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Good Fences Make Good Neighbours: Why Saying No is as Important as Saying Yes
When I reflect on my childhood memories, I see a little girl who was longing to be noticed.
As the oldest of six children born within nine years, I was given the role of caring for my little brothers and sisters and doing chores around the house.
I loved the warm feeling I got when people complimented me on what a “good helper” I was.
As the years passed, I continued to focus on how I could help others. Nursing was a natural career choice for me, and I felt fulfilled and contented in my role.
However, there came a time when I no longer wanted to be identified solely as a helper. It seemed as though I was always giving up my desires to support others, and I had periods of resentment and anger at the expectations placed upon me.
I started hearing about the concept of setting boundaries.
After a lifetime of being available and responsible, I wondered what might happen if I said “no”? I was not used to thinking that I could actually say no to a request and still have a relationship with those who asked for my help.
It has been a challenging journey for me and I have come to realize the benefits of setting healthy boundaries.
Here are some of the nuggets of wisdom I have gathered as I experimented with this concept.
1. What is a boundary?
A healthy boundary helps establish my identity and lets others know what I will or will not be responsible for. It is a guideline that I create to let others know how I want them to relate to me. A property line with a “No Trespassing” sign is a clear message. It is not so easy with personal boundaries, which are often invisible and can change, causing them to be difficult to manage.
2. Why is it important to set a boundary?
It is a way of showing that I have respect for myself. I am worthy of speaking up for myself and saying what I want. This also means that I respect others, and trust that they will set their own boundaries. Boundaries mean putting limits on expectations. Setting a boundary is a way of being intentional about my actions in advance. I can then respond rather than react. If I do not learn how to set limits, I will experience anxiety, dependency, or depression. Resentment builds up and a sense of irritability can become a constant companion.
3. Benefits of setting boundaries.
There will be more clarity in my relationships. People will know that I mean what I say. I no longer say “yes” without really meaning it. I am congruent and live my life with integrity. This leads to equal partnership and mutual respect. I take full responsibility for my actions, and I allow others to have their experience.
4. Barriers to setting boundaries.
Fear keeps me from setting a boundary. What if no one likes me? Will I be rejected by my friends and peers? After so many years of saying “yes” to requests, I feel guilty for saying “no.” It seems easier to just do what others want. I don’t know how to set boundaries graciously. No one taught me how to do this. It seems too complicated!
5. How to set healthy boundaries.
The first step is to know what I want. Then I let the other person know in simple terms what it is that I want. There is no need to overexplain or apologize for setting a boundary. I am not responsible for the other’s reaction to my stance. Chances are that as I show up respectfully and with clarity, there will be less conflict and disagreement. The goal of partnership and both parties feeling respected is foundational for healthy boundary setting.
During the past year of the pandemic, there have been numerous opportunities to set boundaries. This could be physical distancing as I walk on the trails near my home. Or it could be choosing to wear a mask when I go grocery shopping. There is also the choice I make about joining friends for a gathering in their backyard. How safe is it? Have the others been immunized yet? What do I want?
There is the reality of easing back into the activities of “life before COVID-19.” I believe that this will be a chance for me to set healthy boundaries and practice putting myself first as I choose what activities I engage in and when I decide to stay home.
Setting healthy boundaries varies from person to person. The invitation for us all is to respect others’ choices and to respect ourselves as we negotiate the uncertain times ahead.
I encourage you to get clear on what your boundaries are. You are only able to have a resounding yes if you are able to say no as well.
Remember, caring for yourself happens as you set healthy boundaries. Be prepared for a life of ease and joy as you begin to practice setting boundaries.