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Have Trouble Saying No? Here’s Help

Above, Brené Brown describes how we burn out by trying to feel good enough by pleasing and performing and perfecting.  This interferes with our ability to show up in relationships as ourselves.

How Healthy People Learn Relationship Skills

People learn to do this in childhood when

  • boundaries are respected
  • boundaries are modeled
  • boundaries are taught

Frankly, this stuff should be formally taught to everyone. Interacting with others is really challenging and everyone struggles a bit, whether they know it or not. It would help if we all knew the same stuff.

The core theme of DBT’s interpersonal effectiveness training is assertiveness, both in making requests and in setting boundaries.

The Trauma Connection

Nothing violates boundaries more than sexual assault. However, emotional neglect and abuse, physical neglect and abuse, all serve to teach children that their needs cannot be met and must be suppressed. This is why many survivors of childhood neglect and abuse wind up putting others’ needs before their own, although certainly plenty of non-survivors do that, too.

In the video above, Brené Brown argues that we say “yes” when we mean “no” because we don’t feel like we’re enough and we strive to be enough by “pleasing and performing and perfecting.” The problem is that there is no such thing as “enough,” and it’s only by recognizing our inner worthiness can we set boundaries, or as she puts it “Being enough starts with saying ‘Enough!’”

As with the other modules, there are many lessons and components in the Interpersonal Effectiveness module. One that is particularly cool is the one that highlights that despite what we make think, saying “yes” and “no” isn’t actually a binary proposition. Thinking this way has actually helped me in how I ask and receive inquiries. I find that it also helps facilitate the discussion that a “no” isn’t necessarily rejection, though many people feel like it is. Below is an example of the range of assertiveness with which you can ask or refuse request.

Screen Shot 2015-01-15 at 8.13.46 PM


This post is part of a series on how DBT is helpful for complex trauma.  Dialectical Behavior Therapy address issues of mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation and distress tolerance.  Follow the links to learn more!
Have Trouble Saying No? Here’s Help

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2015). Have Trouble Saying No? Here’s Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Jan 2015
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