“No” guilt: setting boundaries with confidence

boundaries people pleasingNo.

It’s such a short , simple word. Often, it’s one of the first words that come out of our babies’ mouths. So why is it that so many grown women – especially moms – have such a hard time spitting it out?

Personally, I was a “Yes Woman” for several reasons, but they had one thing in common: They were all rooted in fear.

1.) Fear of Disappointing Others. The thought of someone not thinking well of me or being disappointed in me propelled me like a hamster on a wheel.

2.) Fear of Not Being “Enough.” When you root your worth in your performance, and you aren’t constantly performing, what are you worth? I didn’t think I’d like the answer.

3.) Fear of Being Indispensible. “If I don’t do this, who will? It won’t get done! No one can do it as well as I can!

4.) Fear of NOT Being Indispensible. This is even worse. What if someone CAN do it as well as I can?

So, what turned this stressed-out performance junkie around? I changed my way of living when God gradually opened my eyes to the damage I was doing to my marriage and my children.

It started with a revelation about 10 years ago. I was sitting on the floor, dead-tired, working on a project for someone (I can’t even remember who or what) at 2 a.m. with dirty dishes and piles of baby laundry around me. And I believe God clearly put this thought in my head: “What are you doing?” A simple question that changed my life. It was as if in that moment I saw the complete insanity of my ridiculously people-pleasing ways for the first time.

Change didn’t happen overnight. Realizing I had a problem was just the first step. Old habits and ways of thinking die hard. But in case there are any other ‘No’-phobic mamas out there, I thought I’d share a few things that helped me:

* I wrote down my list of priorities. I looked at them daily at first to remind myself of the people and tasks God has given me above all others. When someone asked me to do something, I’d say, “Can I get back to you?” And then I’d go back to my priority list. If it took away from my priorities, I said, “No.” If it enhanced or built on my priorities, I said, “Yes.” This exercise was critical to breaking my “Yes” habit.

Over time, with practice, I didn’t have to look at the list anymore and I was strong enough to say “No” without stalling.

* I asked God to help me. When I felt weak and unable to summon the courage to say that little two-letter word, I prayed.

A while back, I happened to catch part of a show on TLC about people with Anxiety and Phobias. As part of their treatment, counselors gradually exposed them to their fears. Over time, they were “desensitized” and realized that their fears were unfounded.

The same thing happened when I began to say “No.” Each time it became a little easier – a little less guilt-ridden. And I realized that all the things I feared were really baseless. As I saw the health and peace boundary-setting brought to myself and my family, I was even more motivated to stick to my guns. Instead of feeling inadequate and guilty, I felt freedom.

More than a decade later, would I ever go back to the way things were?

In a word – NO!

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  • Great post and great advice. Women by nature are nurturing so, we tend to want to help everyone. Too bad we always forget ourselves. I learned this the hard way. Now, I know my limits and don’t try to bend them.

    • {Melinda} Seems like the lessons we learn the hard way are the ones that stick, doesn’t it? Thanks so much for stopping by today.

  • I love your heart in this, Melinda. Was just thinking/reflecting on a similar scenario for me. Exactly this weekend last year, I admitted my 9 year old to a psych facility. In the discharge meeting, the social worker told me all the follow up I’d need to do with pdocs, counselors, the school. And I just let it fall out: No. No more. Not even one more thing…. I’d spent everything in me and I finally said it. And you know what? We just spent a week with her on vacation and had our monthly treatment team meeting yesterday, and she’s coming home soon. She’s healing because I said no. It’s sobering, girl. Makes me look differently at the moments when I feel compelled to be a yes-woman. Who (besides me) will it hurt??

    • {Melinda} That is exactly it, Laurie! We think that all our people-pleasing is just hurting US. But, in reality, we stunt the growth and healing of so many people around us when we insist on doing and being everything. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. I can’t even imagine how difficult that would be. I went through it with my mom, but with a child? So beyond words. You are an amazing woman who I greatly admire. I see Jesus so clearly in you, friend.:)

  • Beautifully said. I think we women struggle so much with this. We push it on ourselves and we push it on each other. And it’s so unhealthy for us.

    Thank you for sharing your story. Isn’t it wonderful when God whacks you upside the head and says, “What are you doing?” Those moments are so wonderful.

    And I think God is the key to overcoming it. When we realize His priorities for our lives and how much happier our lives are when we do what He wants, it makes it all so much easier. I don’t feel the need to defend myself to others when I know God’s got my back.

    Happy Sharefest. I hope you have a lovely weekend.

    • {Melinda} Love that: “I don’t feel the need to defend myself to others when I know God’s got my back.” That is so true! When I let go of the approval of others and just concentrated on God’s approval, it was BEYOND freeing.

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I am always blessed when I visit your blog … you’re so real, honest and relatable, Robin.

  • Yikes. I have never thought of it as fear. You are so right! I am always taking on too much and the stress and chaos it causes for my family is not right. Guess I needed to hear this today!

    Stopping by from SITS 🙂

    • {Melinda} It took me a long time to make the “fear” connection, too. It helped me see it in a whole new light — and opened my eyes to how destructive it is.

      Thanks so much for stopping by. I will visit you this weekend!

  • I must say I don’t have much problem saying NO…. probably being the oldest of the children in my family and having to start taking care of them when I was 9 (my parents were working and they didn’t leave us alone… just I felt responsible for my siblings) and having to grow up fast when I started working at 13 … I learned you have to say “NO” the hardest thing for me to say NO to is when a friend is selling some product and they give me a catalog … oh my! It’s hard not to buy… not because I really want the stuff… but because it’s a friend asking… I’ve learned though… and I do say no if I can’t afford… but to this day I still feel bad about it… but that’s the only time! … GREAT POST … like always!


    • {Melinda} I do think what we experience in our upbringing can pre-dispose us to our difficulty to say “no,” Paloma. You are so blessed to not have this struggle! Thanks so much for stopping by … you’re always a breath of fresh air.

  • {Melinda} Thanks, AnnMarie … It is a process and it takes practice. Yes, I realized how much my family was missing of me just for that “approval.” So glad you are finding the strength to say “No” too. You’ll never regret it!

  • This is such a great post. For years I had a problem saying no. I just didn’t want to let anyone down. It’s only been recently that I have been able to say, “I’d love to be able to help out but I really can’t at this time.” It’s funny…I don’t seem to have a problem saying no to my kids or my husband. 🙂

    • I know what you mean, AnnMarie. It’s the same for me too in a lot of ways. Doing some reading on my strengths and learning how to use them has helped me in the outside world – to know what is a good investment of me and what’s not. It’s so freeing!


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i’m melinda


I’m a woman who was radically changed when the God I thought I knew since childhood opened my eyes to the overwhelming depth of His love for me. I love speaking, writing, and pointing women to the Father so they can experience for themselves the healing power of His incredible, captivating love.

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