June 24, 2014
Do you find yourself baking cupcakes at eleven o’clock on a Thursday night for the class party on Friday? Or looking after an acquaintance’s beagle for a long weekend though you don’t know the first thing about dogs and aren’t even sure you like them all that much?  Ever get asked to make all the costumes for the youth group Christmas pageant… and the sets?  Does your friend routinely ask you to drive her to her boyfriend’s house… 87 kilometers away? Does your mother-in-law tend to drop in for cake and coffee just as you’re trying to cook for a local family of nine who just had a baby while also sorting laundry for three of your own teenaged children who are leaving for soccer camp – and she gets upset because you’re not paying attention to her so you stop doing what you need to do because she gets to you like that? Has your right ear been worn smooth from all the hours you spend on the phone with that friend who moans about her mean boss?

Me neither. Never.

There are men and women both who have a hard time saying “No”, but I suspect a scientific study would prove what you and I already know to be true: a woman often feels guilty when she says no, so she says yes instead.

It’s hardwired into us to love, to serve, to give of ourselves, to sacrifice.  But what happens when the off switch is broken? She begins to feel frazzled, frustrated, and worn down. She acquiesces to any request for help, any demand on her for time or service or love, but resentment creeps in. She experiences fatigue and emptiness because her reserves have run dry.

How do we prevent the meltdown? By having good boundaries.

Like a geographical border, or a fence between neighbours, boundaries keep someone else’s problems out of your yard and in their where they belong (Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend) Borders define what is me/not me, and where I end and someone else begins. Good boundaries allow us to be present in the moment to serve with love, and to love in freedom.

“The most basic boundary-setting word is ‘no.’” (Boundaries) But what a difficult word it is for our beleaguered woman of the examples above to say! She has been conditioned since childhood to be pleasing, to not make waves or draw attention to herself. There is fear of being rejected or having people think poorly of her.

For that woman, here are a few helpful suggestions from the Boundaries book:

Know the truth about God and about yourself. “Many people live scattered and tumultuous lives trying to live outside their own boundaries, not accepting and expressing the truth of who they are. Honesty about who you are gives you the biblical value of integrity.” Know who you were created to be and what God is calling you to do. This leads to knowing that your worth, your value comes from God and not from the people around you.

Claim some space. Space can be very healthy, be it physical or geographical. Put some distance between yourself and the person you can’t say no to or you and that toxic relationship.

Foster good, healthy relationships. Those are the ones that reinforce positive habits and good boundaries. Those are the people who don’t take advantage of you, don’t drain you dry. Healthy relationships are respectful of each person.

Proper ownership of responsibility. We are responsible for our own feelings, behaviour, choices, actions, limits, thoughts, etc. We are NOT responsible for those of other people. No matter how sad their puppy dog eyes, how cold their stony silence, or how profound their disappointment.

Know that you CAN say no. It is not selfish to say no. You have legitimate needs, prior commitments, personal responsibilities, reasonable limits, finite resources, and a desire for a good night’s sleep. You can say no.

Practice saying no. There are ‘safe’ people in your life that will hear your ‘no’ and comply with it, and keep on loving you. Take them for a test drive so you can experience deciding yes or no without fear of negative consequences. Remember that being asked doesn’t mean having to say yes. Know that saying no doesn’t make you selfish or unkind.

Set limits. Set priorities. Be ok with them.
I heard Matthew Kelly speak recently, and he spoke about the need to distinguish between what is important and what is trivial. We can develop tunnel vision, or become so caught up in day-to-day life that we lose perspective. We may find ourselves agreeing to do far more than we are capable of doing, or relegating more important family obligations to the background in order to do something random. Boundaries help us to be able to see the demands placed on us with the proper perspective.

In her book, Gift From the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes, “Woman instinctively wants to give, yet resents giving herself in small pieces. […] I believe that what woman resents is not so much giving herself in pieces as giving herself purposelessly. What we fear is not so much that our energy may be leaking away through small outlets as that it may be going ‘down the drain’. […] Purposeful giving is not as apt to deplete one’s resources; it belongs to that natural order of giving that seems to renew itself even in the act of depletion. The more one gives, the more one has to give.”

Purposeful giving comes from being able to say yes with a free heart, to offer your time, your service without resentment and without detriment to the responsibilities and obligations you already have.

Having the wisdom to discern what is important, to recognize when it isn’t purposeful giving, and to know your worth is reflected in God not in other people, and the ability to answer yes or no in freedom without fear comes from have an intimate relationship with God. There is no getting around it: daily prayer is a necessity.  This is one thing that we shouldn't say no to. (Caveat: not even prayer should replace the right and good responsibilities and obligations belonging to us.)

Finally, here is a quote from The West Wing. It is advice given to a very young secretary of the newly elected president when she is told that people will always be asking her for access to the oval office: “Your most frequent response will be no. Say it with empathy and you’ll be fine.” A properly discerned no is a fine and good thing, but should never be given without charity – it is respectful.

So go! Build boundaries! May your no’s be henceforth firm and fair.


  1. Oh Tess, I needed to hear this. It's not easy to say no, but I know how much I resent it when I don't. Thank you for reiterating. I especially love that Lindbergh book (and quote).

  2. I need to be reminded of this myself! No really is a hard word to say (as an adult. Kids have that quite figured out!)



What is a woman? What does it mean to be feminine? There is softness and hardness, compassion and ferocity. There is contentment and adventure, freedom and service. We're conundrums, especially to ourselves, but we all, in some way, possess beauty, creativity, intuition and love. We were made for love, and we are loved, cellulite and all. Here we aim to show every woman the richness and beauty of her own femininity and explore current issues relating to women in our world. We also wish to share our own experiences - exploring the joys and challenges of stay-at-home moms and single professionals and everyone in between. Welcome! So glad you're here!


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