Saying no and setting boundaries can be uncomfortable. You might have had experiences where saying no leads to revenge, punishment, or rejection. Having had too many of these experiences might make you anxious when having difficult conversations. In addition, you might be afraid of conflict because of past abuse or trauma. Here are some thoughts on how to make saying no easier.
- Understand why boundaries are necessary for your mental health. When we don’t have limits, people please or say yes too often, we become resentful. We might resent that others do not consider our feelings. However, others can not mind read, so they might not consider how taking your time or energy affects you. We become physically and emotionally drained when we give more than we want. This can lead to burnout and even physical illness.
- Recognize your fears in saying no. Is there a particular situation or person that you are afraid to say no to? Are you afraid to say no to your partner because you worry about losing them? Are you scared that people won’t like you? Perhaps you are worried that you will lose your job if you say no at work. Your fears might be valid if you have been threatened with loss or punishment. Speaking about your worries will help the other side understand your point of view. On the other hand, they might be toxic if the other side lacks empathy or continues to push your boundaries.
- Toxic people push boundaries. If you tell someone no, or set a limit and they continue to push, consider why. Someone is harmful if the person disregards your feelings and begins to guilt trip, threaten, demean, or devalue you. Abuse can start slowly and escalate over time. The person who continues to push your boundaries might be observing you closely. They are looking for any sign of weakness to control you. Consider an exit strategy to get away from this person or situation.
- Learn how to manage difficult conversations. You might find it scary to have difficult situations if you are conflict-avoidant or worry more about others than yourself. Difficult discussions can lead to conflict. However, conflict can help you to resolve underlying issues. Learning to respond and not react in conflict can build confidence in saying no and having difficult conversations.
- You don’t always need to explain yourself. If someone asks you to do something you are uncomfortable with, you do not need to explain yourself. They might ask why, and you can just say I am uncomfortable. If they continue to push, tell them no is the final answer. When you explain why sometimes people can use extra information to persuade you.
- Practice makes perfect. If saying no give you anxiety, start small. You can start by saying no to people that you feel safe with. For example, you can tell your friends you can’t go out with them if you are exhausted.
- You don’t need to apologize for setting boundaries or saying no. When you first start practicing setting boundaries or saying no, you might feel guilty. You never need to apologize for keeping yourself safe or not giving more than you can.
- Believe in your ability to tolerate feelings. You might be afraid of your uncomfortable feelings. You might also fear the other person’s feelings if you say no. You might worry that you will hurt them or make them feel rejected. Believing that you can tolerate these feelings will make saying no less painful. Recognize your feelings and separate them from the reaction of the other person.
- Understand your attachment style or fear of loss. If you struggle with attachment anxiety, you might worry about losing people if you say no. Fear of loss can lead you to do things you would not usually be comfortable with. As a result, you might stay in unhealthy situations longer than you should. Attachment security is obtainable when you understand your worth.
If you continue to struggle to set boundaries or say no, asking for help can make you more comfortable. A professional can teach you how to manage conflict, toxic relationships, and boundaries. If difficult conversations trigger past trauma, processing these memories can offer you some relief. Remember, your time, energy, and worth are not less valuable than others.
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