Why Can’t We Just Say ‘No’? 6 Ways to Form Healthy Boundaries

Are you a person who can’t say “no”? Sometimes, we overextend ourselves because we hate to disappoint. This leaves us fe

Are you a person who can’t say “no”? Sometimes, we overextend ourselves because we hate to disappoint. This leaves us feeling emotionally drained and exhausted — you can’t pour from an empty cup!

In fact, most women admit they have a hard time turning people down. Here, discover guilt-free ways to form healthy boundaries and improve relationships.

Learn to better express yourself.

We’re not used to thinking about what we’re feeling, but doing just that is a necessary first step, says psychotherapist and co-dependency expert Sharon Martin.

“When people have trouble saying no, they often find it hard to pinpoint exactly how it makes them feel,” she says. “I’ll often ask clients to look up a list of ‘feeling words’ on the internet to help them get more specific, because there’s a difference between being, say, angry versus resentful. We first need to be aware of these emotional ‘signposts’ before we can know how to respond.”

Ask yourself this.

“It’s natural to have a lot of negative assumptions about telling others no,” acknowledges Martin. “We might be afraid that they’ll argue or they won’t like us.”

Maybe that was true of someone in your past, and you’ve generalized this fear to apply to everyone in your life.

“Ask yourself, Is this fear realistic? Will your boss really fire you if you tell her that you can’t work late every night? This helps you put fears in perspective and gain more confidence.”

Focus on your needs.

Simply clarifying your needs will help you stand up for them and avoid the “can’t say ‘no’” dilemma, says psychotherapist and psychoanalyst Diane Barth.

“When we have trouble saying no, we often focus on the other person: Why do they ask so much of me?” Barth says.

Getting to the bottom of how you want to feel will help boost your confidence. “You might say to yourself, ‘I need more time to myself,’ or ‘I don’t want to feel taken advantage of,’” she suggests. “Remember, you can be a nice person and take care of your needs at the same time.”

Use ‘boundary mentors’.

“A lot of us want to set boundaries, but we don’t have the right words because we never saw it modeled for us,” says Barth. “Just remind yourself that people are setting boundaries every day, and be open to noticing it. That could be as easy as watching someone in a restaurant politely tell the waiter they didn’t order what he served them.”

You can also find very real inspiration on how to say “no” in fiction. “Watch how your favorite TV characters set boundaries,” she says. “These examples make it easier for you to take that step.”

Lead with honesty.

Boundaries aren’t just for your benefit, advises Randi Gunther, PhD, clinical psychologist and marriage counselor. Dr. Gunther believes that being honest with your feelings will improve all your relationships.

It’s important to start small. “For example, you might say, ‘I tend to overextend myself, so can I get back to you about X request?’” she says. “Simply checking in with yourself and asking, ‘What is the price of saying yes?’ will help you navigate boundary-setting.”

Keep it simple.

If someone challenges you, resist the urge to over-explain and just repeat, “I can’t do X,” or “X doesn’t work with my schedule,” and leave it at that, urges Martin.

“Giving others too much information allows them to pick apart your ‘no’ and keep pressing. Plus, being clear and direct sets the tone for the kind of respect you deserve from others as well as from yourself.”

Looking for other ways to improve your mental well-being? Check out this simple advice on how to give yourself a break and how to stop people pleasing.

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