The Art of Saying "No"

There are so many different types of art forms from painting to dance to calligraphy -- but did you know that saying “no” can be an art form in itself? And, just like anything new, it takes practice to master! Saying “no” is the first step to creating healthy boundaries in your life that will enable you to say “yes” to all of the things that are right for you.

What are boundaries? Boundaries are personally set limits that separate “me” from “you.” They separate my needs, emotions, and even physical space from yours. There are many different types of boundaries - mental, material, sexual, physical, and emotional - and the one thing they all have in common is that they all include using the word “no” quite a bit.

Why is it so hard to say no? Oftentimes we don’t say “no” to people because we’re afraid it means we are unkind, selfish, or simply mean. Or, we’re afraid that it might hurt the other person or cause tension in the relationship. However, learning to say “no” with grace and poise in order to protect your own needs is essential to your emotional health. It protects you from having a “hole in your bucket” emotionally that drains you - saying no can “clog the hole.”

It can be hard to start saying “no”, especially if you’re used to being the one that everyone always goes to for support and help. Here are a few tips to start setting (and keeping) healthy boundaries in your life.

4 Ways to Establish Healthy Boundaries

1. Pay attention to how you’re feeling - In order to define your boundaries you need to first tune in to what you need and pay attention to your emotions. Check in with your body and listen to what it is telling you. You know the difference between anxiety and excitement; trust your intuition, it is almost always right.

2. Establish your priorities - Start to define what is most important to you. Maybe it’s physical health and exercise, or alone time to read a good book every day, or maybe it’s spending one-on-one time with each of your children regularly. Whatever your priorities may be, write them down and commit to protecting your time and energy to accomplish those goals - which means saying “no” to the rest.

3. Offer an alternative - If you find it especially hard to say “no” start with a baby step and instead say “no, but”. Offer an alternative that will help support the other person’s needs while protecting you and maintaining your boundaries.

4. Give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable - People start acting a little funny when you first start practicing the word “no”. If they’re used to you always saying yes they may feel hurt or confused by your new change in demeanor. It may be difficult to watch your loved ones go through those emotions but allow yourself to sit in that discomfort and give them time to get used to your new assertiveness as well. If they’re truly a supportive friend then they will learn to respect and support your new boundaries.

Setting healthy boundaries and learning how to say “no” can be tricky to start but once you get in the habit of prioritizing your own needs you’ll start seeing growth in your own life and in your relationships as well - it may end up being your favorite two-letter word. If you find it especially difficult to get out of the habit of saying “yes” all the time and need someone to help you set up your boundaries you can either email me at or call my office at (310) 614-0323.