Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.
-Boundaries: When to Say YES When to Say NO to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
That is one of the most important quotes I have ever read. I highly recommend the book. It obviously covers the subject of boundaries, a term I first used during high school when I started learning about the subject during a life skills class. Despite my interest in learning about the subject and use of the word, it took a while for me to really learn how influential the concept can be in life.
I think most Americans are generous and kind people. There are statistics that even support my argument and, of course, personal experiences that help feed my optimistic perspective. I’ll go ahead and state that we are a people who are quite accustomed to saying “yes”. Before you try to determine what you believe about my assertion, think about the last time you said “yes” or “no”. Do you remember why you gave either response?
What was the context of the situation? Do you remember feeling a little uncomfortable about your response? People do often feel somewhat uncomfortable when put on the spot. Those that don’t feel anything at all may be boundary setting superstars! However, those of us who do think about the response for a split second, or longer, may grapple with the potential fear of disappointing others while regretting not standing up for what they truly want for themselves. It’s definitely not a desirable feeling.
If you think that this message is right up your alley, then I have great news! Setting boundaries doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” situation. In fact, setting boundaries with others is all about empowering you in finding the way in which you can say “YES!”
When we fail to account to ourselves and our best interests, we feel kind of crummy. Sure, there are some rewards about giving in, but they don’t quite match the negative feelings consuming us. In fact, after doing it again and again, do you feel like the negative feelings start growing? Growing into resentment and possibly anger? Growing into feeling trapped or lost? I don’t think anyone should feel that way. Think about how those feelings then manifest in how you treat yourself or others around you? What really are the costs of not asserting your boundaries from the very beginning?
I think they are rather great and we often don’t know what the consequences will be until it builds up long enough to reveal some tangible harm in your relationships with others. So you may be wondering, “Okay, but what is the good news?!”
Setting boundaries is all about you determining the Who? How? What? When? Where? and Why? of a healthy, supportive and loving relationship.
- WHO is the specific people you can say “yes” to.
- HOW is the means which you are willing and able to be there for them when saying “yes”.
- WHAT is the context in which you are willing to help upon saying “yes”.
- WHEN is the time in which you are comfortable performing your show of support when saying “yes”.
- WHERE is the physical place in which you are capable of providing your presence in performing your show of support.
- WHY is the person reason you are capable of saying “yes” or needing to say “no”; this can be based on your values, ethics, principles and specific personal needs.
Now you may not need to answer and express each of these in every situation. However, there are times that you will have to consider each of these components. For example, if I ask you to watch my house when I go out-of-town, you have to consider several questions. If I live in Arizona and you will be in Italy during that time, it’s obviously not possible, no matter how willing and interested you were in helping me. Now that situation is definitely simplistic and cheesy, but I love sneaking in a cheesy line from time to time! However, I know you get the point.
So telling people “No” and is okay because it may lead to a way in which you can say “Yes”. I know of many parents who don’t let their kids have every piece of candy they crave or every toy possible. Why is that? Aren’t they being mean? No, in fact, it’s one of the most basic ways a parent can provide their child with love and guidance. In addition, even though the parent tells the child “No” to the candy, at this moment, the parents may be able to give the child another option, such as having a piece of fruit. Similarly, the parent may tell the child “No” about getting a new toy, but they may be able to give the option of spending special play time together when they get back home from the store. In either situation, the parent is able to do what they know is right, while also offer the child an option.
However, there are times when the circumstances are such that we realistically do not have another option to give. Sometimes, we just need to give a flat-out “NO!” Those are the moments that will possibly test your integrity and character. However, being values, ethics and principles that are so important to you, you will likely not have much of a problem taking such a firm stance. Often times, people tell me that what they do worry about is the other person’s reaction. After all, it could have come from a family member or a dear friend. Those situations are unfortunate and they may be very uncomfortable. However, like all tests, it is important to stay focused on what is truly important.
When you are just getting started in saying “No”, you may face some resistance. Surprised? I’m sure many parents out there know that if you give your little, precious bundle of joy an inch, they’ll soon take a mile. They are certainly adorable, but because of the love we have for young children, we must be firm and consistent from the beginning. Rules are rules. Limits are limits. Boundaries are boundaries. So you may face some resistance. Expect it. If people are caught off guard by your boundaries, let them have their response. Hopefully, people will already have healthy boundaries and respond in a mature, reasonable manner. If they are learning about boundaries, then the response may be different. At this point, it is critical that you remain consistent to those boundaries. As a result, people will become accustomed to the way you convey your respect for yourself and others. This process will give you added strength, self-confidence and self-respect.
Think of the many ways you can best give more of yourself to the world around you WHILE putting yourself, your family and your well-being first?