Someone once found my website by asking Google the question, “Why can’t some people take no for an answer?” This got me thinking about the many misconceptions we have about setting boundaries, and I thought it might be nice to share some of them.

Misconception #1: There are people who “can’t” take no for an answer. When we come across people who consistently refuse to be refused, we may find ourselves thinking of them as victims or their own stubbornness. But of course they aren’t. The truth is that some people simply decide not to respect our perfectly reasonable boundaries. They’re more than capable of accepting our decisions; they simply choose not to. They do this because it works.

Misconception #2: Others must accept your answer. Your answer is yours, not someone else’s. Needing others to accept it gives them power over you. When someone says, “I won’t take no for an answer,” you can simply let that person know that acceptance is not required. You can do that in a number of ways:

  1. The Light-Hearted Response: Sorry … no returns or exchanges on this one!
  2. The Confrontational Response: Take it or leave it; the answer’s still the same! (Not recommended, unless you’re consciously choosing to be aggressive!)
  3. The Understanding Response: I understand that this is difficult for you, but this is important to me, too. I’m not going to change my mind.
  4. The All-Purpose Response: I hear you, but my answer is still no.
  5. The Non-Response: Ignore the objection and carry on without giving in.

But certainly someone who won’t take no for an answer won’t give up that easily! Now what? This brings us to our next misconception:

Misconception #3: A conversation isn’t over until both parties agree it is. When someone isn’t being reasonable, looking for agreement – on the issue, or even on whether to continue the discussion – is pointless. You have the right to walk away. This is the time to use it.

What to do?

Many of us have that one person (perhaps an authority figure or someone we feel sorry for) whom we just can’t say no to. Some of us have more than one. What they all have in common is the ability to push our buttons, to somehow get us to suspend rational thought and do something that doesn’t really work for us. The key is becoming aware enough to stop that process before it’s too late.

If you want to break this pattern, start noticing the tactics people use. (Or perhaps there aren’t any – perhaps you have some beliefs that don’t serve you too well. In that case, pay close attention to your thoughts.) Notice what buttons get pushed and how you feel. Learn where your weak spots are and decide how to protect yourself in the future.

No matter what your situation, awareness is the key. Notice what others are doing, and notice how you respond. Think about the assumptions behind their statements – and your own. Notice what works best on you and do what it takes to become stronger. Taking back your life isn’t always easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

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