How to say NO, set boundaries and stop feeling guilty when you do it.

by Kim Palmer, 21st August 2023

Ever found yourself constantly agreeing with others, swallowing your viewpoint, or saying sorry for things not your fault? Or do you struggle to say 'no,' even when you're stretched to your limits? If you're nodding along, you could be a people pleaser, and don't worry, you're not alone. It's more common than you think.

Being a people pleaser isn't just about being nice or kind. It's a behavioral pattern where we constantly seek validation and approval from others. We often agree with others, not because their ideas resonate with us, but because we fear their disapproval. We may find it difficult to say no, even when we should, because we dread disappointing others.

Embracing Authenticity and Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is crucial for maintaining healthy relationships, looking after your energy, and making sure that you are doing the stuff that fills you with joy and not just things that make you feel a bit crap. It's like building a fence around your emotional and physical space, allowing you to create a safe and comfortable environment for yourself. But the act of saying no fills a lot of people with dread and guilt. You are not alone if this is you. To be honest, saying no is such a fine art that it requires constant care and attention. But trust me, you can say no. It just takes a little practice.

Effective Ways to Say No

Here are five examples of how to say no so that you can get started:

  1. The Respectful Decline "I think it's great that you asked me for help. Unfortunately, I won't be able to do it this time due to my schedule. I hope you understand." This approach shows both honesty and respect. Acknowledge the request and express your inability to assist due to prior commitments. It's also quite final so you don't need to get into a big conversation about it.

  2. The 'Sandwich' Method (Positive-Negative-Positive) "I've been working on setting better boundaries for my own well-being, so I need to decline this request. Perhaps next time?" The 'Sandwich' method cushions the refusal between two positive statements. Here, you acknowledge personal growth ("working on setting better boundaries") and then you are politely letting them know, it's a no. And ending with a positive and open message means you aren't closing the door forever.

  3. State Personal Boundaries "I'd love to help, but I already have a prior engagement on that day." Starting with a genuine enthusiasm to want to help but letting them know you've got other stuff going on. Importantly, you don't need to explain more than this.

  4. Express Prior Commitments "I won't be able to help with that, but I know [Name] might be available and willing to assist." Offering up other suggestions for people they might want to try, especially when you're keen to keep doors open or know the person is in a real jam.

  5. Direct and Assertive "I appreciate your offer, but I won't be able to commit to that at this time." Keeping it super simple by showing appreciation but declining swiftly.

A bit more support

If you're keen to learn more about the art of saying no and setting boundaries, consider exploring resources like the book "Fuck No" by Sarah Knight. Additionally, check out the boundaries session in the Clementine app, which will help you become more aware of your boundaries and how to reset them.

Now remember this is not about being unkind or selfish; it's about caring for yourself and making sure that you are able to do more of the stuff that fills you with joy and less of the stuff that fills you with dread.

Kim Palmer
Founder, Clementine


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