Why ‘Just Say No’ is Useless Advice for Boundary Setting


I am sure you’ve heard this.

That boundaries are about ‘just saying no’. Sounds so simply, right? So what makes them so hard to put in place?

Why do we say yes when we don’t want to?

Why do we end up feeling taken advantage of or misunderstood?

Why is it so hard to actually communicate our needs?

Why does trying to please others often come at the expense of doing what’s best for us?

In a nutshell, here’s why:

Because we are human.

And as humans, we are hardwired for connection and attachment. We evolved in tribes and being part of the tribe – belonging – is still one of the most primordial needs for us.

For our brains, not being part of the tribe is dangerous. In the past, rejection meant certain death as we couldn’t survive alone in the savanna.

So we are very sensitive to potential rejection. It even lights up the same area in the brain as physical pain.

It makes sense, then, that setting boundaries, from our old-school brain’s perspective is risky business.

So we stay in enmeshed relationships. We allow people to park out in our internal village, even when this comes at a high cost.

Because it can seem less scary to have other people in our village, even if they are not doing us good, even if we end up resenting or hating them – than to risk being alone.

Unboundaried living makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

It is understandable that we let people walk all over us. That we end up snarky and resentful or trying to be nice and people please.

Knowing this, when people tell you to ‘just say no’ to set a boundary, it doesn’t actually help.


And yet, even though it doesn’t feel natural, boundary setting is essential to modern life.

It means creating a safe container from which to create, thrive and love without losing ourselves in what others want or expect from us.

Boundaries are key for authenticity and healthy relationships.

So instead of ‘just saying no’ as boundary advice, this is what I think we need to consider: 

♥ First, we need to understand what we are responsible for / can control in a situation and what we can’t (hint: we can’t control other people’s actions or reactions).

♥ We need to know what we want to stand for in the situation, what our values are. And this can take time and thought to figure out and that’s OK.

♥ Then we need to know how to communicate this to others in an effective way.

♥ And we need to know how to make room for the discomfort that inevitably shows up because we are doing something that is counter-intuitive to how our brains evolved.

Boundary setting is not necessarily hard, but it does take practise and it is normal that it doesn’t come naturally for most of us.

We will explore all this in my upcoming boundaries workshop, so you will leave knowing how to set effective boundaries and can start moving from:

Being reactive + resentful


Being proactive + assertive

Because it is only when we have a beautiful gate around our internal village that we can create the kind of village that we actually want to live in.

boundaries_Sept. 2016


A good friend of mine has a good friend, who I would not normally choose to be with.  Recently, during an evening at my friend’s house, her friend who I knew was going to be there so I was probably ‘ready’ for the usual inappropriate remarks, said something intrusive to me.  Instead of being surprised, I took a deep breath and very calmly told her that it was none of her business and please don’t ask me again.  Silence reigned!  Then all went back to normal.


Huge step for me out of my comfort zone to do something like so publicly (I had no problems with Boundaries in my work life yet have had difficulty in my private life).


Your workshop on Boundaries earlier this year has helped me to understand that Boundaries are necessary for being authentic. – Email from a participant in the April Boundaries workshop

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