When People Don’t Understand The Meaning of ‘No’

Have you ever found yourself dealing with a person who doesn’t respect boundaries?

In one of my seminars, Mary spoke about Carla, a woman who often sought Mary’s help. Mary was usually happy to help; the problem was that when Mary didn’t have time, Carla didn’t take “no” for an answer. When she wanted Mary’s attention, nothing else mattered. Even in extreme situations, such as when Mary experienced a loss in her family, Carla insisted on speaking with her. Mary, a healer by profession, felt uncomfortable about simply walking away and leaving Carla with nobody to speak to. At the same time, Mary found herself overwhelmed and distressed by Carla’s behavior.

The issue that Mary was dealing with is that Carla has difficulty in respecting other people’s boundaries. When she is in emotional need, she tends to see only her own needs and is unable to see the needs of others.

Of course, we all have moments when we are so focused on our needs that we don’t see the needs of others. The difference is that for most of us that happens rarely, and even then we understand the meaning of “not now”.

What to do? I suggested that Mary initiate a conversation with Carla, not when Carla when asking for help but rather at a neutral time. In that conversation, Mary would describe, without condemnation, how she feels when her ‘no’ is not heard and how this was affecting her. Mary would conclude by describing the result she wants, namely, that her boundaries be honored and that “no” means “no”.

If Carla would then begin to respect Mary’s boundary, that would be a wonderful development. It would mean that they were able to negotiate something and arrive at an agreement, and the result would be that their relationship would improve. However, if Carla would still not respect Mary’s ‘no’, it would mean that the relationship has slipped into an abusive place in which agreements cannot be negotiated or respected. In that case, Mary would do well to consider leaving the relationship.

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