Tag Archives: setting boundaries

Why saying “no” can be good.

"Gandhi" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Gandhi” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Why do some people agonize over saying no?

Personality Development

Often people cannot say no because they dread disappointing others. As you grow up, you develop different parts of the personality to help you survive and thrive in your given circumstances. To win the love or acceptance you desire or to avoid negative criticism or worse, you end up emphasizing certain traits, such as being responsible, smart, or accommodating. Your “personality” then becomes formed by your primary personality traits.*

Accommodating Personality

Accommodating people learn early on that they thrive best by being agreeable and compliant. Their desire to please others dates back to not wanting to disappoint the people they were dependent on for security and love. When this desire to accommodate becomes excessive, the thought of saying no becomes tinged with a feeling of dread.

As an adult, the fear of saying no is not always reasonable or helpful. But the neural-circuitry developed in your brain in childhood still says, “Don’t disappoint or you’ll have to pay for it.” “If you say no, arguments will ensue, affection will be withdrawn, etc.” Or “If you don’t make her happy, she will be sad and she is too fragile to handle sadness.” That brain circuitry lingers on until you change and replace it.

How to say no, and become more whole

To avoid resentment and depleting your energy, you have to be able to say no to things you don’t have the time or desire to do. When you can be candid about your needs and desires without feeling dread, you will feel more whole and confident. Others will respect and enjoy you more because they will know that no means no, and yes means yes.

1. The first step is to realize that some emotions are habits that are no longer in your best interest.

2. The second step is to practice saying no peacefully, firmly, and confidently, that is, in a neutral, kind way, but without fear or weakness. Tone of voice is more important than the actual words.

3. The third step is to give an honest reason without being overly-apologetic. Don’t sound guilty or embarrassed to say no. And don’t give a litany of excuses. Simple and short is best.


You just got home from work, exhausted, and your partner asks you to clean the garage.

I might have time this weekend. Right now I’m exhausted and would like to relax and enjoy being home.


I’ve been working a lot. I really don’t like that kind of work. We need to hire someone to do that, or let’s do it together.


Your boyfriend/girlfriend asks you to drive him/her to the airport when you have other plans.

I’d love to, but I already made plans to play soccer/finish a work project. Sorry.


Your friend wants you to go out tonight, but you don’t feel like it.

I’d love to see you but I am just not in the mood to go out tonight. Let’s do it another time. Have fun without me.


An acquaintance wants you to volunteer for some good cause or to donate money.

Sorry I can’t. I have too many other obligations.


That sounds like a great cause, but we have already donated to other organizations and can’t extend ourselves anymore.

Note that there are circumstances where a clear, emphatic No without any explanation is appropriate, as for example, when there is a threat to you or those close to you, such as in dangerous or peer-pressure situations.

Once people who have trouble saying no realize how easy it is, they will no longer agonize about it. Moreover, people have more respect for those whose desire to please is reasonable and moderate, rather than extreme and self-defeating. When people know that you can say no, they will truly appreciate it when you say yes.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

*See Dr. Hal Stone and Dr. Sidra Stone’s Theory of Selves.

Read “Overfunctioning and underfunctioning: ‘If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done.’”

Read “Setting Boundaries.”

Read “Too Responsible to Enjoy.”

Infidelity: “Hoping and wishing my husband would give me the same love he showers on other women over ten years of infidelity.”

Reach for the Moon by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

To get a better perspective, imagine your situation in reverse. Suppose you were the unfaithful one having various affairs with other men, and that your husband put up with that kind of behavior for ten years. What would you think about your husband? Would you have any respect for him?

I think that the answer is “no.”

A person has more respect for someone who shows a strong sense of self-respect. To gain self-respect, it’s important to learn to set boundaries and to make decisions based on what is healthy for you rather than on wishful thinking. Ultimately, you need the courage to face your fear of life without him.

Unfortunately, your longing to stay with someone who does not treat you in a reciprocal, loving way, with respect and compassion, will not change him into someone who will love, respect, and cherish you. Staying with someone who repeatedly has affairs will only drain away any self-respect and joie de vivre you have left.

The best way to avoid having to endure such hurtful behavior from someone is not to put up with it. Ask yourself what has kept you tied to him for so long. It sounds as though it is the hope that things will improve together with a fear of moving on by yourself.

Do not be afraid to live alone. When you start choosing people and activities that enhance your life and your well-being, your strength and self-empowerment will grow. You will be amazed at what might turn up in your life. Let go of your fear, set some suitable boundaries and be prepared to walk away.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I can’t live without him/her” by Sam Vaknin, PhD.

Read “The emotional affair: Well, I’m not having a sexual affair” by Jennifer Freed, PhD.

Children who beg and argue:
“I’ve told you sixteen times that you can’t see that R-rated movie!”

"Angel Roar" — Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Children who repeatedly beg and argue often have parents who respond by begging and arguing back.

While children will respect parents who are flexible in matters that warrant flexibility, you need to be firm when you are sure about a given rule, like not seeing R- rated movies. There’s no need to be mean or threatening when being firm. In fact, you can show a little compassion or give a brief explanation as to your thinking. “Sorry, but no R – rated movies. I believe that level of violence/sexuality/language is inappropriate for you.”

But beware of too much compassion, too much explanation, and never plead, all of which convey a lack of authority on your part. Don’t yell or lose control either, which also show a lack of personal power.

If they continue to badger you, say, “You heard me. I’m not changing my mind. Please don’t ask again.” If they continue, find an appropriate consequence and do not hesitate to use it. “This complaining is excessive. Let’s see a movie another night.”

It can be helpful to remind them that it would be easy for you to let them do whatever they wanted, but that you care too much about them. You want them to develop into independent, self-sufficient, and self-empowered adults who can make appropriate decisions.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Over-mothering: “It’s hard for me to be firm with my child, because he’s very sensitive.””

“No, you really should not have a second ice cream. Is that okay honey?”

"Fine" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

While we don’t need to be severe when we say “no” to our kids, being afraid to disappoint them can cause more harm than good. Ending a sentence with a question mark such as “is that okay, honey?” shows your kids that what matters to you most is that they like you, not that you parent them well.

Not only does your need to be liked give your children power over you, it also makes them feel insecure, because they sense your insecurity. A parent’s inability to set boundaries with ease can lead the children to become tyrants and/or pushovers themselves.

Children need to learn how to be firm and kind at the same time. They learn this by their parents’ example. Simply say in a matter of fact way, “Ice cream is a treat. One is enough.” Finish. No question mark and no hoping that they like your answer.

Ironically, they will like you more if you stop trying to please them, and instead demonstrate how to set boundaries and practice self-discipline in an effortless way.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Sure honey, I’ll buy you those toys.”

Read “Permissive vs. Authoritarian Parenting.”

“How would you like it if I called you at home during dinner?!”

Lyle Lovett detail Flyswatter & IceWater by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

So what I really meant was…

“I don’t want to receive any more marketing calls. Please take me off your company’s list. Have a good evening!” Click.

Firmly request to be taken off the marketing list, but remember telemarketers are just people doing their job, and it’s not a pleasant one.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I can never get off the phone with certain people who seem to talk forever.”