Developing Personal Power – Setting Great Boundaries – Saying No

Good fences Make Good NeighborsBoundaries Are… Well… Tricky

One of the issues that I address with my clients both privately and in my group coaching program is the issue of boundaries.  How to set them, how to enforce them, and how to not be a bitch while doing it.  Many of my clients are amazing at taking care of others, incredibly capable when taking care of issues, but they have big issues when it comes to taking care of themselves and boundaries are a good first step on the road to self love.  But that first step isn’t always easy and here’s why.

Cultural Programming

Let’s start with the issue of cultural programming.  As women we are taught from an early age to be quiet and soft-spoken, to make sure everything runs smoothly, to make sure everyone is happy, and to never – ever – make a scene.  Now these rules are there because as women, we are the glue that holds the world together.  Our brains are more suited to following the lines of relationships, noticing the details that say when someone’s word and actions don’t mesh, and to keep track  of all the little details that make civilization, well, civil.  But these rules work against us when it comes time for us to take care of ourselves.

Saying “No”

When we want to say “no”, all of that cultural programming kicks in and we are left fighting with ourselves.  After all, if we say “no”, someone might be unhappy and they might ignore the boundary, forcing us to raise our normally soft-spoken voice.  And if people are unhappy, things might not go smoothly result and – gasp! – there might be a scene! Oh No!  In short, the reason so many women (and men who have taken on this typically feminine role) have such a hard time saying “no” is that it violates ALL the rules of being a good woman.

It Doesn’t Mean Being a Bitch

When women get assertive in our culture, we run the risk of being labeled a bitch.  This is because we are breaking these unwritten cultural rules.  And, because we ARE breaking these rules, it often feels like we have to be “strong” or push the energy of the “no”.  This is a common effect of trying to break an old habit – we tend to swing the pendulum a long way into the opposite direction just from the force of the momentum we had to build up inside us in order to overcome the conditioning in the first place.  But a “no” is simply that.  It doesn’t need to be said forcefully.  It simply needs to be said solidly with the conviction to not go back on it.  And NEVER apologize for it or try to explain it.  The more you say, the more you tell the listener that you aren’t committed to it and the more they will try to talk you out of it.  A quiet “no” says more than a million explanations.

What To Do When Your Boundaries Are Being Crossed

There are times when you will say “no” and the other person will ignore it.  At this point, it is your job to stand up for yourself.  Call in your inner warrior and state your boundary again – with finality.  If your boundary is crossed again – say that.  “I’ve said “no” twice and you keep ignoring it – this is unacceptable behavior.”  An impassioned person may not catch this – you may have to say something like “I get that this is really important to you – but you need to understand that you hearing me when I say “no” is really important to me.”  If your boundary is crossed again, walk away.  Clearly the person who isn’t paying attention to your needs in the situation isn’t being rational or reasonable and they deserve no more of your time.  If you can’t walk away or they follow you?  Try to find a security guard or police officer to help if you feel it’s warranted.  If that’s not an option, it’s time to make a scene.

Making a Scene

My favorite way to start a scene is with the words “what part of the word  “no” didn’t you understand!?!”  (Having a few catch-phrases on hand for these situations helps you to have some time to get your thoughts together – this is especially important when you’re feeling victimized or scared as a result of the other person’s actions.)  People who cross your boundaries are bullies (or they have Aspergers Syndrome and they really didn’t understand you in which case the catch phrase above often clears things up).   Bullies are inherently insecure and most will fold under assault.  For those that don’t, the benefit of making a scene is the potential to get help in enforcing your boundaries.  Especially if the person is physically stronger, you may want to let someone else know you have a problem.  (For more about this topic, see my blog on Making a Scene.)

So, Let’s Summarize

  1. Say no – and don’t explain it.
  2. Repeat your no
  3. Point out that the person is crossing your boundaries and this is unacceptable
  4. Walk away
  5. Get help
  6. Make a scene

It’s that simple.


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