Boundaries without anger









One of the hardest life skills is learning how to assert boundaries without being angry.

People will want you to do all kinds of things that it’s ok for them to want, and ok for you to say no to. It’s important to be able to say no even when you’re not angry or offended.

Some examples:

  • If someone asks you out, it’s ok to say no even if it was ok for the person to ask you
  • It’s ok not to want to answer personal questions, even if they weren’t offensive questions to ask
  • It’s ok to decide not to go to the movies with your friends
  • It’s ok to decide not to take particular job even if it’s a good offer and other people think you should

If you only know how to say no when you’re angry, it’s hard to say no to any of these things. And things like that come up pretty much constantly. 

And if you do become angry and say no to something, it’s hard to keep saying no after you cool down. Especially when the person you got angry at didn’t really do anything wrong. It’s also hard to keep saying no if the person did do something wrong, but not in a way that made your level of anger reasonable.

And even if they did something seriously wrong, it’s not possible to stay angry constantly. If you can’t say no when you’re calm, it’s really hard to protect yourself.

If you can only say no when you’re angry, it makes it really hard to have boundaries. It’s usually easier and more comfortable to allow someone to cross a line than it is to become enraged. Over time, this can get really bad, even if each thing taken by itself wouldn’t have been a big deal.

Anger is important. It has its uses. But it’s important that it not be the only tool you have.

Learning to say no without having to get angry first is hard, but it’s important. 

I know some things about how to learn that skill, but thus far I haven’t been able to put them into words. I’m working on it. Meanwhile, comments would be most welcome.

Maybe try saying no on really inconsequential things.

I mean, it’s probably hard saying that no, you don’t want to answer a personal question, but it’s a lot easier on some other things, and so you could maybe sort of practice on those?

Maybe just saying no when someone asks if you’d like sugar in your coffee or when someone offers you a seat on the underground, stuff like that.

I mean, it sound sort of pointless, but what really helped me a lot was to realise that I could say no and nothing bad would happen.

I mean, if you can confidently say no on small things, if you can say no to strangers you will never meet again, and every time you do it you see that nothing bad will happen, then over time, it will get easier saying no to people who matter to you, because some part of your brain/unconsciousness is fairly certain that it’ll be okay, even if it might be awkward.

Also, there’s sometimes those sort of rape-prevention classes (or something) that a lot of people who are considered to be girls by their schools have to take, where you’re supposed to stand around and practice (as in, roleplay) the situations where you would like/need to say no to someone or something, or they make you practice saying ‘no, I do not like this’ over and and over, those things.

I’m not sure how much that helps, but if you have trouble finding the right words, it might be useful, as it gives you a few practice phrases that you can use to decline and offer or refuse to answer a question.

Other than that, just keep in mind that in such situations, saying no is a valid course of action, even if you decide not to take it. It helps when every time you say yes to something, you take a moment to remind yourself that you’re saying yes because you want to say yes and you could have said no. If you set down no as a valid answer in your mind, then it becomes easier to say.

I think this is really good advice.


Building on Trafalgarslaw’s suggestion, if you can get someone you feel more comfortable around to help you, you could start by practicing with that person. After roleplaying becomes more comfortable, move to saying no to things that come up in everyday interaction with your helper.

Restaurants and other interactions with service professionals are another opportunity to say no on the little things. If you won’t actually eat the toast that comes with something, you can just say you don’t want any. Or the glass of ice water alongside the drink you ordered, or if you don’t want some other drink, saying no thanks to it and asking for a glass of ice water instead. Restaurants are also good for practicing to ask for little things. 

I don’t really understand roleplaying, but this sounds plausible to me.

^^Really, really good advice.  I just want to add, though, tho, that if anger IS what you feel, you don’t have to be ashamed.  It’s still ok to be angry and to express anger, even if you don’t have any other tools.  I was angry and to a certain extent, still am.  Something that I went through is people not tolerating any anger from me whatsoever.  So I just want ppl to know that it is ok to be angry and to express your anger, even if it’s inconvenient for others.

That too. 

This is astoundingly good advice, and phrased in a way that doctors and NTs don’t bother to think about. 

I think it comes down to learning to respect your own preferences and needs. Think about what you need and want and have a strong core sense of that, so that when other people’s requests overstep it, you have those alarm bells that say, “I don’t want to do this.”

It’s okay to put off making decisions. If someone asks you out, but you’re not sure, say, “I’m sorry, I’m not sure if I’m available on Friday, but can I get your number and I’ll call you when I know my plans?” The same thing for job offers. If they call you up and start throwing terms at you, tell them you’re writing all this down and you’d like to think it over for a day, or over the weekend. When ti comes to business “over the weekend” is an acceptable time period you can use from Thursday to Monday.

“I’m not sure” is a great phrase for giviing yourself more time to think. If someone presses your opinion on something, “I’m not sure” means “I don’t want to answer that question right now.” Polite, NT people usually know this means the conversation is getting too intense. 

Once you’ve got your decision-making time, you can write a pro-con list, research details online, talk to a friend or therapist, write or draw out your feelings, go for a walk to think it over, or just sleep on it until any anxiety has cleared.


Regarding job offers: I often ask for an email with the terms of a job I’m considering accepting. That makes it a lot easier to understand what I’m agreeing to and make good decisions.