Boundaries: The Art of Saying No

Too many people, dear reader, and especially women, are in desperate need of mastering the art of saying “no.”

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It would seem simple enough just to emit that two-letter word and stop at that, but in reality it proves far more difficult.

That is because we overcomplicate the matter and bring into it all sort of considerations that only serve to confuse us in the moment when we need to focus and just say No, or preferably, No, thank you.

The woman who can’t say “No” finds herself:

  • Agreeing to go to parties, functions, gatherings because she doesn’t want the host(ess) to think negatively of her
  • Donating to causes she doesn’t believe in – she fears what will happen if she doesn’t give, thinking perhaps that she and others will see her as a selfish and miserly person if she doesn’t
  • Taking on obligations and extra requirements at work without due compensation, and during time which she would prefer to be doing other activities, perhaps weekends and evenings
  • Being put in the “caretaker” role as others assume she wants it, sometimes even without consulting her
  • Doing favors for others that leave her feeling drained, tired, and used
  • Feels the need to drop everything and respond to a phone-call or email, no matter what she is doing or who she is with

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Even worse than this, she may act against her deepest personal values and beliefs in certain situations.  For example, if a woman is averse to drinking, but is at an office party in which coworkers offer and encourage her to drink, she will hold their opinions over and above her own moral code.

The art of saying no is a skill few women can afford to be without – it is a practice that will literally save a woman thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of dollars and hours over the course of her lifetime, while also enabling her to have more fulfilling and rewarding interactions with others.

One reason why a woman might have difficulty saying no is because she has never been taught to build and maintain proper boundaries for herself.  She may act out of fear, or the belief that she is obligated to put the others around her at ease, even if it comes at the cost of her own discomfort and even difficulty.  She will say “yes,” or the all too familiar “sure,” even when everything inside her is screaming “no way!”

This is a prime instance and example of when a woman should pay attention to her emotions and intuition, letting them guide her in decision-making.  Her intentions and what she thinks she is achieving by agreeing to something her intuition tells her not to do always turn out to be quite a distance away from the actual results.

She acts with the belief that people will love, appreciate and respect her more if she sacrifices for them and does for them something which is not in her heart to give.  The effect is that she ignores her own needs and wants, and guides others to do the same.  If she does not respect herself and have important enough things going on in her own life that she needs to, at times, prioritize above demands that come her way from every direction, people are naturally inclined to think that her time is not that valuable and perhaps would be better used serving their needs and wants.  Those with strong character and a highly attuned sense of moral decency will respect, love, and treat her fairly regardless of her choice of action, but there are many, many more who will at best learn to pity a woman with poor boundaries, or at worst use and take advantage of her.

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In a relationship or marriage, this can be lethal.  All too often, a woman will prioritize the needs of the man above herself, with the exact same result.  He loses respect, and therefore something of his original love for her, though he may not be able to consciously verbalize why that is to himself.  The woman may even find herself apologizing for taking the time to do what she wants to do, for example when leaving a room to retire elsewhere, perhaps to read a book.  Such instances may seem innocent and harmless, but the woman would do well to examine them.  Apologizing when not necessary demonstrates that a woman is not in control of herself and lacks awareness of her own value as a unique, divine being, capable and entitled to her own choices and actions.

This woman is not by nature a “doormat,” a coward, or weak, and does not suffer from any sort of permanent defects in character.  She has simply learned a behavior that does not serve her, or those around her.  She needs to unlearn it, and learn that it is right to expect that she consider herself and her wants when making decisions.

Much of society has trained women to behave in this way.  When a woman does say “no,” she may be told that she is arrogant, selfish, heartless, or any number of insults that are simply not true and come from nothing but ignorance.  What a woman needs to understand is that she likely has an unfounded fear of those accusations being true – and because of this, she gives away her power and allows herself to be coerced into saying “yes” when she doesn’t mean it.  What will cure her is the realization that anyone who expects her to do something that she doesn’t want to do, from her heart, is the one who is acting in an immature and selfish manner, taking and expecting her to give while offering nothing to her in return.

When first learning to say “no,” be patient with yourself; aim for progress over time rather than a complete and instant cure.  Behaviors are ingrained patterns learned, in some cases, over the course of decades.  To change those almost instinctive, second-nature responses will take time and awareness.

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To strengthen your resolve, as you will likely get a lot of negative feedback at first, here are some excellent examples of women of exceptional dignity and high character who often say no:

  • Oprah Winfrey – In her book What I Know for Sure, she writes of how she was plagued by “the disease to please” up until her 40s! What changed her was a resolution she made to herself: “I started to examine the intention behind my saying yes when I really meant no.  I was saying yes so people wouldn’t be angry with me, so they would think I was a nice person.  My intention was to make people feel I was the one they could call on, count on, last minute, no matter what.  And that was exactly what my experiences reflected – a barrage of requests in every aspect of my life… I wrote down a few words, which I now keep on my desk: ‘Never again will I do anything for anyone that I do not feel directly from my heart.  I will not attend a meeting, make a phone call, write a letter, sponsor or participate in any activity in which every fiber of my being does not resound yes.  I will act with the intent to be true to myself.“
  • Kate Middleton refusing engagements during her pregnancy: “Kate Middleton’s calendar was said to already be filled with royal engagements for October and November. A royal aide had previously confirmed to the Mail that the Duchess was well enough already to resume with her royal duties.  However, she had pulled out on two of her royal engagements this month. Last October 1, the 32-year-old was supposedly scheduled for a charity visit to London’s Art Room where she is a patron. Instead, in a personally-penned message, she expressed her apologies for not showing up to the disappointed staff and expectant children at the Clore Art Room. She was said to have been ‘hugely disappointed’ at having to pull out of the visit according to Daily Mail. Additionally, the Duchess of Cambridge also “called off” her visit to Old Portsmouth to meet with Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ainslie…”
  • Other Resources and recommended reading material on the subject:
    • “Why Women Have a Hard Time Saying No,” Psychology Today
    • Smart Women Know When to Say No, Dr. Kevin Leman

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