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Setting Boundaries and Saying "No"

Saying the word, “no” can be one of the easiest and hardest words to say depending on the situation. “Hey I found this sushi from last week do you want to share it with me?” This is a good example of when it would be easy to say no. “Hey do you want to come smoke with me and the others later today?” Now that can be hard to say no depending on certain factors in the situation. How close am I to my friend? What is he/she going to think if I say no? Am I going to be made of fun of if I say no? Hopefully by the end if this you will have some tools to help yourself or others. 

The first step we have to do is understand our boundaries and what kinds of boundaries are out there. Let’s start off with two boundaries; physical and emotional. Most of us have a decent idea of what our physical boundaries look like. If someone is too close to us we say something or if someone grabs our arm we may jerk our arm back. In those moments we are typically comfortable communicating to the other person that they violated a boundary- so why is it hard to communicate an emotional boundary? Most of the time we just don’t know where our emotional boundaries lie and so we have to ask ourselves two questions: What can I tolerate? What can I not tolerate? Any of your answers to the second question are an emotional boundary you have to set. 

If I say to myself, “I don’t tolerate smoking”, then we are going to set that boundary. Let’s go back to the example where our friend asked us to go smoke with them and others later that day.

Friend: Hey! Do you want to come smoke with me and the others later today? 

Me: Nah, I'm not really into smoking, but thanks for wanting to include me. 

Friend: No don’t worry it’s not a big deal. Once you try it for the first time you’ll realize people make it a bigger deal than what it actually is.

Well, you set a boundary and said you're not into smoking and now he/she is still pushing on that boundary. So your next step is to be assertive. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of assertive is, “disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behaviors.” In that definition it doesn’t say we have to be mean, raise our voice, or get in that person’s face. What you do have to do is make sure your next steps you are doing with confidence. Make sure that you are addressing the other person’s behavior and not the character of the person. So don’t call him/her any mean names even though he/she is probably acting like it. 

Friend: No don’t worry it’s not a big deal. Once you try it the first time you’ll realize people make it a bigger deal than what it actually is. 
Us: You weren’t listening to what I said. I’m not into smoking. 


If the person continues to not respect the boundary you are trying set then it is perfectly appropriate to walk away. As time progresses and we set more boundaries, we are going to start seeing who our true friends are. The friends that respect us and respect our boundaries are going to stay in our lives. The friends that didn’t respect the boundaries that we set will naturally stop asking us and move on with their lives as well.

Sometimes in life we have to ask ourselves hard questions like, “Do I respect my friendship with this person more than they respect it?” “I’m respecting their boundaries, so why don’t they respect mine?” In those difficult moments it is okay to make a decision to take a break from the friendship. Have both parties take time to really review the friendship and make the decision if you want to continue. In the end we only have one life, so let’s surround ourselves with the friends that support us making those healthy decision and make us happy.



Article written by: Trevor Erdman, Substance Use Counselor with Orchard Place Substance Use Services


Keep an eye on the Orchard Place Teen Space for more blogs and articles! We want this to be a great place to find mental health resources for teens, and will be exploring more topics each month.