saying “no” are:
- We say yes then end up not doing the thing anyway.
- We do it, then regret it.
- We grow resentful of the person who asked us.
- We may ultimately walk away from the situation/relationship, instead of communicating our needs.
- We may shrink and feel that our needs are unimportant, suppress and retreat,or quietly sulk and feel unseen.
- We may talk to everyone about it apart from the person, get angry with yourself and the other person.
- We may ruminate, becoming passive aggressive or gossipy.
How can we turn this around and why is it actually important to set boundaries?
Breneé Brown famously says that the most compassionate people are the best with boundaries.
Real compassion is all about giving openly and lovingly, with a full heart. When you give beyond what you are willing to give, you become resentful.
From now on, try to look at boundaries and saying “no” from a very different perspective.
Setting boundaries and saying “no” are kind because:
- It is kind to yourself as it prioritises your own needs–it cultivates a sense of personal agency.
- When you can show up with your “no” it means that your “yes” is always a yes; you are trustworthy, others can always trust your yes.
- It gives others the permission to say “no” as well.
- It signals to others they don’t need to take care of you, you can stand in your power.
- It builds authenticity and connections.
I know from personal experience that saying “no” is incredibly hard; agreeableness is one of the most common personality traits among women. We are not just socialised to agree to things, but also biologically wired – when living in tribes, women stayed behind while men were hunting. They were responsible to keep the community (and children) alive through collaboration and compromise.
However, when we learn to say “no,” we make conscious choices in each moment and avoid unwanted unconscious behaviour (such as resentment, passive aggression, shutting down). We also improve our communication with others and we deepen our relationships. It helps develop a more truthful and intimate way of relating.
I hope that this resonates with you. If you would like to find out more about healthy ways of setting boundaries, join us for our online workshop on 2nd November, and learn how to say “no” in a kind and loving way. Join our community to share your experiences and learn to be more empowered in your life.