Setting Limits Nicely

Many of us were raised to believe that the only polite or kind answer is “yes.” But as Dr. Christine Carter, a UC Berkeley researcher, notes, “If you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no,’ it’s a recipe for overwhelm and exhaustion.” Not to mention resentment, burnout, and ill health!

Ironically, research shows that the busier we are, the more
we tend to say “yes.” Saying “yes” makes us feel generous.
The consequences—becoming stressed and overburdened by the commitment—are down
the road. We’d rather overlook those realities than feel stingy or selfish
right now by setting limits and saying “no.”

According to Dr. Carter, there are three steps to saying “no” gracefully:

  • Rehearse saying “no.”
    There is a process. First, avoid comparing your need to the other person’s.
    Then, train yourself to think through how you will feel when the day of
    reckoning comes. Recall the last time you overextended yourself and ended up
    sick. Or ended up too tired to do something you were looking forward to.
    Finally, practice a few phrases that you can readily use, no extra thinking
  • Be truthful, but vague.
    Having a response you feel confident in makes it more likely that you will use
    it. You don’t have to justify yourself. (Too much detail and the requester will
    start problem solving to help you find the time!) A simple “I wish I
    could, but that doesn’t work for me at this time” is an effective standby.
    Or if you would genuinely like to help, “I can’t do ‘X’ next Thursday, but
    I could do ‘Y’ the week after that.”
  • Make your decision final.
    If the person pushes you, repeat the same phrase. This way you signal that you
    aren’t going to change your mind. If they insist, then be honest about how
    their pressure makes you feel: uncomfortable, perhaps even hurt or angry.

Do you have trouble saying “no”?
We can help! As the Metro DC experts in family caregiving, we at Debra Levy Eldercare Associates see many well-meaning family members burn out because they don’t know how to set limits and ask for help, especially with their loved one. Give us a call at 301-593-5285. We can help you say “yes” to those things you truly want to do and give you options for those things you’d rather not.