bird's eye view of a line between two people

5 Ways to Tactfully Verbalize Boundaries

By Nina Bradshaw is a professionally qualified social worker and therapist in the UK. She earned a Master's Degree in Personality Disorder Studies, a Master's Degree in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and a Master's Degree in Sociology/Social Policy/Social Work.

Sober Recovery Expert Author

bird's eye view of a line between two people

Boundaries allow you to be your own person. They let you differentiate your thoughts, feelings, and desires from those of others. However, many people—both in and out of recovery—have difficulty saying "no." Maybe you feel like you owe a "yes" to certain people because they stuck around during your darkest moments. Perhaps you want to please others or feel afraid of rejection if you say what they honestly think. In the process, you wind up disregarding your boundaries and sacrificing your innate need to be yourself.

As you progress in your recovery, it's essential to learn how to define and maintain healthy boundaries to stay on your path. Here are five quick and simple strategies to help you send a clear message and get the respect you deserve.


1. Know What You Want

Think about who you are as a person and what you truly want out of a situation. Perhaps you'd like to tell a friend you're unable to accompany him or her at an event because you need to prepare for a big meeting the following day. Think of how you'll navigate that situation and what you're going to say. Practice your lines and visualize yourself breaking the news to your friend. If you're afraid you'll get pressured anyway, you may even write down your desired outcome beforehand to help you commit to what you truly want.

2. Stay Firm, but Not Aggressive

Remember, there is a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. To be assertive is to speak clearly in a calm and relaxed conversational tone. Being aggressive involves shouting, losing your temper, and imposing what you want on others, which is less likely to get you your desired outcome.

3. Tell the Truth

Don't concoct excuses like, "I can't do that because my dog is ill." False justifications only make you look like a victim of your circumstances rather than an adult who is sure of yourself. Instead, as much as you can, tell the other person the real reason you are not going to do something. After all, lying is never a healthy way to maintain boundaries nor relationships.

4. Don't Give in to Pressure

Whenever you disagree with someone, likely, the other person may not be happy with your response. Avoid giving in due to feeling guilty or feeling bad for the other person. Remember, it's OK to say no to other people, especially if what they're asking is not the best thing for you. If the other person cares about your well-being and respects you as a person, then it likely wouldn't be an issue.

5. Be Respectful

Politeness can take you a long way in almost any situation, even when you disagree with someone. Just because you've said "no" to someone does not mark the end of your relationship. It doesn't mean that they'll reject you and not want you in their lives anymore. However, if someone does fall out with you over a mere refusal of their request, then the relationship probably wasn't worth much from the start anyway.

The more you practice verbalizing your boundaries, the easier it will become. After all, it's part of our existence to help and make each other's lives a little better. But there is no reason to feel guilty for prioritizing yourself from time to time. Boundaries are essential for maintaining your emotional and physical health and recharging your energy and resources for when you're fully able to lend a hand.

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