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In my last article, we discussed the need for help.  In continuation of that discussion, I want to elaborate on setting boundaries—knowing when, and how to say no.

As good people, we have good intentions, and are eager to lend a helping hand.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the habit of saying yes.  But when lending a helping hand is done in such an excessive way that helping ends up being of detriment to your health and well-being and hinders the growth and development of the person you are trying to help, there lies a problem.

I used to be in the habit of saying ‘yes’ all the time.  “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my family and friends or someone in need,” I would say.  And as I gave and gave and gave of myself, never saying no to anyone, I became weak and tired.  Then one day a good friend, one of the most giving people I know, pulled me to the side.  She said, “You need to learn how to say no.”

“Say no,” I thought to myself.  It was a foreign concept, but certainly not a bad idea.  I had my reservations—I’m a giver by nature.  Would saying no change that about me?  Would my family and friends reject me for asserting my new position?  Extreme exhaustion forced me to find out the answers to these questions.  I was surprised and delighted to see that the world did not crumble to bits.  My family and friends, all who love me, did not abandon me.  It may have taken some getting used to, but my worries were absolutely unsubstantiated.  And as I became better acquainted with saying no, it became easier.  Yes there was the occasional disappointment, but nothing that was impossible to overcome.

Let me clarify that in saying no, I am in no ways suggesting that we should stop helping one another.  I firmly believe in the saying, “I am my brother’s keeper.”  I also believe that as human beings we are meant to help one another.  I now know that one cannot be of genuine help to others when doing so contributes to one’s own decline.  Make time for yourself.  Nourish yourself.  You MUST allow yourself the freedom to say no, especially when saying no to someone else means saying yes to yourself.

A few tips in your journey toward comfortably saying no…

  • Create a list of rules and stick to them.

  • Let go of the commitments that you made in haste.  If the extra activities you are involved in are no longer aligned with your lifestyle and journey, let those things go.

  • Set boundaries and do not violate them.  At some point, when you say no, you are bound to meet with resistance.  Stand firm in your convictions, and do not allow anyone to add clutter to the space you have just cleaned.

  • Be consistent, and set the new tone.  By being consistent and clear with your family and friends, and most importantly yourself, you lessen the risk of moving backward.

  • Be polite.  Saying no does not have to be harsh or off putting.  Speak kindly always, and you will witness the true power of words.

Have you developed a creative way to say no?  Have you noticed that in saying the occasional no, you are more affective in your endeavor to help others?  Share your story with us on Facebook.  We’d love to hear from you.

Melissa Brooks-Cuffee holds two Bachelors degrees from Towson University: one in Psychology, the other in English. She is a member of the Psi Chi and Lambda Iota Tau honor fraternities, and is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Baltimore. Melissa has assumed various administrative roles within the healthcare and mental healthcare field and maintains the positions of Administrative Assistant and Scheduling Coordinator at The Stone Foundation.

This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004 or visit our website for more information.


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