Healthy Yes, Healthy No
Updated: Sep 10
by Sharon Burch, APRN, CNS
Have you ever struggled with boundaries?
Have you said “no” to someone, but that filled you with anxiety? Or maybe you felt guilty afterwards? We can learn to give healthy “no” and “yes” responses. Here’s a way to say “no” differently; a way that is helpful and easy. (Really)
Learning to say “no” is important. In fact, the world needs us to say “no” more often. It needs us to create what we want, protect what we want, and change what no longer works through saying “no” powerfully.
Below you’ll find some solid principles on how to say “no,” taken straight out of William Ury’s book, The Power of a Positive No. Over the last thirty years he has helped millions of people, hundreds of organizations, and numerous countries at war reach satisfying agreements!
Before we get to that place of a healthy “no,” we need to understand the ways in which we might be giving an unhealthy “no”.
An unhealthy “no” shows up in three ways:
Instead of saying “no,” we accommodate. In that process we lose power.
Instead of saying “no,” we attack. In that process, we lose the relationship.
Instead of saying “no,” we avoid. In that process, we lose both power and the relationship.
Can you think of a time when you wanted to say no to someone or something but don’t know how? What emotions do you feel? What physical symptoms do you experience? As you think about that situation, you might feel anxiety. The beginnings of a headache. Guilt. Defeat. These feelings are signals letting you know that you need to learn how to say a healthy “no."
A healthy “no” centers on your values.
We feel these things because whatever uncomfortable situation we find ourselves in is typically a situation contrary to our values. We could define values as a GPS system that helps us remember where we’re going. Values are something we carry with us every single day to help us make our decisions. Values point us to our purpose in life. They’re unique to each of us. They’re what make us stretch and give or avoid and distance. Our values allow us to know what are true yeses and noes for US.
A healthy “no” follows a formula.
A healthy “no” involves three parts: yes, no, yes.
The first yes is a yes to ourselves and the values that are important to us.
The no is a firm enforcement of our boundary.
The second yes offers another possibility or option, like: “I won’t do that but I can do this.” This is another yes to ourselves if there’s one that aligns with our values. There isn’t always a second yes.
Let’s visualize this. Imagine a tree.
The first yes is the root system. It provides the stability for the tree. Our values are our roots that provide our stability.
The no is the trunk of the tree. It is firm and straightforward. This is how we stand in the face of something that is contrary to our values.
The second yes is the branches. This is a possibility we offer as a different solution. This is not a compromise or an accommodation — it’s offering a different plan that’s a healthy yes for us. It needs to align with and reinforce our values.
Sometimes we can experience some pushback to our positive “no” from a person who hasn’t learned to set healthy boundaries for themselves. If we waver in the face of their pushback, it’s a sign that we need to dig a little deeper and identify a more important value that supports our first yes. Once we identify our core values — the deep ones — we won’t waiver, feel guilty, or second-guess our positive “no.”
SHARON BURCH, APRN, CNS is a board-certified as a Public Health Clinical Nursing Specialist, an Advanced Practice Holistic Nurse, a holistic Health and Wellness Nurse-Coach. She says, "At Atma Clinic, I help adults solve complex mental health and relationship issues by examining the roots of their struggles and learning how to confidently take effective action and integrate powerful tools for the rest of their lives."