Have the Courage to Say No

By: Kamaljit "Sonya" Virdi, Ph.D. | December 20, 2019

Courage is the bravery to not allow our fears to be in the driver’s seat. Said another way, having courage is having the bravery to say “no” to the fears that would otherwise act as the driving force in our lives.

Sitting with my clients each day reminds me that people sense what they need and want but fear blocks them from expressing those needs or acting to make them a priority. Fear getting in the way exists in many forms, and so I want to focus on how you might recognize when fear has a negative impact on your interpersonal relationships.

I will talk about boundaries, more specifically, having too few of them. Boundaries remain an important part of relationships because they communicate to others what’s okay and what’s not as to how they treat us. For example, you may find that friends, family, or co-workers ask you for favors and you struggle to say no. You might have helped others because it felt good, but as time went on you continued to help because you feared disappointing them or losing the relationship. You have unintentionally tangled yourself in a web that remains difficult to undo. Below I list some ways to help you re-establish your boundaries by building the courage to say no while resisting the urge to always say yes!

Five strategies to gain more courage and increase boundaries in the upcoming year:

1.  Identify your boundaries

Reflect on your limits to better understand how your boundaries align with your values. As an exercise, draw a line on a piece of paper. Consider that line your boundary. Write down what’s within that boundary and what’s outside of it while maintaining honesty and clarity with yourself as you do this. For example, if you value having one hour each day for self-care, firmly establish the boundary that you cannot commit to anything else during that time.

2.  Consider your history

Family, culture, and gender norms exist among the many factors that can contribute to your boundaries. With this in mind, different people may have different boundaries compared to yours, and that is okay! If you come from a more collective culture, it may feel more natural for you to place others’ needs above your own. But helping in every situation can be exhausting, so pay attention to how you feel. Remind yourself that saying no always exists as one of your options.

3.  Be aware of your internal dialogue

Anxiety in the form of worrying and ruminating can take over your courage. The narrative you may have created in your head about how others will judge you if you say no may not be fully accurate. Saying no may make you feel nervous and anxious when it is not your typical response. While uncomfortable at first, it may help to simply say no without overthinking.

4.  Take saying no slowly

Start with a realistic goal and commit to it. Start by saying no to one request per week as an example. Even one no per week may feel like a great effort for you because it is a change for you and change is hard! You may find it challenging to know where to start. Consider the context and pick one that has fewer stakes for you. And, consider saying no first to a long-term friend rather than to your new boss.

5.  Recognize that some people may not respond positively

Some people may not like your statements about interpersonal boundaries. This is a normal part of the process. In time, people in your life will respect and adjust to your boundaries. Your relationships may end with others who are unwilling to adjust to your boundaries. While this may feel discouraging, it is good information for you because you are more than your ability to help others. The people around you should recognize that!

Recognize and embrace your newfound boundaries. I wish you a wonderful holiday season and a New Year filled with more courage!


Image: Allan Foster on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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