author atherton drenth

Atherton Drenth

7 Nov 2016

“No is a complete sentence” Annie Lamott

I love this statement. It is the epitome of boundary setting. The quintessential statement that is instantly and resolutely definitive.

I often find myself in conversation with clients about what it means to set clear boundaries. For many, especially women, saying no conjures up images of being unloving, uncaring, being cold hearted, rude, unavailable and unwilling to cooperate. Yet those very same conversations will give reference to a friend or colleague who they admire and deeply respect because they are very clear about what they will or will not do and are not afraid of the word, no.

Ironically the word, no, is often the very first word a toddler will learn to say quite eloquently. Most teenagers also love to use the word no with great abandon. Most parents have experienced the subdued wrath of a teenager saying no to the simplest request often with the added dramatics of rolling eyes and dismissive posture. We have all been the toddler and the teenager. Yet when we reach adulthood we seem to forget the power and effectiveness of the word no.

I wonder why? What is so horrible about saying no to something you don’t want to do or can’t do? When did it suddenly become wrong to be clear about setting personal boundaries? When did we lose our own inner sense of truthful honesty?

What is a clear boundary? It is being aware of what makes you happy, joyful, or passionate. It is also about being realistic about your own personal priorities and putting them into context with respect to your current obligations. Relationships, children, family, partner, work, fun.

There are only so many hours in a day and in the midst of all these obligations there has to be a balance. Learning to say no, mean no and stick to no when something doesn’t fit for you is your right. It is being clear, honest, integral to your own self worth and mental health. You don’t need to apologize, justify or feel guilty about being clear about what is right for you. This is not being selfish – it is about being honest about what is working for you or not working for you.

If saying no gives you days of internal angst is it because you are more afraid of how the other person will react? Then you need to ask yourself, “When did you become responsible for how other people react?” No one seems to mind pushing you around and making you feel uncomfortable. But here you are bending yourself into pretzels trying to make everybody happy and deep down feeling miserable and unloved. So, who benefits here?

There is an art to saying no in a way that is loving but firm. When a request is made, listen and determine if it is truly something that excites you. Then decide if you have the time to dedicate to the request. If you feel deflated, obligated, unsure, unwilling or feel overwhelmed because you don’t know where you will find the time then learn to say no with clarity and finality.

I find the easiest way to say no, is to respond with “Thank you for the opportunity but it is not a good fit for me,” or “No, thank you it is not something I can do” Or “No thank you that is not a project that interests me.” My personal favourite is, “Oh, how lovely! Thank you so much but no.”

Personally, I find that when I say thank you and remain clear about turning down the request it is respected and honoured. I don’t make excuses like, “Oh, I would love too but I haven’t got the time right now.” Or “Maybe later.” That just leaves the door open to be asked again in a few weeks. I call that creating “fuzzy boundaries” because you aren’t saying yes and you are not saying no. It only results in you feeling guilting and worrying when they will ask again. Which doesn’t help anyone, especially you.

Saying no to a relationship that is no longer working can be hard because we are always afraid we are hurting the other person’s feelings. But when you get right down to it, who are you really hurting? Only yourself because you are too afraid to walk away from something that is draining you and making you miserable. In these situation’s trying to be friends with your ex is just dragging out the inevitable. Be clear. Say no, its over. Then don’t respond to any requests whether it be messages, texts, emails, or coffee dates. No means no. You owe it to yourself, to them and to your family to be crystal that the relationship is now over.

On the flip side, there is also an art to learning how to accept when someone says no to you. Learn to accept with grace and dignity. Trying to cajole them into changing their mind or feel guilty only tarnishes the relationship. If you want people to respect your time, then you also need to respect their time. I find it helpful to remember that when someone is telling you that they can’t do something is not about you, it is all about them. They are being clear about what they are personally capable of.

There is a big difference. Don’t muddy the emotional boundaries by taking it personal and making them feel guilty because you can’t get them to do what you want. That is honesty being reciprocated. Learning to say no, mean no and accept no is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves and to our loved ones. Life would be so much easier if held our own self respect and that of others in high esteem.

Atherton Drenth is a Clairvoyant, Medical Intuitive, Holistic Energy Practitioner and author of The Intuitive Dance and Following Body Wisdom. Atherton also appears in the documentary, “Voyage to Betterment” as one of 12 experts along with other internationally renowned physicians, researchers, and pioneers in the fields of consciousness research and spirituality. She has a private practice in Guelph, Ontario at the Paradigm Centre for Wellness.