Boundaries: “No” Is Not A Bad Word

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Holidays seem to be a time when our lack of boundaries really start to show up in full force. For some of us, this is any day, really.

Because if you’re still struggling to find a way to have your own back and to say “no”, I want to help you out just a little bit.

I’ve just barely mentioned boundaries in passing in a previous podcast episode, and when I did, I relayed that you can create a boundary as a means of protecting yourself, and you don’t even have to announce it to anyone else.

Did you know that?

I honestly did not know this until a couple of years ago and I must admit that I was floored.

What?!

I don’t need to announce my boundaries? I don’t have to rent out billboard space?

That’s freaking fantastic.

Because that’s the part that we hate more than anything, isn’t it? We dread having that conversation, making that announcement; owning it out loud.

Most of the time, we will compromise ourselves in an effort to please another human, whether it’s a loved one, or even a door-to-door salesperson.

I’m not going to lie, I have a very hard time with the door-to-door people. I’m always thinking in my mind what a thankless job that must be and how I would feel if someone cut me off mid-sentence, during the best part of my pitch, to close the door in my face.

How would I feel? Damn, that empathy.

Hmmmm. This must be why it remains an effective way to sell things. I suppose it is. I’m not entirely sure, though I know they are always showing up, so someone has to be saying yes, or they wouldn’t continue wasting their time.

Well, now I’m leaning toward logic. Let’s get back to emotion.

That’s a really good illustration of a boundary, isn’t it? Your actual doorstep. You don’t want anyone crossing it uninvited. So, in this case, you actually DO announce it to the world. You put up a “no soliciting” sign right above the doorbell, so that it can’t be missed.

It’s very obvious. Short and sweet. Super specific. Very clear.

Do they work?

They do not. I can assure you, the sign does not work. Boundaries are still crossed all the damn time at my doorstep. I am as perplexed as you are.

Instead, you’re left just standing there, vulnerable and emotionally exposed. Trying not to be rude. Trying not to hurt a stranger’s feelings.

Yes, I know I could choose to ignore the doorbell, but that leaves me feeling guilty too. The last time I almost did that, it was one of my neighbors dropping off candy for my son early because she was going to be out of town for Halloween. You really never know. And it was a full-sized chocolate bar too – the most coveted of all Halloween candy.

Sometimes you might want to answer that door!

If I feel that way about a stranger knocking, you can imagine how I might really feel obligated if there is an ask from someone I love.

I’ll say, “Where do you want me to be and what time?”

That’s what I say out loud. Those are the words that come out of my mouth without even thinking about it.

When behind the scenes, my real thoughts are, this is not a good time and I don’t really want to.

I’ve done that a lot over the years. I get it.

We don’t say our true thoughts out loud when we get an ask from someone we love, no matter how inconvenienced we will be because that’s how we’ve been programmed to respond.

You give to the people you love and then you give some more. Without hesitation and without expectation. That’s just what you do. That’s how the world works.

And then maybe someday, you will be in need and that person will be first in line to help you out.

A full, beautiful circle.

Another thought that I’ve had is that saying “no” is a selfish thing to do.

If I say no to attending this concert with a friend because I am really not even mildly interested in the music she loves so much, does that make me selfish?

Only if you think it does.

A counterpoint to that argument is that you go. Begrudgingly. And you hate every minute of it, yet you’re pretending to enjoy yourself. Some might argue that it’s selfish to hide your authentic self if you truly love someone.

Yeah. Think about that for a second.

You can actually be authentic and honest without being an asshole about it.

Just try alternatives to this idea that saying yes to every single thing is the “right” thing to do. As if that’s how you earn your virtue in this life or the next. No one is keeping score. And if they are, you probably don’t need them in your circle anyway.

The reason we say yes when we want to say no, is because of how we think the other person is a) going to feel about that response and b) going to judge our worthiness.

There it is. That’s the truth bomb.

We don’t want to say no because we think it’s a bad word and we don’t want to say no because we think that means that WE are bad.

Well, none of that’s true.

It’s all a lie.

That doesn’t mean that we aren’t dreading saying it.

I know ALL of these things, but you know what I said to a dear friend who asked me to go somewhere I didn’t really want to go? I stalled. I said, “Let me get back to you on that.”  

Yes, I did.

This is work, I’m telling you. Every single day.

And you know what she said when I finally told her, “not now?” She was FINE.

You see, we think we already know what the other person wants us to say, but that’s also a lie. It’s what people-pleasers do, but we don’t really know anything about what anyone thinks! I tell you this all of the time, but I still slip up every now and then, and think that I do.

I think I know the “right” answer.

There is no right answer.

And saying “no” isn’t wrong.

There are actually a thousand different ways to say it.

“Not now.”

“Another time”

“I love you AND no.”

There is one word that I’ll challenge you (and myself) not to use and that’s “but”. As my husband says, “Using ‘but’ in a sentence just negates everything you said before it.”

It’s true. That’s the sole purpose of the word.

I know he didn’t coin that phrase, BUT (ha!) he really likes it and I do too. It makes perfect sense.

So try saying, “I love you and no.”

“Thank you so much for thinking of me. You know I adore you and no.”

“No, thank you.”

“I would love to do that another time.”

Just be careful and don’t leave the door open for another time if you clearly do not ever intend to accept.

Like that salesperson. My husband is the one who says, “Yeah, come back later”…and he has no intention of answering the door later. He’ll forget to tell me about it and then there I am, trying to figure out how to say no without coming off as a bitch.

It’s hilarious though. What do I care what a stranger thinks of me?

Most of the time, we feel a certain way about an ask because it crosses a boundary that we would really do well to fully explore and honor.

If I have an unspoken boundary that my Sundays are intended to be spent with my family and watching football, then any deviation from that plan is going to be unnerving. No, I don’t have tell everyone about it, and I don’t have to explain myself if I want to decline an invitation because I find it to be a conflict.

I just need to decline.

Firmly, yet politely.

You can even find ways to do it that don’t involve the word no. Yet always honor your true intention. Acknowledge that you love the other person, because you do.

And know that having your own back is never selfish.

If light is in your heart, you will find your way home.

Jelaluddin Rumi

I think that’s a perfect quote for what I’m saying here, and I hope that you can see that too.

The people in your life who genuinely love you for who you are, for all that you are, will understand your response if it comes from that light in your heart. Stop dancing around and trying to play games with emotions – yours and theirs. Be honest, be heart-felt, and be true to yourself.

That’s putting goodness out into the world.

That’s what matters most.


This post is a partial transcript of my podcast, What Lights You Up – Episode 35. I invite you to enjoy the full episode and subscribe on Spotify or Apple! 

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