setting-boundariesDo you ever have trouble saying No? I sure do. Saying “No” to someone is potentially displeasing for that person. I have difficulty being the source of another person’s disappointment. So, I have trouble saying “no” even when it is obvious I need to. How about you? Do you have trouble saying “No” even when you know it is the right answer?

Setting boundaries is hard for a lot of people. Many of us want to make sure others are pleased. We get our self-worth from what others think and say about us. A friend asks for money repeatedly. A family member expects us to babysit their children over and over without notice. The boss asks us to cancel our plans to finish a project. There are lots of times we need and want to set boundaries but don’t. Maybe you’re not sure if you have a problem with setting boundaries. There is a great boundaries quiz by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud you can find here.

Reasons for Not Setting Boundaries

With an understanding that there are many, many reasons people have difficulty setting boundaries, I came up with 2 lists that are most common. The first list is the fear list:

  1. Fear of hurting the others’ feelings
  2. Fear of losing closeness with the other person because of disapproval
  3. Fear of the other person’s anger
  4. Fear that I am being selfish
  5. Fear of being punished by the other person

These fears are real. However, the emotion being real doesn’t mean the thoughts are rational.

What about the other list? It is the noble list:

  1. If I help, it shows how much I care
  2. If I say yes, the other person will approve of me
  3. If I help, it shows I am not selfish
  4. If I say yes, I will be seen as nice
  5. If I help, I will be putting others’ needs before my own

There are probably a lot of other statements we could put in both lists. However, they are both flawed. The truth is we will sometimes hurt others’ feelings and sometimes others may disapprove when we have to say no. If we say yes out of our need for approval and to be seen a certain way by others, that really has little to do with them in the first place. Remember this, another person’s disappointment doesn’t automatically mean that you did something wrong.

Reasons for Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries does not mean being unkind, rude, or mean. Setting boundaries is a way to draw a line of how far I will go and how far others can come. It is nothing more or less. Complying with others “just to get along” is a great way to build and maintain toxic relationships.

dayspring-counseling-setting-boundariesOne major reason to set solid boundaries is to allow others to grow. Often, we take problems away from others in an attempt to help them. However, removing the problem robs that person of the opportunity to solve that problem and grow from that process. We end up making matters worse as the person becomes dependent on us to solve their problems. In turn, we become co-dependent, having the need to rescue that person. It is a toxic cycle full of conflict, hurt feelings, anger, self-pity, and, often, abusiveness.

Three Steps for Setting Boundaries

Here are 3 steps to setting boundaries. Admittedly, these are easy to say and hard to execute. However, with practice, you will get better and will find freedom.

1. Decide what you want. What is needed? What do you desire? There’s no right or wrong answer. What is it you want?

2. Be firm. This doesn’t mean being unkind. It simply means that you have made a decision. Sometimes you can give reasons, if the person is rational and cares about those reasons. Many times, giving a reason is simply unnecessary because it will do nothing more than create an argument. Anne Lamott said, “No is a complete sentence.” 

3. Understand you are not responsible for the other person’s reactions. The individual to whom you must say “no” may react in all sorts of ways. You are not responsible for any of those. You are responsible for your reactions. That person is responsible for theirs. If they get angry, start yelling, etc., you didn’t cause that. They did.

Setting boundaries can be hard. However, solid boundaries will lead to better relationships in the end.


Maybe you have had trouble saying “No” to others. What things have helped you learn to do this better? Leave your comments below. We would love to hear from you!