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This is a complete sentence. And we need to say it more often.

Of course, most of us already understand what setting a boundary means. The trouble is just enforcing it. One of the easiest ways of setting and enforcing a boundary is simply saying “no”. Well, it’s supposed to be simple. In reality, saying no without offering an excuse or additional information as to why you refuse often feels too direct, a little bit rude in the context of conversation, resulting in feelings of guilt and discontent. A lot of the time we put the pressure on ourselves to agree.

Why is it so difficult for us to say no? Perhaps it’s the culture of capitalism that we live in that promotes busy-ness. We always need to be doing something to be productive. If someone asks me to do something, and I have nothing else to do, why not do it? Perhaps it’s people’s increased online presence on social media, which allows people, especially strangers, to feel entitled to our thoughts, feelings, time, and energy. Or maybe it’s our genuine desire to perform acts of service. A lot of us have generous hearts. Residents of Hawaii are known for their sense of community, and this sense has only formed out of community members’ willingness to help and support each other on small and large scales. Because of this, saying no to someone can turn into a sort of moral dilemma, a betrayal of everything you know.

However, the desire to help others should never take precedence over the need to care for ourselves. When we consistently agree to others’ requests, when they ask for help or otherwise, we might end up stretching ourselves thin, and we become stressed and overwhelmed. We’re reluctant to prioritize ourselves. When we too often prioritize others, without consideration for our own needs, our tiredness can cause resentment and frustration, at ourselves and the others, which leads to additional guilt cause you’re the one that agreed to so many things, and you feel like you put yourself in that situation.

Let’s prevent feelings of guilt and resentment by setting boundaries. I urge you to be unafraid to say no, but even that can feel like a big step. There are other ways of denying someone’s request if you find that “no” tastes too bitter on your tongue.

  • “I can’t” when someone asks you for a favor but you’re busy with your own life.

  • “I don’t feel like it” when someone asks you to hang out but you’re too tired.

  • “I’d rather do something else instead.” This one is really helpful for people with a difficult time saying no because it comes off so positively. If we don’t have the physical or mental energy for a certain task, redirect it to something you feel prepared to handle. This allows for us to prioritize ourselves while still feeling helpful.

When saying no while setting a boundary, you don’t have to offer an explanation. They’ll probably ask for one anyway. Saying you’re busy with other things, saying you need time to rest, or saying you just don’t want to are all good enough reasons to say no. You don’t have to apologize, either. You were never under any obligation to agree. Setting boundaries must become a habit. Hopefully, saying no without feeling bad about it will become another habit, even if it takes a little time.

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