Skip to main content

Embrace the Power of Saying No

Karli writes as a therapeutic outlet and with the hope that her articles will be useful to fellow survivors of narcissistic abuse.

Creator: Martin Vorel

Creator: Martin Vorel

Learn to Establish Healthy Personal Boundaries

You learn to implement them by watching your parents and guardians. However, when your caregivers are dysfunctional, they tend to have no boundaries of their own, therefore setting the wrong example for you to follow. And if the role models in your life are personality disordered (narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, or psychopathic) they outright discourage you from having personal boundaries so you’ll be easy to control and manipulate.

Given that type of upbringing, it’s no surprise that you developed into an adult with weak, or non-existent, personal boundaries. Now, you must learn to establish them in order to protect yourself from further abuse from the disordered. It may feel foreign and unpleasant at first, but you have to practice saying no. This is especially important if you always say yes to everything, without hesitation. Start responding to requests for assistance, invitations to events, and basically everything with, “I’ll have to check my calendar” or, “Let me think about it.” And then, think about it.

When Forming A Response, Ask Yourself The Following Questions:

1. Do You Want To Go/Do/Help Out With Whatever Is Being Asked Of You?

As you contemplate this question, set emotional worries aside – What will people think of me? How will it look? Is it socially acceptable to decline? Am I meeting the expectations others have for me? How will others judge my decision? If none of that mattered, would you say no? Will you feel resentful if you say yes?

As an example, let's say your co-workers are all going out for drinks after work, and they ask you to join them. You feel like you see enough of your peers during the week, and you don't particularly think hanging out at a bar is much fun. You politely decline, but then some of them start joking that you're no fun, you need to live a little, you must not like them, etc. If you say yes because you feel pressured, what are the chances you'll actually enjoy yourself? Even if you manage to crack a smile occasionally, you'll probably feel more resentment than pleasure.

In order to make the proper adjustments to your limit setting, it's important to understand where your boundaries template originated and the typical signs of unhealthy behaviors.

— Linda Esposito, LCSW

2. How Important Is It Really?

Are we talking about a funeral service for a close relative? Will it impact family relations if you don’t show up? Is it a work function that isn’t technically mandatory, but you’re expected to at least make an appearance? Some situations are trickier than others, and you'll have to decide when to plant your feet and when to not rock the boat.

In other words, an acquaintance asks you to help them refinish a piece of furniture, because it's something you've mentioned you do as a hobby. However, this person is someone who talks incessantly, and you don't want to spend a lot of time with them. This isn't very important; it is perfectly okay to say no.

However, if a distant cousin (whom you don't know well) has passed away, and another cousin (who was close with both of you) asks you to attend the funeral with him for emotional support, you may want to acquiesce. Funerals are no fun, and it's fine to skip them when you barely knew the deceased. But your living cousin is important to you. In this case, you'll have to ask yourself how it would affect your relationship if you chose not to attend.

3. Does Saying Yes Involve Rearranging Other Plans?

If you already have other plans that you were looking forward to, simply state that out loud and express your regrets. There's no need to go into detail about what your plans are. You don't need to explain yourself. Unless, as stated above, it’s a family emergency or something as urgent. For instance, say you made plans to go fishing over the weekend, but your nephew died, and now you must forego fishing in order to attend the wake. However, if you made plans to go fishing Saturday, but your sister’s babysitter canceled at the last minute, and she wants you to step in, so she can go get a manicure, “Sorry Sis, I have other plans.”


4. Do You Feel Like The Person Asking Would Give You A Hard Time About Refusing?

If the person asking is putting you on the spot, insisting on an answer right then and there, this is a good indication you should refuse. Especially if you've already refused and they keep demanding that you tell them why. (As mentioned previously, you don't need to provide any explanation. No is a complete sentence.) There's no scenario where capitulating to emotional manipulation is an appropriate response to it. Have they acted manipulatively toward you or others in the past? If so, you need to say no unless you have a damn good reason for having to concede (funeral, mandatory overtime at work, they're literally holding a gun to your head, etc.).

5. Are You Saying Yes For Someone Other Than Yourself As Well?

For example, Bob and his uncle, Ed, are golfing on a Thursday. Ed tells Bob that he just moved into a new home, and he is having a housewarming party on Saturday. He invites Bob, and Bob's wife Sally, to come to the party. Bob accepts the invitation for both of them. Bob forgets to tell Sally until Friday over dinner that they are both expected at a housewarming party the very next day. Sally is angry.

In this situation, Bob never gave Sally a chance to decline the invitation. He didn't allow Sally to reflect on questions 1 - 4 before making a decision for herself. It's not okay to accept an invitation for someone else (minor children excluded). When plans involve another person whom you can’t presume to say yes for, this is a wonderful opportunity to exercise your assertiveness by responding with, “Thanks for the invite; I’ll run it by my spouse.” And then do so. In this case, it’s short notice, so you might want to send a text, or call, asap, but always check with the other person involved, as they may have other plans. Or they may not want to go, which is perfectly fine.

The Holistic Psychologist Brings You A Beginners Guide to Setting Boundaries

Strong Personal Boundaries Are Essential

In time, your family, friends, and co-workers will accept your boundaries, and the emotionally stable ones will gain respect for you. It’s possible that fluttery feeling of nervousness will always be present when you assert yourself, but you must not succumb to it. On the other hand, you may discover that you truly enjoy establishing boundaries and being assertive.


  • -- "Boundaries Protect You from Narcissists and Borderlines, Part 3: The Very Basics" -- Dr. Tara Palmatier, PsyD
  • -- "Boundaries: A Guide to Making Essential Life Decisions" -- Linda Esposito, LCSW

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Karli McClane