Say Hello to “No”—Knowing Your Limits

Saying Hello to 'No', Knowing your limits

“No” is a complete sentence—and often one of the very first ones that young children master. Toddlers are experts at asserting their will when they don’t like or want something, but for some people, it’s a skill that’s lost over time. Especially if you’re a people-pleaser (and a 2022 YouGov study reveals that 47% of American adults identify as one), you may struggle to decline requests, even when they put unnecessary burdens on you.

The good news is, you can learn how to assert yourself. After all, if a toddler can do it, so can you. The ability to say no is a major component of self-care, helping you to set limits and respect your boundaries to prevent burnout.

Embracing the Power of Saying “No”

People who struggle to say no when they don’t want to do something often have issues setting boundaries. They disregard their feelings and put the wants and needs of other people ahead of their own. The problem is that disregarding your wants and needs means that you’ll find yourself facing burnout sooner or later.

A myriad of reasons contribute to why someone might have issues respecting their own boundaries and struggle to say “no.” Before you can fix the problem, you have to understand why you fall into the pattern of agreeing to do things in the first place. Some of the most common reasons include:

To avoid confrontation: While most people dislike confrontation and conflict in general, some find themselves so averse to it, that they’ll say yes to avoid a potential problem. For example, someone at work may accept extra assignments from their manager to avoid potential backlash, even when it puts additional strain on them.

To please others: Most people like to help others to some degree and will accept requests when it works for them. People-pleasers, on the other hand, tend to say “yes” too much, especially if they feel their value is ingrained in how they make others feel.

To avoid missing out: Commonly called “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out, some people will agree to do things to get the same experiences as others. This is commonly the source of saying yes to peer pressure.

The importance of saying no is that it helps you respect your limits. It helps your mental health by helping with self-care. It can empower you to set and enforce boundaries for healthy relationships. It can also boost your self-esteem and confidence the more you practice it.

Understanding the Importance of Setting Limits

There are only so many hours in the day and you only have so much energy to offer to those around you before you start wearing yourself thin. Setting limits helps you maintain control over your life by maintaining structure and clear lines of what you are willing and not willing to accept or do. Of course, you can say no when asked to do something for any reason, but when something makes you uncomfortable, or puts an undue burden on you, it’s even more important to do so.

These limits become your boundaries, which help you define the behaviors of those around you that you find acceptable. For example, a boundary could be declining work not in your job description that will force you to stay at your job late. In your personal relationships, these limits could look like expecting a roommate or romantic partner to do their fair share of work at home.

Your limits could also align with your morals and values. For example, some people practice abstinence from alcohol or socializing in certain settings. If someone asks you to drink alcohol with them when you abstain, that’s a limit you can enforce, and you are well within your right to decline. With well-defined limits in your life, you can organize your finite resources, namely time and energy.

Boundaries for Personal Well-Being

Establishing healthy boundaries is an important part of protecting your well-being. By defining and enforcing your boundaries, those around you understand and learn your limits, and the healthy people in your life will be more than happy to respect them. You’ll benefit from this by clearly articulating your values and belief systems and developing a greater sense of self-esteem and identity.

If setting boundaries is something you struggle with, here are some tips:

  • Communication is key: The people around you aren’t mind-readers. Communicating your thoughts and hard limits with someone facilitates your boundaries. Be honest and respectful while explaining your feelings on a topic.
  • Stick to what you say: When you set a boundary, follow through with it. If someone tries to overstep, politely correct them. While in extenuating circumstances, compromise may be necessary, you should enforce your boundaries the vast majority of the time.
  • Be accountable: If you’re in situations you don’t like because you let other people walk over your boundaries, you are in a problem of your own creation. Reminding yourself that you’re responsible for how you feel and what you allow or don’t allow may help you stick to those boundaries.
  • Walk away if you have to: Some people will overstep your boundaries no matter how you try to enforce them. You have the right to choose to cut or drastically reduce contact with people who refuse to respect your boundaries. Sometimes, ending the relationship, no matter what kind it is, is the healthy choice.

Balancing Commitments and Self-Care

Life is busy. From work or school to parenting or personal responsibilities, it often feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get to everything. Some people forego their leisure time, sleep, or other self-care tasks to try to meet everyone else’s needs. If you tend to eat into your self-care time to meet commitments, it may be time to start setting limits for your own well-being.

Self-care is crucial to maintaining a healthy life, allowing you to take time for rest, relaxation, or pleasure, and boundaries are essential to your self-care routine. Everyone needs to carve out time for self-care, and respecting your personal limits can guide this process. Try implementing some of these strategies to start setting boundaries for self-care and the commitments you accept:

Set a routine: Make self-care part of your daily routine. Maybe you take a walk after work or have a nightly bath with a book. Find some way to get your me-time in each day. Also make sure your routine includes time for eating, grooming, and resting.

Be mindful of your limits: You only have so much time and energy. When someone asks you to do something that forces you to stretch the limits of possibility too far, it’s okay to tell them no. Manage your time and don’t let extra requests encroach on your self-care time. If work demands or requests from others start erring on the side of overwhelming you, it’s time to scale back.

Prioritize boundaries between work and personal time: If you have a demanding job that often has you bringing work home with you, start setting limits.

Cultivating Assertiveness and Respecting Your Boundaries

Healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships, but they can be tough to set if you struggle to say no or assert yourself. With practice, this skill will become reflexive. In the meantime, these steps will help you assert your boundaries and say no when someone oversteps them:

  • Define your boundary’s goal: What’s the point of your boundary? Why does it matter to you personally? An easy example is not accepting abusive language—it’s rude and demeaning.
  • Start with a small boundary: If you really struggle with saying no, define a small boundary to begin enforcing your limits. Maybe you decide that you won’t pick up your roommate’s socks and shoes strewn about the room each day, or you’ll stop letting your mooching coworker take half your lunch each day so they don’t have to bring their own.
  • State your boundary clearly to the relevant people: You don’t have to offer any long-winded excuses or explanations for the new boundary. It’s enough to simply state what the boundary is and that you trust that the other person will respect it. If someone oversteps the boundary, reiterate it calmly and concisely to remind them.
  • Saying no isn’t always easy if you’ve spent the majority of your life trying to please others. While the tips above can be a big step in the right direction, they may not be enough. If you’re struggling to set boundaries and say no to others, don’t be afraid to ask for help.