Just Say “No” | A Beginner’s Guide to Setting Boundaries

I’m a big believer in boundaries. I think they are staples of a healthy and balanced life. I believe that having boundaries with your friends, your job, your coworkers, your neighbors and even your dog (my dog is not allowed on my furniture and I have no regrets!) are an immeasurably important part of not drowning in your own life. And because I am such an advocate for boundary setting I think that learning to say “No” is an important cornerstone in building and bolstering those boundaries.

Saying “No” comes easily for some and is harder for others. I almost never have trouble saying “No.” Maybe blame it on the fact that I struggle with empathy (I’M WORKING ON IT, OK!?). Maybe it’s because I am the 3rd of 4 children and there is a whole world of emotional and psychological wonders that come with that (oh if we only had the time). But more so, I like to think that saying “No” is me pursuing something I believe in: that boundaries set me up for success when it comes to my emotional wellbeing and it does the same for my family.

I have a lot of friends who have trouble saying “No.” Most often it’s because they don’t want to disappoint or let anyone down (again, struggling to be more empathetic here, so I don’t relate to this very much). And I am thankful to be someone whom friends come to for advice on saying no to invitations, or requests that will add too much stress, or things they just plain don’t want to do.

I realize as I write this that I may sound like a grumpy grouch who never does anything that I don’t want to do. That is certainly not the case. I say yes to plenty. But here’s the thing: when I say “Yes” I want it to mean, “Yes. 100%. I am all in.” It’s pretty hard to do that when you’re saying “Yes” to too many things or things your heart isn’t in it.

I do want to say this—I think service is imperative to a healthy life as well. Answering the call to serve is not only honorable, but it’s the right thing to do. Service isn’t always easy to say “Yes” to. It’s serving in the children’s ministry at church even though you spend your entire life with small children. It’s signing up for parking lot duty even though it means you’ll be home later than you would like to be. It’s showing up to work early with coffees because you know that sometimes other people have hard weeks too. All that to say, there are certainly times when you may need to even say “No” to serving. And that’s where I hope these good, solid, non-lie “Say No Tips” will come in handy!

Sometimes “No” is a complete sentence.

Sometimes you don’t need to offer explanations for your “No.” Sometimes you don’t need to give reasons why. And I can guarantee that you almost never need to excessively apologize for saying “No.” It’s okay to say, “Sorry, I can’t.” Signed. Sealed. Delivered. It’s okay to say, “That sounds so fun, but I’m going to say no.” Full stop. It’s okay to say, “I’m so glad that’s working for you, but I’m happy with what I’m doing.” No frills. No pandering. No extras. Just clear cut and to the point. There are plenty of kind ways to let your “No” stand alone without compromising the validity of your reasons or your integrity. Which brings me to:

Be honest.

I’ll never condone lying as a way to say “No.” I would much rather someone tell me the truth than be dishonest (even if I didn’t know they were lying). If you’re not busy, don’t say you are. Even if you don’t like the person, but especially if you do: be honest. If you overbooked yourself and are choosing me as the one you’re going to cancel on, shoot me straight, sister. Tell it to me like it is. If you need to say “No” because your week got too busy, do it. If you don’t want to volunteer because you hate volunteering—first, see my plug for serving above, but then—get outta here, lady. Don’t tell me you’re going out of town and then hide in your house and not go to Target because you’re afraid we’ll run into each other (and we will—because I’m always at Target). And if you just got home, and now that you’re in your no-pinchy pants and you want to stay home and watch The Office while you eat Christmas candy that you hid from your kids several months ago: girl DO IT. If you have a friend worth keeping, they’ll understand and they’ll appreciate the truth.

Use direct and decisive language.

This is where I think things get the most muddled when it comes to saying “No.” It’s where when you’re being asked to pet sit, even though you absolutely hate dogs, you walk away with a confirmed date on the calendar to watch Sparky for a weekend all because you said “I’m not sure how that would work…” (and they convinced you how it would) instead of, “Listen. I really really hate dogs. And because of that I’m going to say no because I’m definitely not the right person to keep Ole Sparks.” Okay. You don’t have to be that direct. But using language that is direct and decisive allows you the freedom to say “No” even when you have a really convincing asker. Some examples could be:

“That sounds so fun. But I’m going to say no this time.”

“That just won’t work for me in this season. If anything changes I’ll definitely let you know!”

“I’m really happy with how I’m doing things right now and I’m not looking to make any changes. Thanks, though!”

“It means so much that you would think to include me, but I just can’t add anything else to my plate right now. If some time opens up I’ll give you a call!”

The most important thing to remember in all of this is the fact that when you say “No” to something you’re saying “Yes” to something else. Maybe you declined an invitation to a birthday party for your child that would have been so fun, but you’re saying “Yes” to some quality family time instead. It’s okay that you need to say “No” to serving for the entire year because that means you could be the one to say “Yes” to filling in for a mama who desperately needs a break half-way through. Maybe cancelling on your girlfriends this weekend and staying home with your husband is exactly what your marriage needs.

I don’t list all of these things in an effort to never get you to do anything outside your comfort zone. My goal here isn’t to wave my empathy-lacking (still working on it!) say-no wand and change you into a No-bird whose greatest talent in life is never doing anything with or for people again. Instead, I hope you feel encouraged to say “No” when you need to so that when you do say “Yes” you can give it your best.

Kalie Vidales
Kalie is a lover of Jesus, her husband, their two children, and all things floral. She a military wife, coffee guzzler, and holds the self-proclaimed title of ""Fastest Diaper Changer on the Planet." Between wiping noses and drying toddler tears She loves to write about her faith, family, and grief of losing her mother way too early in her blog, Singing in the Reign. She has an M.A. In Linguistics from the University of North Texas, which has aided her very little in convincing her kids they have to wear pants every day. The Army brought Kalie and her family to San Antonio last year and they are enjoying plugging into their church and eating way too many hot tortillas from HEB. Favorite Restaurant: Chuy's Favorite Landmark: AT&T Center: Go Spurs Go! Favorite San Antonio Tradition: San Antonio Rodeo