How to Say No: An essential guide to setting boundaries for helpers

Since compassionate helpers want to please others and help, it is often foreign for them to set a limit or say no. When empathic givers say no, they are often plagued with guilt. Sometimes this is solely within themselves, other times it is from absorbing other’s manipulations. When empathic people teach others they are limitless in their giving, this leads other people to expect constant help and in some cases, even demand it.

The importance of boundaries

The risk of not setting boundaries for the helper can range from anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and even burnout. If you would like to learn more about compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout, I have included this video for you to watch. Remember, boundaries are a part of self-care.

Boundaries teach others how to treat you. Limits show without a doubt what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. These invisible lines protect you from abuse. Boundaries allow you to have your own separate feelings, thoughts and actions. Now, you know why it is important to have boundaries, let’s get to how to actually do it.

Identify what is your boundary

This part of the process, increases your self-awareness and is not to be shared with anyone else. Take a moment and write down what you want and why. Others do not need to know your reasons for limit setting, but you do. If you have a close relationship you may want to share when you set a boundary or at a later date, why this is important to you. Sharing your why is not required or even necessary. Sometimes your explanation waters down your message. The next time you say, yes, think about why you say, yes. Is this something you want to do or are you trying to avoid fear or confrontation?


It is important to be direct about what you want and need. You do not need to explain or justify your reason for a limit. Say what you want in simple terms, without apologizing.

For example:

It is inappropriate when you____________________________ (speak that way or touch me)

Then you may need to redirect the person’s behavior. I would appreciate if you ask me rather than assuming I will do it for you, etc. If you are dealing with a patient who is touching you, Re-direct them and say place your hands here instead.

When someone asks or requests your help and you are unsure of your answer, feel free to ask additional questions. How long do you expect this task will last? Perhaps you can help in a different way then requested and offer that. If you don’t know your answer, give yourself the space to figure it out. Tell the other person, I will have to get back to you tomorrow or I have to check my schedule first.

If you are impulsive with your answers, you may want to read How to slow down impulsive decisions and improve relationships

Practice saying no

First start saying no to little things, then work your way up to the big things you do not want to do. Sometimes saying no is not as big of a deal as you think it will be. Often your anticipatory anxiety, the anxiety you feel before you say no, makes it worse than the reality of saying it.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

When you set a limit, expect some people to be upset with you. People pleasers who feel other’s disappointment or anger, can feel threatened. When a person feels threatened, we want to avoid the threat at all costs. You can survive other’s negative feelings towards you. You will do this by getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Remind yourself, you are setting a limit to help others. Sometimes people don’t need help but rather need to learn for themselves or even hit rock bottom.

Instill consequences

Boundaries are not meant to be a punishment but rather a natural consequence of behavior. A consequence needs to be firm. For example. If you continue to talk to me this way, I will end our phone call until you can talk to me calmly. If you continue to yell at me, I will be in the other room. Feel free to join me when you want to talk calmly. If you break plans with me at the last minute or do not show up or call me, I will call you out on your behaviors and let you know how I feel.

Practice, practice, practice

The well-known proverb says, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Practice setting limits with yourself and others. The more you do it, the less anxious you will feel.

What is your experience with setting boundaries and saying no?

Lisa Hutchison LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist and writing coach. She works for caring professionals, who want to prevent or treat compassion fatigue. Her specialty is teaching stress management, assertiveness and boundary setting. Lisa is the Amazon bestselling author of I Fill My Cup: A Journal for Compassionate Helpers and the kindle book Setting Ethical Limits for Caring & Competent Professionals. Get a FREE 10 page E-book; Why Compassionate People Run Out of Energy and What You Can Do About It at

Check out my YouTube Channel: Lisa Hutchison LMHC

9 thoughts on “How to Say No: An essential guide to setting boundaries for helpers

  1. Hi Lisa, As a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser boy did this post resonate. As a teacher and perpetual student of self-are and self-love I know first hand how important boundaries are but don’t always make them easy! This is valuable advice! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are welcome, Jenny! I am happy to hear you connected with this post. I agree setting boundaries is not always easy. It seems the ones that challenge us the most, are the ones we need the most. Thanks for stopping by to comment.
      Many Blessings,


  2. Hi Lisa,

    Loved your video and your advice here is so beneficial. Boundaries aren’t always easy to build and saying no sounds simple but it’s just the opposite. So, thank you! And have a wonderful weekend.
    Lauren 💗

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Zeenat. I used to have no boundaries when it came to helping and I ended up very depleted energy wise. This is why I am so passionate about boundaries today! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience.
      Many Blessings,
      Lisa 💕


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