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How to say NO to your family and others

Updated on April 11, 2012

Setting clear boundaries

If you have ever said YES when you really meant NO chances are you are not clear about setting boundaries for yourself. You may also be giving mixed messages and creating an inconsistent message to friends, colleagues and family

At the supermarket I often see a common theme when a child having whined and screamed and been told no at the checkout a number of times eventually gets a yes and the candy or whatever is bought just to keep them quiet. So, great lesson for the child - if I scream and whine, I'll get it. The same occurs with adults who are skilled manipulators (probably learned it in the supermarket line up when they were that screaming 5 year old) who use emotional blackmail, guilt, threats, make indirect passive or aggressive statements, use bullying or just keep asking - until you say yes to get them to shut up!

So how do we say no to any or all of these tactics, retain our friends and family and don't get fired?

Understanding your own personal comfort level is the first step in setting a clear boundary. If you are someone who is genuinely uncomfortable saying no to someone ask yourself - when did that start? Consider if all the times you have said yes really felt OK for you. Chances are you are a generous person - which is great - but you are also setting yourself up to get taken advantage of, not great at all.

Where do YOU draw the line?

Creating boundaries does not mean setting a rigid line of defense around yourself. The best boundaries are unbroken wavy lines that accommodate circumstances and situations but who give the same consistent message. Broken lines represent broken and inconsistent messages and a straight line with no breaks represents just that the same message.

Draw the lines on a sheet of paper - think of different times when the wavy line or the rigid line might be useful and then consider whether you use the broken line. The last one usually goes with an uncomfortable or resentful feeling about a yes which should have been a no. The rigid one can set us up into conflict and can be a safety barrier, depending on the circumstances. The wavy line is probably the most comfortable and accommodating once we get used to the practice of being consistent.

Practicing Boundaries to get to NO

The first few times we start to say no if we have always been the one to say yes will definitely have an impact on you and on others. At first you may experience anger and hostility, and resentment. So practising how to say no is important.

Come up with a couple of scenarios that have resulted in you saying yes and where you know that you really wanted to say no. In front of a mirror practice role playing the situation differently. Be both parties. How does it feel to say no? Keep practicing until you start to feel more comfortable and confident. If you have a good friend, counsellor or coach practice it with them. If you think you need help with this please contact me at or seek out a local professional whom you trust


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    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Great commeant anusha15. Thanks for contributing.

    • anusha15 profile image

      Anusha Jain 5 years ago from Delhi, India

      Great advice. Apart from extremes - bullying, emotional blackmail - there are some other pressures which make you say yes. These could be social or peer pressure, and while one might find it difficult to believe, there is a typical kind of pressure - created by self! We close ourselves and start taking our decisions under the pressure of our mind's eye which is constantly looking at and judging us from others' perspective. One has to open up, and start giving more weightage to his/her own opinion instead.

    • p10kabhijita profile image

      Abhijit Aswath 5 years ago from India

      Excellent advice.. after listening to my cousins rant for an hour in a shop this hub makes even more sense to me.

    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC is visual too so others get it easily.

    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Absolutely we often teach the young how not to say no effectively.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Sometimes we learn as a child that no one listens to us when we say no and then we get in the habit of acquiescing. It takes practice. The more dysfunctional the home you grew up in, the harder it is to learn boundaries.

    • DFiduccia profile image

      DFiduccia 5 years ago from Las Vegas


      Good Hub—I like the wavy line concept. It leaves a comfort zone of flexibility.


    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Most of the adult clients I see when I am working as an art therapist probably wouldn't need to see me if they had grown up with good boundaries. Thanks for reading.

    • Saleeln18 profile image

      Saleeln18 5 years ago from Illinois

      Great hub, very true and very informative as well.

      I see many people who have no personal boundaries and they are often taken advantage of, or even taken for granted. Not only do people draw a target on themselves by doing this but it also seems to cause (or even amplify) low self esteem in a lot of ways, fueling the fear of rejection so to speak.

      Anyways, good job I really liked it.

    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Thanks so much oldandwise!

    • Lizam1 profile image

      Lizam1 5 years ago from Victoria BC

      Thanks appreciate you reading.

    • profile image

      oldandwise 5 years ago

      Excellent hub and advice. Many young parents could learn from this! voted up.