The boundary of saying NO

The other day, I didn’t say NO, and I created an unnecessary mess…

My brother and sister-in-law’s Indonesian housekeeper, who greeted me for the first time with a warm smile and massage of my arm, asked if we could be friends on FaceBook.

The fake smile, nod of my head and higher-than-normal-pitched “sure” came out of me faster than my NO could bubble up to the surface. This “sure” is part of a well-rehearsed repertoire of mine, when I lack the courage to be honest.

I didn’t click confirm. I sidestepped the private message she sent me on her day off. I hoped she wouldn’t notice. But as the days passed, I was aware that the air had thickened between us. She withdrew the request.

What could have been a simple “no, thank you. I use FB for…” had become a vague, indirect rejection, for which I now felt guilty.

And the guilt turned into me trying to be friendlier, make it up to her somehow, help her, even though I hadn’t accepted this request for social media intimacy.

And, all of that could have been avoided, had I not avoided.


Now if you’re arguing with my behavior, asking why wasn’t it ok, saying what’s the harm in accepting it, judging me for making too big a deal out of it, I have no issue with that. I could give you all kinds of reasons. But here’s the thing…our NOs don’t need reasons to exist, they don’t have to make sense, they don’t have to be backed up with good arguments.

They just have to be felt and expressed. And mine wasn’t. So something that could have been simple and clean, became sticky.

The importance of the little NO’s
The little NO’s we swallow back are just as important as the bigger NO’s. Because if we cannot trust ourselves to be honest and say no, not now, or give a firm I don’t know to the little things, how will we have the strength, clarity and discipline to say NO in the more potent moments of life?

  • The moments where our safety is at risk
  • The moments where someone is encroaching on our dreams
  • The moments where someone is trying to dominate our will
  • The moments where someone is negating our worth
  • The moments where our time, space and emotions are being disrespected
  • The moments where we are overlooked because of culture, education, gender

The consequences of NOT saying NO
Every unexpressed NO accumulates inside of us and then resurfaces in inopportune moments and potentially emotional and destructive ways. There is little potency there.

Every unexpressed NO makes us a little less real, because we have to pretend it’s a yes, a maybe, a future possibility, although it’s not.

Every unexpressed NO is a moment in time where we’ve chosen to be less clear, less tangible, less present, and this seeps into the rest of our lives.

Every unexpressed NO leaves interactions vague, projects unstable, friendships unclear, relationships unbalanced, questions unanswered, dreams unmet.

Every unexpressed NO is a boundary un-set.

Recognizing your style
How we avoid saying NO may differ, but either way, we don’t set a boundary. We make it unclear where we stand.

  • We may fake smile and say, “sure, no problem,” as our stomach tightens and our lower bodies become watery.
  • We may lace our NO’s with so many apologies and reasons and sweetness of voice that it doesn’t ever land, nor do we.
  • We may choose the easy route and give up, appearing soft and forgiving on the surface, while something twists deep inside us, weakening our spirit.

No matter the style, each requires an effort to sustain and keeps us distant from ourselves, what we want and often from others.

Connecting to the impulse
We are so well-rehearsed in trying to be reasonable, acquiescent and polite, that often we don’t even recognize the deeper impulse inside that says NO.

Our bodies hold both ~ the style we show the world and the impulse. The more exercised option usually wins.

But once we recognize our well-rehearsed style and where it shows up, we have a better chance of catching it, before it automatically squelches our true response. Sometimes this response is subtle. Sometimes it is fierce and fiery. It doesn’t always make sense or comfortably match the situation, and the less time we spend needing it to, the more honestly we act in the moment.

The more we do this, the less our history holds us back, and our NO’s flow out of us naturally.

The history: of our boundaries or lack thereof
We have our reasons for not easily saying NO, not now, enough’s enough. Reasons that connect to our past, when doing so might have led to a great loss, humiliation, danger or causing another pain.

Why couldn’t I say No to this lively, warm woman who wanted to be friends on social media? Well, I am deeply afraid of disappointing others. And yes, it’s connected to my past, my gender, my upbringing, my culture. And yes, it goes deeper than that.

It “feels” dangerous, and in the past, I put myself in dangerous situations because of it.

Today, when I don’t find the courage to say NO, I limit my freedom

So I go deeper into my experience. And as I do, going into in the hot, watery feeling of my belly and the weakness of my legs, I discover an old feeling. A feeling of being wrong.

And this is what keeps pulling my NO down in to the depths, without allowing it to surface. 

Clear the history to say NO today
To become free of our well-rehearsed expressions of politeness and reason, we have to become free of the deeper feeling from our past.

I drop into the hot, watery feeling in my belly, which feels endless. I let my legs drip to the floor in their weakness. I agree to feel completely wrong for a few aware moments.

I breathe. And as I do, a sadness washes over my entire body. Like a warm bath flooding my body just under the skin. 

And I continue to breathe and allow this to move through me, until it finds its natural end. 

This lasts only a few minutes, but my body now feels clearer and more defined. I sense the weight of my bones. My muscles have let go. The watery feeling in my lower body has been replaced by a deep calm  in my lower belly and warmth strength in my legs.

I now have a different option. One that is connected to my lower body. One that holds less effort. One that makes me more real.

Boundaries are physical. We hold them in our bodies.

With courage, awareness and practice, saying NO can be as natural as reaching for a glass of water when you’re thirsty. Boundaries leave you free. Free to be honest in your relationships, clear with your wishes, defined in your presence.


If you’re curious to learn more about the embodiment practice described above and to deepen your ability to embody boundaries, through movement, join me at an upcoming workshop.

Workshop Tour 2017: Embodying Boundaries

Melbourne, Australia
3rd June

Los Angeles, CA
15th July

Copenhagen, Denmark
17th September

London, UK
30th September


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