How To Say No & Set Boundaries Without Feeling Guilty
Anyone with a 2-year old knows what the most powerful world in the Universe is: NO!
Kids love to say "no," and for good reason. It defines who they are. When a baby is first born, the baby doesn't know that s/he is any different than his/her primary caregiver. With the amazing development of consciousness during the first years of life, a baby slowly becomes aware that s/he is a separate being with his or her own thoughts, feelings and desires. That’s why a 2-year old will sometimes even say "no" to something they really want — just because they can!
Though as we grow older, we lose the joy of saying "no," and it becomes something that many of us feel guilty for saying. We don’t want to hurt or offend others by turning something down. So we go on dates we don’t want to, agree to volunteer when we don’t have the time, take on assignments that we shouldn’t and please others by not truly honoring ourselves.
Recently, I was offered a job by a woman I like, respect and would enjoy working for. It was completely unsolicited which made it seem even more “other worldly,” and I had been asking for some serious guidance to resolve an unforeseen financial issue I was dealing with.
There was only one problem: I didn’t want this job. When I looked into my heart, there was nothing about this job (other than the money) that excited me. So what did I do? I said "no." And even though I think about this stuff all the time, this was incredibly difficult for me. We are almost programmed when we’re little to say "yes" as a reflex, to please other people.
Ironically, what I call "the power of no" doesn’t always require us to explicitly say "no" to others. Often times, I find it's more important to engage in a practice of letting go of things that we’ve outgrown or no longer serve us. For example, a few years ago I left a women’s group that I had helped start and felt very invested in. The reality is that the format and the participants had changed such that it was no longer as meaningful for me. By leaving, I freed up my time to find other ways to find community and connection that reflected what I needed now.
So here are five ways to own your "no" and work through the uncomfortable feelings that come up:
1. Figure out what you're really saying "yes" to.
Upon reflection, many times in my life where I said "no" were also times where I was actively saying "yes" to something that would nurture me. In the case of the job offer I turned down, I was saying "yes" to a host of things: more time to write; more time with my kids; better work-life balance. Once I got in touch with this, I felt so much more at ease, and empowered, about my no.
2. Embrace the difference between judgment and discernment.
If you feel like a bad person for saying "no" (especially if it's about not being in a relationship with someone who's not serving you), then you may have a basic misunderstanding about the difference between judgment and discernment. Judgment is other-centered. In other words, it conveys there is someone wrong with someone else.
Discernment is “I” centered. It says “I no longer want this in my life." It is centered in the self and our truth. Discernment has power to it.
3. Resist the need to justify, explain and defend.
I truly believe there are alchemical powers in saying "no." It declares to the Universe that we own what is important to us and are willing to defend it, even if it's uncomfortable.
However, we dilute the power of no when we justify, explain or defend it. It might make us feel more comfortable, but underlying it is a message that we feel bad about our boundary. If someone asks for an explanation, that is fine but resist the need to say “No, because…” “No, thank you” is all you need.
4. Remember that weak boundaries lead to resentment.
When we say "yes" when we really want to say "no," we are setting ourselves (and someone else) up for our resentments. In the moment, agreeing to something we don't want to may feel like the kind or respectful thing to do. But that's because we often don't realize how toxic resentment can feel once it begins to brew. Once it starts brewing, resentment festers until it comes out like a volcano. In short: it is far kinder to others (and to ourselves) to set a boundary early than to make them a victim of our resentments and anger later.
5. Ask yourself, “Why do I have a scarcity mentality?"
Usually, when we’re afraid to say "no" it’s because we are afraid nothing better will come along or this is as good as it gets. This however just affirms an inherent belief in scarcity. We live in an abundant Universe. If they way something is showing up in your life isn’t fully serving you anymore be willing to release it to allow the good parts you want without the aspects that you don’t
Are your ready for profound change in your life? Contact me at for a FREE 30 minute exploratory session.
Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.