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Wood Paneling by Jay Mantri

Saying No and Setting Boundaries Without Being Mean

I’ve always had a hard time saying no. When someone needs something and they ask me, I’m happy to help. Sometimes I don’t really want to, but I just need to suck it up and do it. Even if I’m overworked. Someone else is in need and things would run smoother if I just helped them out. It’s the right thing to do. If I say no, then I’m lazy, selfish, and uncooperative.

Saying yes has been the default answer for years. Sometimes I really want to say no. Like when I’m asked for just one small thing and it’s a lot easier for me to say yes than to actually say no and explain why. It creates a ton of inner conflict in me.

Why do I say yes when I mean no?

I’m so used to saying yes, that I feel like I can be quite a pushover. I don’t want to make someone else mad or unhappy by refusing to help them out. This is a dominant characteristic of nice guy syndrome I’ve learned. I’ll say “sure,” and then figure out a way to do it. After all, my feelings are my feelings, I’ll deal with them on my own and try to come to terms with this new obligation.

Side note, we talk about acting out of obligation in the first episode of the Maker/Mistaker Podcast. My guest Gigi says it’s the most awkward way to do something for another. 

Saying Yes When You Mean No

Last week I realized I’m continually tested to say no. I said yes to something I really wanted to say no to. I even battled it out in my head and just decided to say yes against my better judgment. I was pissed at myself! I was trying to avoid conflict and avoid having to explain why I was “being a dick” by saying no. I didn’t want the extra stress, so I just did it anyway. Ugh!

Again, nice guys like me think that by saying no they are jerks. It’s not that black and white.

Why is it so hard to say no?

I came across this article on Tiny Buddha that talked about listening to your intuition. I could relate a lot with the idea of having to get up  and go for a walk because I didn’t know how to respond to an email. I was angry that I was once again going against what I wanted to please another person.

I’ve learned that it’s because I just don’t have good boundaries.

Proper Boundaries as a Life Lesson

Boundaries is a word to describe where you draw the line. It’s about being confident in yourself and knowing when to say no, stand up for yourself, or choose what you allow into your life.

I kind of allow everything that comes my way in to some degree. It’s like swiss cheese boundaries. No good!

Coincidentally, I ordered an astrological analysis of my birth chart and it actually described this “softness” as inherent in my personality! It said that this lack of boundaries can be good in that it makes me empathic and I can easily understand other people’s struggles. This makes me a great healer. But it also warned that establishing healthy boundaries is a life lesson for me.

Where do Lousy Boundaries Come From?

When we are kids, it was our job to obey authority. Parents, teachers, police officers, etc. In a typical interaction with Mom and Dad, what we wanted was often not what our parents wanted. Sometimes when we would express our desires we were told we were bad and were shamed. We might have been told it was selfish.

Then we felt lots of shame around the idea of being selfish. That being selfless was good and selfish was bad. Being selfish meant that you only cared about yourself and you treated others like dirt to get what you want. You saw selfish people in your life and you wanted to be nothing like them.

He’s Such a Good Dude

As an adult I ended up building a reputation of being a “really good dude.” I mean, I had my own selfish desires for fame and fortune growing up, but I kinda felt bad when I achieved them. I didn’t want people to think I was selfish! I would make sure to downplay the attention and help out other people when asked. I’d always be nice and caring. I didn’t want to become a narcissist or an egotistical jerk!

But here’s the catch.

[Tweet “Worrying other people will think you’re selfish if you say no is actually very selfish in itself.”]

You are concerned with your self-image. You are concerned people will think you’re mean and uncaring which you are not. You are a good person! So you have to uphold the image of being good otherwise you could lose credibility or esteem. You could lose friends, family, and you’d be alone.

You’d be unloved.

Don’t Leave Me Please

Here we are at the concept of being unloved. The core of so many adult issues.

When we were kids we received love when were good and were punished or ignored when we were bad. We listened and obeyed to get the approval of others so we would get attention and be loved.

When I was a teenager I felt that being nice was a virtue, so I made sure to be really nice to girls but I couldn’t understand why none asked me out and they all dated “losers” who seemed mean and inconsiderate. How could the girls fall for such bullshit?

Ahh this is such a common problem with nice guys. Not, guys who are nice, but self-identified Nice Guys with a capital NG.

Turns out being nice was helping me build great friendships, just not any dates! And my relationships with people were quite friendly and good. In my career I was trusted and admired. I never missed a deadline or displeased a customer. It’s not that I didn’t have principles. It’s just that my principles were being nice, generous, loving, kind, and caring. Even if it went against my own well-being. I was the opposite of any bullies and mean jerks I grew up with. So I hung my hat on that and took pride in my goodness.

Spread Thin

As I get older though I started to feel resentment build up inside. Like a sense of unfairness. That the more I achieved, the more people wanted pieces of me and my time. My principle of being nice was spreading me thin. I was saying yes to too many things and didn’t actually know how to say no.

I felt like I had to choose sides. My work, my band, my wife, my festival, my friends… They all wanted my time and whoever tugged the hardest got my time at the expense of others. It seemed I was always in the middle!

I could only say no when I had a good, verifiable reason that took my own free-will out of the equation. Like, “oh I already have plans that night with so and so.” Or “I would love to but we just can’t afford it.” Or “crap, I wish I could but I’m out of town.”

But if I didn’t have an excuse, it was just me having to make the decision. And that was really hard to do when I know that saying no would make them unhappy or upset.

That’s what happens when you don’t have a sense of responsibility to yourself. A year of personal development focus has alerted this to me. When you live for validation and approval of others, even unconsciously, poor boundaries and resentment result. You’ll be stuck in the middle.

Standing Up For Myself

I finally got pissed at myself for letting it happen one more time. That’s it, no more Mr. Nice Guy! I’m no longer going to be so nice!

Well, not so fast. I can still be nice without sacrificing my ideals. I can still say no without damaging my relationships. I can still say no and actually get respect. By saying no, people actually feel safe around me.

Besides, who wants a relationship with people who take and take but never give?

If you have read Robert Glover’s book No More Mr. Nice Guy, I really recommend it. While you’re at it, read Way of the Superior Man as well. And read this post on how nice guys are really not so nice.

Being able to say no confidently requires solid boundaries. To have solid boundaries you need to love yourself and stop seeking validation or approval externally. The more I do this, the less fear there is around denying a request.

Some tips on boundaries:

  • Start becoming aware every time you say yes when you mean no
  • Notice what you are really seeking when you say yes – is it approval?
  • Practice self-love and appreciation every day
  • Spend time with people who have good boundaries
  • Find validation within by connecting with your spirit
  • Make your boundaries clear to others, you can be polite
  • Know your purpose! Live your truth. That’s your integrity.
  • Let your heart, not your ego be your guiding light
  • If you use say “I should do this or they’ll be mad” it’s a good sign of poor boundaries
  • Following your joy will help you discover your purpose
  • Focus on your personal development as a human being
  • Spend some time alone, take a solo vacation
  • Don’t act out of obligation, but out of genuine desire

What are you really looking for when you say yes? Approval? Learn how you can give that to yourself so you stop seeking it from others.

I’ve still got a ways to go with my own personal boundaries. I’m getting better. It will take time.

More on the topic of setting good boundaries, saying no, and people that feed off your energy.

I’m going to leave you with one video that have inspired me on this subject:

Jeff Finley
Jeff Finley

Jeff is a graphic artist, designer, musician, writer, and mystic with a passion for truth and personal growth. He's the author of Wake Up, Maker/Mistaker, and Thread's Not Dead, as well as the creator of Starseed Supply Co. Learn more about him here.

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