Can we now talk about boundaries in relation to the word "NO?"


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I am currently re-reading "Boundaries" by Townsend and Cloud and it means even more to me now than it did when I read it the first time. It's an amazing book. Although it is religious/Christian, even if you have another religion or are an atheist, the common sense in this book blows any other book I've read out of the water. Now I want to talk about that word...that four letter word disguised as two letters...."NO!"

How hard is it for you to say NO? Do you actually say NO or just do the actions that say NO? I have had a hard time saying no all of my life because of fear of rejection by the person I am saying "no" to and also to keep the peace (as in difficult child will have a hurricane adult sized tantrum in my house if I say NO and I'm afraid of his verbal slapdowns).

This is the first time I can remember contemplating that word so strongly. In "Boundaries" it tells you never to tell anyone else how to behave, and I agree with this, however I did it many times and recently with my sister.

"Please, it scares me when you are with K. so, for my own mental health, I am making a decision not to let you talk about him to me again." That IS controlling.

I think, if I ever hear from her again, the only thing I am going to say is....nothing. If she starts to talk about K., the book suggests getting off the phone because "I just remembered I h ave to run to the store" or anything else. Because telling somebody else what to do is wrong, even if we think what they are doing is wrong and even if they are breaking the law. However, we can choose to only get close to those who live a clean, sober life and are kind to us. This totally changed how I decided to deal with Sis and anyone else.

That will be my way of saying "no."

So, for any of you who are interested in a discussion, how do YOU say no? Are you afraid of that word, especially regarding strong personalities or loved ones because you feel they will reject you? If you are afraid to say "no" to anyone, especially your difficult child, why is it?

Now I DON'T think anyone should say no to somebody dangerous unless you have your cell phone in your hand and the 91 already pressed for 911. Or maybe it's better to deal with dangerous difficult children over the phone. What do YOU think about saying NO?

Who has read "Boundaries?" What did you think of it?


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I can't say no without feeling the need to justify why . I have a the same issue telling my son no. I t is a sure way to bring on a full out tantrum.

I need to get my hands on that book.


one day at a time
Boundaries is one of the most basic and helpful "self-help" books ever. I have my own copy that is highlighted and I go back to it again and again. I buy it for other people. Used bookstores often have cheap copies and anytime I see one, I buy it up to later give to a friend (if the situation warrants and he/she is demonstrating a desire for this type of information).

I am a Christian, and I agree that the very present Christian themes in every chapter are a little distracting even to me, but I also believe that building good boundaries takes a Higher Power's help because it's really hard to do, so I'm okay with the sometimes excessive Christian references. The book is still great and the information is ground-breaking.

"Please, it scares me when you are with K. so, for my own mental health, I am making a decision not to let you talk about him to me again." That IS controlling.

Well, I think personally what you said above is not controlling but perhaps a tiny bit manipulative and a tiny bit dramatic, MWM. Not saying you meant to be either of those things---but I think it is perfectly okay to say what you will and will not do. And I think It's respectful to give people notice that a new behavior is coming their way from you instead of just changing the rules in the middle of the game once established patterns are in place. Wouldn't you like to be informed about that instead of the person just suddenly changing the "rules" in the middle of the game, leaving you wondering what is going on?

Perhaps you could have said: Hey, sis, I'm not comfortable talking about K, so let's not, okay? ....change the subject, whoops, the Fuller brush man is at the door, etc. If she keeps on, say: We've talked about this before, sis, so let's just agree not to any more since we disagree on this subject, let's talk about positive stuff.......and Whoops, gotta go! Let's catch up tomorrow. Don't explain and overtalk it. Don't go on and on about K. She knows you feel. You've told her.

The key is not to tell HER what to talk about, but to tell her what YOU will talk about. She can keep on talking to the empty air about K if she wants to, you just won't be there. And you can say it kindly and with a bit of lightheartedness in your voice (if you practice) so it's not a big pronouncement.

Think about it. You and she have talked a lot about K in the past. You're one of her "go to" people to talk to K about. She likes the pattern---I complain about K (or whatever she does) you say, Oh, why don't you dump this poor wretch of a boyfriend? She says, but I love him and he only hit me that one time, etc. and it's a comfortable pattern. Until it's not---for you---because you have changed.

In the recast conversation above, you are using an "I" statement, not a "you" statement. That is NOT controlling, MWM. You are stating a boundary.

Are you afraid of that word, especially regarding strong personalities or loved ones because you feel they will reject you?

Yes I am! I am not good at saying No. Through my 12-step work, I learned I am a people pleaser. I would have vehemently denied that some years ago---in fact, I saw myself as the Lone Ranger, always willing to take a different stand on things, and buck the conventional wisdom. But I am in fact a people pleaser. Or I was.

I always said that I didn't tell anybody No, when they asked me to do something, because I'm interested in everything. That is still true, but that doesn't mean I need to do everything all the time.

The reasons I did everything all the time---was way over-busy---are multiple reasons: I got positive affirmation through performance. I'm good at this, and people will tell me that, and I will feel good about myself. I needed to feel good about myself from outside sources. Second, I wanted people to like me. I thought if I said No, people wouldn't like me. But that's not true, I have found. Third, staying over-busy allowed me no time to reflect on my unhappiness with myself. I was dancing as fast as I could so I didn't have to work on ME. Fourth, staying over-busy allowed me no time to think about my unhappy marriage. That was "over there" and everything else in my life was great "over here."

My mother used to say: Aren't you doing too much? And I would say, martyr-like, well, I guess I am but I like being busy...blah blah blah. I wanted sympathy but I also wanted people to say, wow, gee golly whiz, you are a human dynamo! Aren't you accomplished and wonderful? And then I would feel good about myself and feel super-strong and like I could conquer the world.

And get this, MWM: In AlAnon there is a saying: No is a complete sentence. They mean just say the word: No. And nothing else. Don't talk any more. Would you like to go out to dinner with the group tonight? No.

Would you like to head up this big community project? No.

Would you pay my bail from jail? No.

Ugh. I REALLY am not good at that. What would people think? Just a flat No????? Wow, they really wouldn't like me then? This is a big challenge to a people pleaser.

In fact, get this: I am going to a meeting Wednesday night, where I will turn in a notebook detailing all of the PR I did for a huge community project---for free----and then when they say, well, you're going to do it again next year, aren't you? I am going to say No. I'm already nervous about it, but MWM, I have decided that I can't do that much work for free for even a very good cause again right now. So the answer will be No. But I am sure I will overtalk and overexplain why not.

Great topic. I need to do a LOT more work on No. Thanks MWM. :geek:


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Staff member
CoM took the words out of my mouth. It's in the phrasing, and the focus. Saying, "I am making a decision not to let you talk about him to me again" means you're trying to control what she does. It's not up to you to "let" her do anything - she doesn't need your permission (them's fightin' words, even to me.. ha). It's about your boundary, your choice, your decision not to engage in the conversation. Saying "I can't talk about this right now" is not controlling in the least.

My fear of saying "no" used to be about avoidance of conflict. Sometimes I just didn't want to deal with the backlash. But I always ended up with more stress than I bargained for, I wasn't being true to myself and my own needs. I had to learn to say no for my own sanity. I worked hard on shifting focus in that area -- if I say "no" and someone doesn't like it, that's on them, not me. I shouldn't feel guilty for standing up for myself. I've been called names, threatened with being "cut off," told that "everyone" thinks I'm a "horrible grandmother," any number of things. That reaction doesn't make ME a bad person, it makes THEM one for saying such things to me. And none of those threats ever panned out anyway, they were empty. I eventually learned to just cut them off with "I'm not going to listen to this, we'll talk later. Love you, bye."

As I say ad nauseum, it takes practice -- practice, practice, practice. I worked hard on this with a great therapist who'd kick me in the butt whenever I let it get to me.

"No" is indeed a complete sentence.


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I have always had a hard time with saying NO and felt I had to justify my answers. It seemed I was always saying something along the lines of "well no, not right now, but maybe later." That is just a way to get me out of the situation right that minute but keeps it going. It actually makes things harder. I do have to say that I find it much easier to say NO to Cory when we dont live in the same house. I can use the excuses that I have to get off the phone for various reasons so I dont have to listen to him.

I have taught him well that if he just keeps on plugging away at me I will most likely give in so its much harder to stay strong in my resolve.


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I also have had a hard time saying anyone. A few things helped me...along the lines of COM's comment about "no" being a complete sentence, I read and Ann Landers column (my guilty pleasure..I love advice columnists) once in which she said that you are not obliged nor should you offer an explanation when you decline an should not because explaining suggests that the other thing is more important and is secretly asking for forgiveness/permission from the person you are saying no"Please come to dinner at our house on Friday" --"oh, no, I"m sorry, I can't". Thats all. That was incredibly liberating for me.

And the other...I read somewhere that when you say yes to something you say no to something else. At that time I was managing my 60 hour plus a week job that included nights and weekends, and 4 kids with ages in single others here, I was VERY proud of my ability to take everything on...and somehow, I heard that...when I say yes to another meeting another committee another overnight trip to Chicago...I am saying no to my sweet children, to my sweet dog, to my chance to go for a run, to my chance to make my chance to sit on my roofdeck and watch the stars. To my chance to say yes to something else more important. Yes always is accompanied by a no (I always like the theme of light without dark, no joy without suffering, no left without right, no mud no lotus, right? but I digresss...)

That helped me too.

No is an important part of personal growth.



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OH, and my SO never says no..he says "we'll talk about it" which leaves everyone, his daughter, his friends, limbo. I think it is a way of controlling people, but maybe he just has trouble saying no too...

delaying or obfuscating an answer that is really no is disrectful of other people, who need to be able to plan around your engagement.


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Staff member
I read somewhere that when you say yes to something you say no to something else.

I never thought of it that way -- excellent advice. I tend to overcommit myself socially, mostly out this strange "fear" that I'll miss something fun - silly I know. I think I try too hard to make up for all the years of constantly having a social life interrupted because of family crises. Perhaps this will help me to re-evaluate those choices. I'm a fan a of the "balance" perspective as well -- so this works for me.

OH, and my SO never says no..he says "we'll talk about it" which leaves everyone, his daughter, his friends, limbo.

Ha.. I used to give my kids the old "I'll think about it" answer sometimes when they were young. They finally caught on, and would respond with, "but that means NO!" And I'd say, "yup." Eventually I got better at plain old "no."


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COM (and everyone), I think I was controlling, although I didn't realize it (honest). And there is no way I could have said "Let's not talk about K. right now. I'd like to talk about...."

I laugh thinking about it. You do not know my sister. She would have cut me right off and said, "You HAVE to let me talk about him. He's a BIG PART OF MY LIFE." In fact, she DID say that several times as I gently tried to tell her I was easing her out of using me as her confidant about K. If I had changed the subject, I know her well enough to know she'd say, "Oh, so we can only talk about what YOU want to talk about." *click/cuf off for a few months"

So I'm not sure anything will help. How does this sound, just in case? I think it's good to have a ready response before the event, if it is predictable.

Me: "Oh, let's talk about something else right now. How's the weather been in Chicago?"

Her: Stop trying to control what I talk about! You have to let me talk about K. because HE's AN IMPORTANAT PART OF MY LIFE."

Response One: Ok. (Then I listen, but do not respond because I can't stop her from talking about his abuse, but I don't really have anything to say to her about it that I haven't said a million times before. Eventually I can say Jumper is home so I have to go.)

Response Two: "I'm not going to talk about him." That way she knows she can talk all she wants, but I'm not.

Response Three: This is where your response comes in. I don't think either of my responses are very good. If I did exactly what I wanted to do, I would hang up on her myself. This man is soooooooooooo tiresome and does such strange things and, according to her, is so abusive that I'm sick to death of him and I want to break up with him, even if she won' But I'm not going to do the hanging up. That worked well with 36, as I knew it would. I know, sure as I'm sitting here typing, that it will do nothing but fuel Sis's anger and cause me days of guilt, sadness and regret.

How do you say NO in a situation like this? Or to somebody who will not accept no? Is it mean to go no contact? I don't want to be mean.


one day at a time
Can you say this, the next time she brings him up:

Hey Sis, I don't want to talk about K anymore when we talk on the phone.

When she protests, have several short responses:

***I'm sorry. I just don't want to talk about him anymore.

***Like I said, let's don't talk about him anymore.

***He's not a good topic for our phone calls.

All of those are benign responses and are just different ways of saying what you just said, instead of repeating the same statement like a robot, which would be ultra-infuriating to her, I imagine.

Write down your responses like I do with difficult child, and have them at the ready. Do your best not to engage further than that. She will get mad, you know that, but she can't make you say anything you don't want to say.

If she keeps on, say, I need to get off the phone now. Let's talk tomorrow if you're available.

None of that is mean. Remember, she is a difficult child. You already know how to do this, MWM. It's just throwing you because she's your sister.

Hugs to your sincere and kind heart, trying to figure out how to say what you mean, but not be mean when you say it.


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Staff member
MWM, I think the biggest thing here is to give yourself permission to put these boundaries in place. You have absolutely no reason to feel guilty for practicing good self-care. It's ok to say no to your sister, or even to hang up on her if she begins yelling at you about it (although I usually will say, even in the midst of the yelling, "ok I'm gonna go now, let's talk when you're more calm, bye" before I hang up). Saying no doesn't mean you have to wait for that person to accept the no, or even acknowledge it. Sometimes you just have to say no and walk away and let it sink in Doing that does not make you a bad person, or a bad sister.

Hang in there!


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Right, COM. Well, I don't want to talk to her even when she's calm. It never lasts more than a few months and she does the cut off with cops at times. I just think it's best if I don't deal with her. She is very bad for my mental health. This tiff happened five days ago or so and it STILL is bothering me. Usually I feel at peace. Now I don't. And I don't know how to put her in the background and forget about her hurtful ninety-fifth cut off and the "win" she thinks she scored.

My family of origin is mostly deceased. There were few of them. So I don't have to deal with anybody like her except her. Thirty six (the three on keyboard is broke...need new keyboard) is easier to reason with than she is and when he is not under stress he can actually be nice and he'd NEVER cut me out...and he isn't getting any money from me. He likes having me in his life. So he is not as toxic to me as Sis is. When he is being toxic, I let him know we will not have much talking time together...usually he backs off then. She absolutely will not. She tries very hard to get my goat and she knows all the right buttons to push. It is unusual for me to still be angry at somebody a week later. I usually get angry, then it dissipates.

This alone is reason enough for me to keep her at a far distance and not invite her to join me again. She isn't in therapy to change how she treats other people because she truly believes she's a really great person. Therefore, there is no chance she will change.

To be brutally honest to your folks in here, whom I trust, I really DON'T want to hear about K. anymore. He is almost all she ever talks about and it is mostly about the horrible ways he manipulates her, dismisses her, gaslights her, verbally abuses her, stalks her with texting, and won't let her go even after she breaks up with him (but of course if she really wanted to break up with him, she'd do it). It's the same story ad nauseum for three years and I feel I listened patiently. The more I heard about him, the worse he sounded. I was seriously scared for Sis. I started getting agitated hearing about him because it was like listening to the same thing over and over again with no conclusion, and I wondered what he'd really do to her one day. He is a heavy drinker and can not handle his alcohol. He has blackouts.

I gently prepared her for not being her confidante about K. anymore. I sent her a great book and said, lightly, "Now you won't have to ask me my opinion about K. Just look it up in the book. I agree with everything in it." I told her a few times, again gently, "I think it is harming my serenity to listen to your stories about K. I don't really want to talk about him anymore."

When she said, "I have to talk about him. He's a big part of my life. You can not control what I say" I thought about it and texted back, "You're right. It's controlling. You can talk about whomever you like. However, I can not promise to give any info you share with me about K. my full attention and I have decided not to give you feedback because it often causes conflict and I don't think he is worth our relationship."

But she loves him. Go figure.

I feel I have always been there for her. Not saying I never got mad or said or did things to irk her, but I was in her corner when she needed it the most. I can honestly say, she has never been there for me. I can't remember one time she put herself out for my benefit. During my divorce, she did not listen nonstop to the horrors of my lovelife (of course, I never dated anymkore like K. I would have kicked him to the curb...I had enough sense to dump a man who would not introduce me to his 14 and 16 year old kid after three years of dating, who would not tell his ex wife about me, who spent all his holidays with his ex, her family, and his kids and who only saw her when he was not busy with his kids and his ex and felt horny. And, on top of that, he'd lash out at her terribly and she would take it from him. That is not my kind of man."

It does not get past me that she allows him to beat her up emotionally from head to toe and treat her like total crapola, by her own words, yet if I say one thing she doesn't like she won't talk to me for months. Guess I know where I rate on her scale of importance and,a lthough it hurts now, I feel get over it and move on.

I do not see a way to save this relationship since it never was one. We would talk for a few months, Sis would get PO'd over something that I usually didn't even know she thought I did, and we'd be off again. We were off more than on and it was 100% her doing.

If anyone has words I can tell myself when it hurts me, please share them. I know I'll be okay, but until the bad taste is gone, I wish I had some wish words to think about every time I am angry at Sis for doing it again, getting the satisfaction, and tricking me all over again after promising not to do this again.


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Mwm. This is my favorite line, my standby: "This conversation is over".I have this at the ready. Don't let yourself get engaged by anything like that nonsense. I learned to say no to everyone except my kids. I just can't, but they ask for normal stuff and not money. I go to ladies night on Wednesday at a friends house, I back out 3 of 4 nights........not one shred of guilt and it's ok, my friends know me and don't care. Be true to youself.


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Thank you, up all night.

I don't think I'll have to use your very good and to the point conversation I don't believe my sister will ever be in my life again. I just can not afford to let her in. So we will not talk at all and I won't have a need to say it. I've decided it's best just to let the phone ring if she suddenly gets lonely decides to honor me by offering an olive branch. Her olive branches are one-sided and she normally will say, "Life's too short to be angry." She never addresses her behavior. I am not willing to reach out to her yet another time just for a rerun. If she texts, likewise, I will pretend she didn't.

I honestly wish there was a way to put a person on ignore on a smart phone, but I have not found a way to do it. I can take her name out of my phone, but her text or phone would still show up so I would know it was her....grrrrrrrrrr. They need to invite the "delete-a-person" function on smart phones. Even so, I have to go specifically to her text to read phone is odd that unless I willingly look for her texts, I won't see them. And I'm not looking.


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MWM...Good, live your life. We have enough if our own stuff to deal with. I really don't have time for bs and neither do you. It's too draining. husband is my only friend.

Scent of Cedar *

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t is unusual for me to still be angry at somebody a week later.

That anger, and your refusing to let it go, is the energy you are using to change, MWM. You are not letting yourself down, this time. You are burning through those old "Thou Shalt Nots". Journal through it, post it here, scream into a pillow over it ~ whatever you need to do, but don't let go of it, MWM.

You are reclaiming your power. Who cares if it isn't easy, MWM? You've been through a thousand times worse without batting an eye. There are no words that can take away the pain, that can change what you are determined to do. How your sister reacts is not and never was, something you could control. But you can know that once this part is over, you will be stronger, better prepared, less afraid, more centered, in every area of your life. Not just in your relationship with your sister MWM, but in every area of your life, you will be more here, more present, more centered, more gloriously YOU.

Healing. That is what you are doing, MWM. You said it yourself. This is how your sister always treats you. She hasn't changed, but something is different, this time.

That would be you, MWM.

Getting healthier and healthier.

My take on all this is for you to do what I am doing. Read about locus of control, read about saying "no". Look up how to say "no" on YouTube, on TED talks. Read about it, talk about it, post about it, journal about it.

We are fortunate to have the site to work through this material together.

This is so good for us, MWM.

What do you say about your sister? Just like husband told me: "I told you what I expect."

That anger isn't even about your sister, MWM. That is why you can't let go of it. That anger is at everyone, at yourself, at the hurt that made it impossible for you to cherish yourself legitimately.

It isn't always easy to see how hurtful our lives have been. But it is best to see, best to know, best to admit what it is, and to change.

This is the first time I can remember
contemplating that word so strongly.

Me too, MWM. I think we are getting healthier.

Wondering about that concept of boundaries means that we are establishing boundaries of our own. We are in the change process now, MWM. I don't think it can just be stopped. Once we begin to see differently, I don't think it is possible for us to go back to the old ways of seeing.


I am way proud and happy for you, MWM.

For me, too.

Getting through to the other side of this will be the same, but on a different level, than changing your relationship to 36.

We are doing really well, MWM.


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Well, Scent,part of the anger is at my sister, but a lot is at me. After the last time, why in the world did I even go there again????

But you are right. This is about healing and healing hurts. You are usually right :) I am sooooooooo grateful for this board and for posters like you who can cut through the crapola and see things that we can't see when we personally are upset.


Scent of Cedar *

Well-Known Member
I'm going through that same phase in my own healing, MWM. It will probably be like it was when we recognized the abusive nature of our relationships to our sons and called a stop to that. Our getting stronger, getting healthier, will change everything for the better.

I love this thread.




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Staff member
I think both of you, MWM and Cedar are doing an exemplary job of learning how to set boundaries with hurtful people. You are doing it with care and with grace, you are looking at your own responsibility for what has occurred and at the same time recognizing that you must stop hurtful behavior.

My experience is that as you go through the process you are both engaged in, as you look at it from so many angles and perspectives, you are working it all out and healing from it. Each pocket of darkness is being brought in to the light now, the recognition of it is what will heal it. Once you are aware of it, once you make a choices about it, to set those boundaries, it will cease to be an issue, it will dissipate. And, you will be stronger, you will be more peaceful and you will carry that internal sense of self with a new dignity which will be apparent to you and to others.

It takes courage to make these kinds of changes, it is not easy. However, I have found that the act of saying a resounding NO to what harms us brings forth a sense of our own personal power, not power over as in the case of those you are setting boundaries with, but an internal empowerment which then shines through you to empower others. Being true to ourselves in the midst of a our families of origin, rising above their perceptions of us is powerful stuff, it is making a bold statement of self love and honoring the self. I applaud you both for your commitment to yourselves. Bravo.