“You get what you tolerate.”
― Henry Cloud
As a professional woman, a mother, a friend and community member, I can personally attest that boundary-setting is at the heart of my self-care and self-preservation regime. As much as people do not like to hear the word “no,” the reality is that sometimes, the answer is simply “no.”
No chaser. No explanation. No justification. Just, “no.”
I posit that a well-timed “no” is appropriate and effective in a variety of circumstances and relationships.
Parents must become adept at utilizing the word “no" as it pertains to their children. Children may posture as though they want their parents to say “yes” to their every command, but in truth, they crave boundaries. In addition, despite their often brazen approach, many of them are fearful that their parents might actually say “yes” to some of their more outlandish requests. Children need parents who are willing to stand for what is right and draw lines in the sand when a request or proposition violates set boundaries or values. I believe that the lack of boundaries in our society has significantly contributed to the deterioration of mental health observed among children and young people over the past three years. At the onset of the pandemic, many parents and educators were so focused on appeasing children and keeping the peace, that many of them completely abandoned boundaries and rules. It is well-established in the child development field that children need rules and boundaries to feel safe and that includes hearing the adults in their lives sometimes tell them “no.”
Working professionals need to learn the art of utilizing the word “no” in the workplace as well. Employers and companies are focused on their bottom line which has to do with productivity and efficiency. They are not in the business of ensuring the well-being of their employees. As a result, it is imperative that each individual is intentional about setting the boundaries needed to maintain their own work-life balance. That will sometimes mean declining a new project or assignment, especially in situations where we can sense that one additional responsibility will tip us over into unwellness.
We must also learn to set boundaries with our loved ones and friends. It’s never easy to tell someone who wants to spend time with us socially or who enjoys the pleasure of our company that we are not available. However, if acquiescing to the request would disrupt or derail sacred time that we have set aside for ourselves for our self-care or mindfulness practice, or even conflicts with a set obligation such as church, or a child’s soccer game, which may seem mundane to others, but is really important to us, we should feel free to decline without hesitation or guilt.
Sometimes saying “no” will be unpopular. And yes, sometimes people will engage in judgment and unfounded conjecture because they may feel rejected. However, “no'' is just sometimes imperative. Not only is answering every request in the affirmative unhealthy and not sustainable, it is grounded in “people pleasing,” a practice that never ends well for the people pleaser. We know that the same people who are making the demands of us to relentlessly give of ourselves until we have nothing left will be nowhere to be found when we are internally gutted, emotionally rattled, and in some cases, physically incapacitated.
We must say “no” for the sake of our own well-being, and, often, for that of others.
The same people who today are demanding a “yes,” will respect you more tomorrow after you have said “no.” Moreover, they will benefit from a better, more fruitful relationship with a healthier, happier, more rested and grounded you.
As it is said, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.”