Say No! 10 Tips for Healthy and Happy Ways to Set Boundaries


Do you unwittingly dish about your love troubles with your mom when her inquiring mind wants to know? Do you divulge your style sources to your BFF even though she is never a satisfied customer and will complain endlessly about the results? Do you agree to schedule dates and appointments that suit someone else’s schedule but not your own, just not knowing how to say no?

Take heart, you people-pleaser, you. Many of us are in the same boat when it comes to setting boundaries, according to San Francisco therapist Helena McMahon, LMFT, who works with clients on positive strategies for saying no when necessary. She says that for some of us, the need to please comes from childhood and experiencing a self-sacrificing role model or a situation where it was made clear our needs were less important than those of the people around us. Here’s how to say “No.”

“There is a part of all of us that wants to please people and be seen as generous, helpful or just plain nice,” she explains, adding “the trick is to find the right balance between taking care of ourselves and giving freely of our time and resources.”


Here are more tricks of the trade for setting healthy boundaries that stick:

1. Say it With a Smile


It’s as easy to say “no” with a smile and as it is to protest angrily like a temperamental child. Be honest, speak from the heart, and your boundaries will be respected. It is hard to fail when you are coming from the heart.

2. Mean What You Say


Be emphatic. If you kind of allow yourself to be treated badly and sort of hint you don’t really want to go to a certain movie or eat a certain kind of cuisine, then you aren’t really sending a clear message.

3. Convince Yourself That You Know What Is Best For You


Steer your own ship, despite those who say they know what is best for you. As McMahon offers, “we all need to listen to ourselves, to train ourselves to trust our gut instincts and realize that it’s really a good thing to say no once in a while so we have the time and energy to replenish our own inner resources and be our best selves for those we care about most.”

4. Steer Away From the Passive Aggressive Course


It’s easy to fall into a pattern of sarcasm and personal attacks when you feel your needs aren’t being met. You try to manipulate to get results rather than dealing in honesty. Be straightforward in your communication and you will not build resentment and alienate those you care about.

5. Create Daily Affirmations


We forget we need to take care of ourselves every day of our lives, and creating an affirmation, like a mantra, will help you remember to love and honor yourself. (I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggoneit, people like me!) Meantime, in seeking help with your personal issues, resist playing the needy victim that needs rescuing, but rather be a strong individual who thrives with love and friendship.

6. Lose the Urge to be a Chronic People Pleaser


Yes, being accommodating is kind, but not when you are putting yourself at a disadvantage. Being somewhat selfish is essential for maintaining healthy boundaries. Keep in mind those flight safety measures about first strapping that oxygen mask on yourself before aiding energy suckers who need you. You are no good to anyone if you aren’t taking deep, healthy breaths.

7. Define Your Need for Space

When your wishes aren’t being respected, you need to let people know they are invading your emotional and personal space. Know yourself what the lines are and maintain them rather than allowing yourself to grin and bare the invasion.

8. Nip Boundary-Crossing Conversations In the Bud

The moment a conversation goes south, you need to issue a friendly warning, and if that fails, bail. Hang up the phone, disconnect from the computer, get up and walk out. What does going south mean? When the other party is abusing or disrespecting you, posing danger or threats, pressuring, probing, shaming. No, you don’t have to take it. No, you don’t deserve it.

9. Boost Your Feelings of Self Worth


Take action to feel good about yourself, your body, your motives, your parenting, your partnering, your work.  Whether it’s a self-help group or book, therapy, exercise or a therapeutic cleanse, find a way to embrace your reflection in a compassionate and loving way.

10. Learn to Respect the Boundaries of Others


You have to recognize and respect the boundaries set by your loved ones and friends to truly be able to set healthy ones for yourself. Practice accepting the word no without an argument. Refuse to pressure those who ask you to lay off. Walk the walk.

Images: fotogail, Roland; Breathe Easier; Cozy Beehive; Quinnanya; bwise; contrarianmedia; long trek home; Icanchaheezburger; Boingboing

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.