A situation happens. Then it happens again. At first, we may react mindlessly or try to do what we think is right. After a while, we get angry and feel used. That buzzer is saying, “Something’s wrong.”
After struggling through confusion, fear, sadness, and guilt, we finally set a boundary. We may look back on the situation later and wonder why it was so hard. After all, that choice—to respect ourselves—was the best thing we could have done, for everyone involved.
Telling people no doesn’t just respect ourselves. It respects other people too. It tells them we believe they have some capacity to take responsibility for themselves. Setting a boundary can often be more helpful than the overcaring we’ve done.
Action: Sometimes a situation is an opportunity to give or to learn something new. Other times it’s an opportunity to say no. Be considerate of other people. But instead of responding mindlessly, take a moment. Ask yourself what you want. Are you doing it because you’ve made a decision to do it? Or are you feeling pressured by someone else or by inappropriate guilt? Before you can tell other people what your limits are, you have to tell yourself.
If it’s a confusing situation where children, mental illness, or addictions are involved, talk to knowledgeable people. Figure out what reasonable boundaries are in that situation.
Once you have decided on a boundary, inform the other person. Be as clear, nondefensive, and nonattacking as you can. Once in a while, you may need to get firm or raise your voice. Usually you can be respectful toward others when you say no.
When you say the hard stuff, for just a minute, you might have to close your heart. If someone is manipulating you or is addicted—or if you love that person a lot—being open may weaken your boundaries. Your boundaries are liable to collapse.
You know it’s important to tell children no. And remember the grown-ups you say no to are often just big kids. Sometimes they keep doing things to us just because they can. Remember, you don’t set boundaries to control other people; you set them to respect yourself. Once you set a boundary, enforcing it is up to you. You may have to get creative, depending on the circumstance and how much power you have.
From the book: 52 Weeks of Conscious Contact
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