Women often ask me what the secret is to setting a boundary or saying “no” to someone and not feeling guilty and bad about it—as if this was a really big secret. Perhaps they are thinking, If I say it like this, maybe she won’t get mad, or If I phrase it just like this, maybe they won’t think I am being mean.
Evidently, a lot of guilt has been going around. Here’s a little of what I heard recently:
- “Cherilynn, how do I tell my step-siblings that I don’t want to drive to Naperville (an hour away) on Christmas? We don’t talk. We don’t even like each other, and I feel resentful that I am the one who always has to drive out there! I am getting too old for this.”
- “I was in traffic for two hours with screaming kids, so I turned around. I told my sister we would not be there for the family dinner. She isn’t speaking to me and now I feel terrible!”
- “I can’t say ‘no’ because I feel so stressed and anxious afterward. What is the trick to avoid feeling bad when I disappoint other people?”
Saying no and feeling guilty is a year-round dilemma for a lot of people. It is also one of the most popular complaints I hear from women.
What is the trick to not feeling guilty when you say “no” or set boundaries for others?
Wait for it …
The secret to getting over the guilt is to go through the guilt.
Going Through The Guilt
Unfortunately, there is no particular way that “makes” people not be angry or disappointed with you when you set limits. As long as you are being respectful and kind in saying “no,” then you have done your best to set the stage. What they do with your response is up to them. It’s their issue. When you feel bad, you are taking on what isn’t yours to take.
To stop feeling bad, you have to first go through the bad feeling. Say “no” or thoughtfully and politely excuse yourself, keep breathing, anticipate uneasiness, repeat. The more you practice, the less guilty and bad you will feel. We get better at all things with practice.
Additionally, I can pump you up with some truths that should make the feeling guilty/bad thing a little less painful.
1. Feeling guilty doesn’t mean you have done anything wrong. In fact, the guilt is “unearned” guilt. It is shame that you have been given by a society that says you must always be accommodating. Let go of your need to put others’ needs first. Such shame serves society’s purposes but drives you crazy, makes you stressed, adds to feelings of low self-worth, and has nothing to do with making good, sound decisions. You can be kind to others by being kind to yourself.
2. It isn’t your fault that you have difficulty saying no. This isn’t an issue of low self-worth or a lack of intrinsic value. It is how you are wired. Accept it and don’t judge yourself.
3. You are not a mean person because you choose to take care of yourself. You are simply trying to do your best.
4. It is okay to set boundaries for yourself. There are no “right” boundaries and “wrong” boundaries. Your life is your own—you decide where, when and how to set boundaries.
**Biggest tip for saying no. Keep it short and sweet. The more you starting umming and explaining, the more you open the door for counter-negotiating. Change the subject and move on so the other person can move on too.
Your experience can help others: Do you have a guilt story you can share with other readers? What worked for you? How did you feel? How did others react to choices you made that set or reinforced boundaries?
About the author: Cherilynn M. Veland, LCSW, MSW, leads a new self-advocacy movement intended to help women reach out, speak up, and take action steps for what’s best for them. Please support this effort by liking the Facebook pageand/or subscribing for updates. You can also connect on Twitter and Google Plus.
For more information or to arrange a speaking engagement or small group, contact Cherilynn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stop Giving It Away the book will be published Spring 2015.