Saying no is healthy

Creating and respecting personal boundaries can lead to stronger friendships

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There’s a lot that a simple “no” can offer. PHOTO: SHVETS / Pexels

by Jacob Mattie, Peak Associate

It’s the first semester back in-person after a long 18 months of online learning, and many of us are eager to take part in the various communities SFU has to offer. As we may want social interaction but feel unfamiliar in group settings, we must stay aware of any pressures to downplay discomfort in favour of accommodating others. This is more likely to cause harm than good — and there is a lot of value in voicing our discomforts to build a closer-knit community.

It’s not possible or healthy to avoid all forms of discomfort — it’s how we learn and grow! But it’s important to have boundaries for ourselves, and for those around us. This is also a great way to recognize peer pressure. Boundaries can apply to sharing personal information, physical contact, personal space, and or things like drinking or smoking. Comfort levels will vary from person to person, so while we draw our own boundaries, it’s equally important to be aware of where others set their limits. 

Naturally, setting boundaries can lead to some uncertainty when around new people, and it’s to be expected they feel the same around us. In face of uncertainty, we find the myriad ways of saying no are invaluable tools in building friendships where we feel are both comfortable and sustainable. A line I’ve found quite useful in awkward situations is “I’ll share [x] when we know each other better.” 

By being explicit about our boundaries, we not only preserve our own comfort, but help define to others the space they have to move about freely. This also creates room to show trust when we do feel comfortable expressing the topic in question.

There’s value in the phrase, “No, but . . .” since it can help you assert your boundaries but still have fun. If you’re not comfortable drinking alcohol, for example, you can say “No, but I can get a non-alcoholic drink while we hang out.” 

By offering alternatives to a rejected suggestion, not only are you being true to your own levels of comfort, but you are also encouraging others to reconsider their behaviour patterns. This lets the best of each person come through, as friendship dynamics grow off improvements and communication, rather than succumbing to the pressures of something.