By Emily Gibson, MS, LPCC

“No.” The shortest complete sentence in the English language. One that doesn’t have to be justified, explained, or expanded upon. 

Yet we struggle with simply saying it when it would definitely be in our best interests to do so. Why? Maybe we spent our childhood not being able to set healthy boundaries and say “no” when we want to. Maybe we never had good boundaries, and saying “no,” modeled for us by our caregivers. We may be people-pleasers who put everyone else first and feel obligated to put ourselves last. 

Take my client* Clara, for example. She was always the one to stay late at work or take on extra projects when her colleagues needed help. But she felt overwhelmed and exhausted doing it all. After years of exhaustion, tension, anxiety, and resentment, she finally decided that enough was enough — it was time to set some boundaries and start saying “no” with ease. 

At first, she had to practice saying “no” in her head before actually voicing it out loud. But with time, it became easier and more comfortable for her. Now she’s able to set healthy boundaries and say “no” when necessary — allowing her to take better care of herself. As Clara has come to realize, the power of a simple “no” can be transformative when it comes to self-care and living an intentional life. 

So the next time you’re tempted to overstretch yourself, remember Clara’s story — and start with just one little word: “No.” 

Now that’s a boundary worth setting. 

So why is it important?

When we overexert ourselves by taking on too many responsibilities or tasks, such as social obligations, academic workloads, and volunteer activities, it causes undue stress and strain – this can have a profoundly negative impact on one’s mental health. Saying no is an essential part of having boundaries for healing and growth. Allowing yourself to not be burdened with unnecessary activities, responsibilities, or obligations will create space for positive change in all aspects of life. 

By having the ability to say no, you can prioritize your own needs and move ahead into a more healthier lifestyle. It may seem difficult and uncomfortable at first (just like any change is) but learning how to take care of yourself by setting boundaries is worth it in the long run! 

Saying no can be difficult because of the fear of appearing rude or unhelpful to others. The truth is, when you say no and stick to it, it can actually be empowering. It allows you to create a boundary that honors your needs as a person. When you’re more in tune with what really makes you happy, it can help you to make decisions that are good for your overall well-being.

So the next time someone asks you something and you’re feeling overwhelmed or just don’t have the capacity, remind yourself that “no” is a complete sentence! It really is ok to put yourself first and say no in order to take care of your boundaries and mental health. Saying no does not make you a bad person, it just means that you are looking out for yourself and making decisions that best honor your boundaries. So don’t be afraid to say no and watch yourself thrive! 

Teaching yourself to set boundaries is a key component of healthy self-care. It takes courage and strength to choose what is best for you, but it will ultimately lead to healing and growth. When you say no, you are saying yes to yourself. So go ahead and use that complete sentence! 

*Client examples are based on composite information from many clients and does not represent any current therapy clients.