Boundaries and Growth: When to Say No and When to Say Yes
by Lindsey Turnbull
This month, between hosting How To 101, where we practiced saying no with tact, and thinking of our theme, G R O W T H, I reflected on how hard it can be to know when to say no and when to say yes.
There are many times when it is stunningly obvious: no, I will not do something that makes me uncomfortable. Yes, I will do my homework. But what about when it isn’t so clear? What about when it’s your friend asking you to do something that could get you into trouble? What about wanting to do something new and being scared?
Let’s talk, because you’re definitely NOT alone in these situations.
When to Say NO
First and foremost: “No.” Is a complete sentence. If someone asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable or feel unsafe, say No. This is something that make take practice because we usually want to explain why we are saying no. You do not owe anyone an explanation. No is a complete sentence that does not need further elaboration.
You have the right to say no and you do not need to elaborate further, especially if someone is being aggressive, rude, or making you uncomfortable.
Saying No With Humor:
That said, there are plenty of situations where you may want to say “no” with an explanation, for example, to a friend.
However, if you feel like you need to elaborate, you can do so with tact and even humor. You can say no, diffuse the situation with humor, and offer an alternative. For example, if your friend Sara asks you to skip class, and you don’t want to, here are two ways you could respond:
“No thank you, Sara, I can’t skip class with you because I really need to bring my grade up. Maybe we can meet after school.”
“No thanks, Sara, I can’t skip class because my butt is literally glued to this seat and now, I’m stuck. Maybe we can hang later?”
Both ways allow you to establish your boundaries without hurting your friendship.
Saying No for your Heart:
I have to be honest, so many young women I meet are BUSY. They have school, a job, community service, student government, activism, homework, siblings to care for, music lessons, sports practice, etc. Y’all are busy, and that can be overwhelming.
It’s OK to say no to protect your time, heart, and energy. If you’re an introvert, especially, it’s important to make space for you to recharge. Again, you can do this politely and offer an alternative.
“I’m sorry Tara, I am so burnt out this week and I just can’t add anything else to my plate. Could we get coffee this weekend instead? I’d love to hear about your soccer tournament.”
Especially as young women, we can be afraid to say no because we worry that people won’t like us. True friends understand that you are not always going to be available- and that’s OK! If you can’t bear the thought of committing to something, it’s OK to say no.
When To Say YES!
What? Saying yes is easy, right? Not always! As an introvert, I sometimes struggle to say yes when I should: going to a business or community event, or trying something new. It can be hard to put ourselves out there, especially if you are an introvert or have anxiety, like me!
It’s good to practice pushing ourselves in ways that help us stretch beyond our comfort zone and grow.
Say Yes to New Experiences!
New experiences, like events or classes, can be really intimidating or overwhelming and it’s tempting- for me at least- to stay at home rather than go. Saying no offhand can really stifle our growth and opportunities.
Say there’s a party or an event that you’re interested in attending, but you may not know a lot of people. Try telling yourself “I’m going to go and really be engaging and friendly for just twenty minutes. Then I’ll go home.” By the time you get into the swing of the event, twenty minutes flies by and you may even end up staying longer.
Or you could try: “I’m going to go and have real, genuine conversations with five people, then I will leave.” You never know who you’ll meet in these situations: new friends, potential bosses, great connections, etc. It can be so worth it to put yourself out there- and giving yourself a solid out can help you feel in control while giving you space to grow.
Say Yes to Looking Silly
Sometimes, it’s scary to do something new and in front of other people. You might be interested in a class or workshop, but dread the thought of looking foolish or *gasp* not good in front of strangers.
What if you’re not good? Well, that’s why you’re at the class or the workshop, right? Chances are, everyone else is focused on themselves and doing it right (whatever it is, dance, poetry, painting, yoga, etc.), that they aren’t even looking at you. Knowing that no one is watching can take the pressure off!
Also, know that if you go and hate it- that every minute is agonizing- you can just leave! Isn’t that a liberating thought?
I’ve taken classes where I worried I was going to be the worst person in the room- especially at art classes. And you know what? It turned out fine. Better than fine. I really enjoyed myself.
And no, I’m not a master potter, poet laureate, or yogini, but that’s OK. If I said no offhand, I would’ve deprived myself of a great, enjoyable experience. Doing the classes made me happy, and that was worth the temporary discomfort of feeling like people are looking at me or judging me.
Remember, you can say no to anything that makes you uncomfortable. You can say no to things that tax your spirit. You can say no politely, with humor and tact, and still feel good and preserve your friendships.
Also, you can say YES to things that seem intimidating or nerve wracking. You can say YES to things that stretch you and allow you to grow, even if you feel nervous.