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Have you ever wanted to say no to plans, but felt bad doing so? It’s something we’ve all felt; society has made us feel like we always have to be “yes (wo)men,” which can lead to us consistently overextending ourselves. It feels like we can’t be nice if we aren’t that person, constantly catering to the wants and needs of those around us. However, what if I told you that always being the “nice guy” actually weakens your relationships?

Setting boundaries is one of the most essential life skills to learn. Boundaries set limits and expectations for the behavior of people around you, serving as a form of self-respect. In other words, boundaries decide whether or not others have the ability to put you down, make fun of you, or take advantage of your time or good nature. Clear personal boundaries are therefore the only way to ensure mutually respectful and supportive relationships with those around you.

There are four types of boundaries: time, physical, conversational, and content. Time boundaries are how much time you spend with someone or spend doing work; physical boundaries put limits on physical proximity; conversational boundaries determine what topics you are comfortable or uncomfortable discussing; and content boundaries are about the content you decide to consume, whether on social media, TV, or even in regard to literal food. 

Healthy boundaries revolve around the ability to say no without feeling guilty for doing so. Examples of statements that set healthy boundaries include:

“I understand you’re angry, but don’t speak to me that way.”

“I need space.”

Or “I don’t appreciate talking about my weight, please don’t bring it up again.”

I know, these all sound terrifying to say. But statements like these empower you to speak up for what you truly need, and that’s not a selfish thing to do – I promise. In fact, it’s actually the less selfish thing to do because it leads to more genuine and non-toxic relationships with those you love. 

If you feel guilty for saying no to others, it’s most likely because you’re taking unhealthy responsibility for others. What does this mean exactly? Let’s consider an example: what if your best friend told you that she’s deeply hurt any time you hang out with someone who isn’t her? So hurt, in fact, that every time you do spend time with another person, she’s going to show up and scream at you for intentionally upsetting her. What are you going to do?     

Agreeing to her logic puts you in an impossible situation: you either have to sacrifice your ability to form relationships with other people, or you have to take on the responsibility of always hurting your best friend anytime you try to meet someone new. 

You’re probably sitting there thinking, “Well it isn’t my fault that she feels that way… it’s honestly a little crazy.” And guess what…you’re right! While this situation may sound extreme, it shows the mental battle that goes on in your head when you want to say no, but feel like you can’t. Simply put, you aren’t responsible  for how others react to you saying “no.” Otherwise, you’ll always have to confront the dilemma of sacrificing your well-being versus pleasing those around you. While you can’t control how others react, you can recognize that anyone who truly cares about you will understand when and why you need to say no. 

So, the next time you feel like saying no, try actually doing it. Listen to what you really want and need. You can always give yourself a little more love, understanding, and compassion. 

Rachael is a Senior at UPenn studying Neuroscience. When Rachael isn't busy with school work, you can catch her walking her Havanese puppy, Bella, or boxing at her favorite gym.
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