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Just Say No!

Could good boundaries add years to your life?

Many people find themselves agreeing to do something when they don’t really want to. It may be that in some areas of your life you find it difficult to say no. Why is this?

Often guilt has a part to play coupled with our image of ourselves as unselfish, helpful people, often encouraged by others as we grew up. Most of us will have areas where we find it easier to say no; maybe at work, particularly if you hold a fairly senior position, or maybe at home where you don’t feel obliged to do anything extra. But almost everyone has areas of weakness – their children, their spouse, their boss, their parents – where they find themselves agreeing to do things they don’t really want to. This means ending up resentful and uncommitted to the task, neither of which is good for your health.

Gabor Mate believes if you have to choose between guilt and resentment, always choose guilt. Resentment will make you ill. A therapist friend once said to me resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die; in other words it is highly corrosive but only to you! Resentment is a reflection of the unexpressed anger we feel at having allowed ourselves to be coerced into doing something we don’t want to do. Anger is one of the ways we defend against our boundaries being breached and our emotions share this role with our immune defences. When we fail to protect our boundaries emotionally we may also be compromising our immune systems. There are many links between stress and illness and it is definitely not healthy to suppress emotions and in so doing potentially suppress our immune systems. How much healthier to have said “No” in the first place!

So how can we learn to say no? Saying no is a “boundary issue”. Boundaries are where you put in place the limits of what is and what is not acceptable to you. Boundaries are a projection of who you are and how you value yourself. They are unique to you and as such carry no value judgement. You need to think about what is right for you, regardless of others’ opinions. What are your limits? When you are tired, ill, angry, overwhelmed? Only you can decide. You have no obligation to agree to something you don’t want to do. It is your job to run your life efficiently, not to help others run theirs unless you wish to do so or “it makes sense”. I often ask my clients to ask themselves if the task they are taking on “makes sense”. This means that it is sometimes practical to override your boundaries when the need arises but only you can decide when this is.

You have the right to say no to others. You do not have to justify this. Practice replying “I’m sorry. I am unable to do that.” NOTHING ELSE! No justification, no reasons. Just that you judge for yourself that you are not willing to take on anything else. Your boundaries are there to protect your physical and mental wellbeing. Choose what these are for yourself. Boundaries are our defining beliefs. They are the rules we choose to live by and the expectations of how we will be treated by the world. You need to live these: In other words you need to follow through and let people know how you wish to be treated, by your actions and your words. The trick for good solid boundaries is not to waiver; if you do you will find yourself being walked all over, particularly with children who are brilliant at spotting this weakness and exploiting it!

Choose your own boundaries and stick to them. Think about what matters to you. If you don’t know why they matter you will not be solid in your convictions and others will sense this. Maybe it is important for you to say no when you are tired or to say no to tasks you dislike (unless they make good sense). You may need to say no to over spending. As you learn to “choose and refuse” you will find you become more solid in your convictions and others will like you for it; more to the point you will like yourself! As your boundaries become part of you, you will find it easy to say “No” when the occasion arises because it will feel like a comfortable projection of who and what you are.


Mate, Gabor (2003), When the Body Says No, John Wiley & Sons Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey

Copyright: Atalanta Beaumont 2015

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