The Power of No: Establishing Boundaries After Depression Treatment

You’ve completed residential treatment for depression, and finally the weight of your illness has lifted. Your time in treatment has given you extraordinary insights into your inner self and you are now armed with a plethora of concrete tools you can use whenever you need to protect your hard-won emotional health. Coming out of intensive depression treatment can be exhilarating, and you are ready to return to your everyday environment with an invigorated spirit and fresh perspective. However, this can still be a fragile time, and it is important to stay mindful of your needs and limits; doing too much too soon can compromise the gains you have made and leave you overwhelmed. It is critical to start putting into practice the self-care techniques you have learned in treatment and honoring yourself to protect your emotional well-being. For many, this means learning how to say no.

Saying no often doesn’t come easily. Perhaps you are worried about hurting other people’s feelings. Perhaps you were raised in an environment in which your own desires were not taken into account and you learned to deny your own needs. Perhaps you have a hard time acknowledging your own limits and feeling like a failure. But learning to establish boundaries and say no in both your personal and professional life is not only important to maintain your psychological stability, it is also vital to living a life of authenticity, honesty, and dignity. Being true to yourself might be scary, but it ultimately allows you to experience expanded contentedness and a renewed sense of agency, purpose, and control over your own life.

Destigmatize “No”

No is not an insult, a rejection, a cruelty, or an expression of selfishness. Saying “no” is speaking with honesty, establishing a healthy boundary, and valuing yourself, your time, and your mental health. In Paul Huljuich’s inspiring column on the power of “no,” he writes:

If you don’t learn to say No, your stress levels will rise as you live in disharmony with your true desires and in conflict with the amount of time and energy you truly have. In finding the courage to decline obligations and demands that you know you can’t meet, you also allow people to know the true you and your true wishes. This is not selfishness in the negative sense of the word; it is honesty.

You do not have to feel ashamed or guilty for caring for your own well-being and giving voice to your own needs, preferences, and desires. Saying no is not only your right, it is a vital part of caring for yourself and living with integrity.

Write Out Your Boundaries

For people to whom boundaries do not come naturally, writing down what you want and, just as importantly, what you don’t want can give you a more clear understanding of how to create healthy limits for yourself. Helen Nieves of Mental Health Awareness finds that “making a list of the things you would like to say ‘no’ to” can help you gain greater insight into your own natural boundaries and needs. She asks, “If you could say no to someone or something, knowing that there will be no negative consequences, who and what will you say no to?” By imagining what you would do if you were not bound by other people’s expectations, you can learn to listen to your inner voice, explore the shape you want your life to take, and create a plan for achieving it.

Take Time to Think

If your first instinct has been to say yes to things you don’t actually want to do or aren’t good for your emotional health, take the time to think about things before you agree. This is particularly important after intensive depression treatment, as you must consciously resist a return to damaging, automatic behavioral patterns that interfere with your ongoing healing. If someone asks you to do something, tell the person who is making the request that you will get back to them in 24 hours, even if you are pretty sure you will say yes. A simple “I will think about it and I’ll let you know tomorrow,” or “Let me check my calendar” is fine. By breaking away from the routine of automatically agreeing to things, you give yourself the emotional space to ask yourself important questions: Do you want to do this? Is this a valuable way to spend your time? Will this create unnecessary stress for you? Will this bring you joy? Will this help or hinder your recovery? By doing this, you get into the habit of considering your options and making thoughtful, deliberate choices that take your own needs into consideration.

Practice Saying No

If you have a hard time saying no to people, practice. Often people feel that they need to explain why they are saying no or they need to have a valid excuse. In reality, it’s okay to just say no. You do not need to have an elaborate story for why you are declining an invitation to a party or get into details explaining why you won’t be able to attend the meeting. Practice saying, “Thank you for the invitation, but I won’t be able to make it,” or “No, that doesn’t work for me;” practice aloud, practice in the mirror, practice with a partner, practice until the words feel natural and true. If someone presses you, be assertive; you will not be pressured into doing things that are against your own self-interest out of guilt, or to make someone else happy, to the detriment of your own emotional health.

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Say No to Say Yes After Depression Treatment

For many, residential depression treatment is time of deep reflection, self-discovery, and personal growth that allows you to identify what you truly want and need. Saying no lets you to use that insight to live a more harmonious, empowering, and purposeful life, because saying no isn’t just about a closing of possibility, it is about creating time and space to say yes. Sure, sometimes that might be saying yes to a night spent watching Netflix with your dog instead of going to a party. But other times, saying no to projects, events, people, or activities that aren’t satisfying or healthy for you gives you the opportunity to say yes to things that enrich and transform your life.

Saying no to taking on a heavier workload lets you say yes to spending more time with your family or friends; saying no to another Thanksgiving dinner with your narcissistic mother lets you say yes to creating new traditions that bring you joy; saying no to a relationship that isn’t fulfilling you lets you say yes to nourishing, healthy, and satisfying relationships. Time and emotional energy are limited resources, and by freeing them up to care for yourself you can experience greater tranquility, happiness, and overall quality of life.

Bridges to Recovery offers comprehensive mental health treatment for people suffering from depression and co-occurring impulse control disorders and eating disorders. Our innovative program combines the best therapeutic practices delivered by top experts in the fields of psychological and behavioral health to create profound transformation and reinvigorate you mind, body, and spirit. Contact us for more information about our program and to find out how we can help you or your loved one on the path to healing.