How Boundaries Actually Bring Us Closer

When someone asks you to do something you don't want to do...

  • Do you say "Yes." because that's what it means to be a "good person"?
  • Do you freeze and say "Umm..." or "I don't know..." and hope the other person catches the hint?
  • Do you agree to it, but openly show your disdain while you're doing it?

Notice if what happens next is one of these things...

  • You resent them for "making" you do something you didn't want to do.
  • You feel unseen and disrespected because they "should have known" you meant No.
  • You avoid them, so you can avoid their requests.

You disconnect from them. Distance comes between you, and the relationship erodes. You couldn't say No. So you go on in silent protest, waiting for someone to hear you.

Except the person who needs to hear you is yourself.

When you can't say No, you are denying yourself autonomy. You are giving up control of your life to others. You're telling yourself and others, "I'm not important." Over time, you become deaf and blind to your internal compass and lose the ability to tell what is OK and not OK.

This is a recipe for burn-out, resentment, volatility, even violent outbursts. It's why you ghost, quit, flake, or stick around way past your due date. Every No you can't say adds another sandbag to your psychic load. A load that one day crushes you.

There is another way.

What if you could say No and not only be heard, but actually feel closer to the person you said No to?

That is the potential of drawing good boundaries. Drawing a boundary with someone doesn't mean you're rejecting them or pushing them away.

A boundary is simply information to another person about how to be with you.

Here are some ways to think about boundaries that will help you feel better about saying No.

Boundaries are the shape of who you are beyond your skin.

You know that feeling when someone is leaning in just a little bit too close? They are crossing an invisible line. That line is your boundary. It's that same feeling when someone asks you a personal question you don't feel safe answering. The shape of who you are goes beyond the shape of your body. You have a definitive shape when it comes to things like:

  • Your basic needs for safety, security, respect, freedom, etc.
  • Your morals, ethics, and values.
  • Your time, energy, and attention.

The problem is that you were taught that your shape was wrong. As a child you were told to hug and kiss people you didn't want to. You were taught that being a "good person" meant only thinking about what others want, never what you want. And that if you say No, bad things happen like conflict, rejection, danger, or pain.

But that doesn't make your boundaries go away, it only confuses your ability to detect when they're being crossed.

And it creates a story that you're wrong for feeling bad when they are.

Try this instead

Familiarize yourself with the subtle feeling of violation. It's a feeling in your gut, belly, throat. It could be a flush of heat, or a sudden change in your energy. That's a moment of choice to make the invisible line visible. To reveal the shape of who you really are.

Be ready with direct and confident ways of saying No like:

  • Safety: "No. I don't feel ready to share that with you."
  • Values: "No. Doing that doesn't feel right to me."
  • Time: "No. I need that time for myself."

Don't apologize or justify or ask "Is that OK?" Just calmly let the silence fall, and stand solidly in your shape. Congratulations. You just spoke your truth and showed yourself respect.

Boundaries are a form of authenticity.

Don't you hate it when someone is doing something for you out of guilt? Or when you suspect someone isn't telling you the truth about how they really feel? It feels icky and weird.

You want your friends and loved ones to be able to be themselves around you. And they want that for you, too.

Every time you say Yes when you really mean No, you're hiding who you are from them.

You're sending the message "I don't want to be seen" or "I don't trust you to accept me". It makes them question your Yeses, Maybes, Thank Yous, I Love Yous. They don't really know where you stand.

Try this instead

When you freely express your preferences and needs, your friends and loved ones can understand you better. Instead of trying to read your mind, they can relax and trust that you will tell them what you really want or don't want. And it gives them freedom to express what they want without worrying about steamrolling you.

Practice saying what you want plainly and simply. See what happens when you strike these wishy-washy expressions from your vocabulary:

  • "I kinda want/don't want... Is that ok?"
  • "Whatever you want is fine."
  • "I want... But we don't have to."

Then sit back and watch yourself get exactly what you want.

Others will be OK if you say No.

"But I can't say No! They need me!"

If someone needs you to say Yes to be OK, that's a sign of codependency. You always have the right to say No. Don't assume what they can or can't handle. Because maybe what they really need is for you to step back so they can grow.

Sometimes the hardest part about saying No is realizing that you aren't as needed as you thought.

Thing is, the You that can't say No is not really You.

Eddie Shieh, PCC, MFA