In the words of one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Lindsay Mack :
“Boundaries are our birthright.”
It was well into adulthood before I started to realize the truth of that sentence. Saying no to others has always been difficult for me. It just wasn’t allowed or encouraged when I was growing up. Privacy and autonomy were not well respected in my house. My siblings and I had to fight for our boundaries, and they still often weren’t honored. So rather than asserting my boundaries, I learned instead to use passive-aggressive behaviors, sneaking around and lying, and finally just ghosting to get my needs met. These are unhealthy ways of coping and I’m working to change.
You have the right to say no without guilt
I am learning that I always have the right to say no. And I am learning that if the person I am saying no to doesn’t like it, that’s ok. Boundaries have never felt safe because having them meant losing people. But I am learning that if I assert a boundary and I then lose that person, I was right to assert that boundary.
If they get angry or hurt by my boundary, it’s confirmation that I’m doing the right thing, not the wrong thing. Having boundaries isn’t selfish; in fact, it’s the highest form of self-care.
You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings
As adults, we are all responsible for our feelings. No one can make you feel a certain way. I can’t make someone feel a certain way. And no one can make me feel a certain way. I am feeling the way I’m feeling because a need is either getting met (positive feelings) or not getting met (negative feelings).
If my needs aren’t getting met, it’s up to me to make sure that they do. I can ask someone if they are willing to help me get my needs met, but they also have the right to say no.
During my upbringing, I was taught over and over that my mother’s feelings were my responsibility. That my behavior was a reflection of her, that if she wasn’t happy, no one was allowed to be happy. As a result, I worry all the time that my behavior is going to cause someone to feel a certain way. I wear myself out trying to control others’ feelings, trying to mitigate their response.
I am learning that the only feelings I’m responsible for are my own. If my boundaries cause someone else to get upset, that’s not my responsibility.
How someone feels about you is none of your business
You will never make everyone happy. Not everyone is going to like you. If someone doesn’t like me, it’s none of my business. I am a good person, and I don’t hurt people on purpose.
My discomfort is not a price that I have to pay for someone else’s comfort.
I will never be able to change the way that someone feels, so I need not try. If I am authentically myself and try to be kind, I know that the people in my life will be the ones that meant to be there. But as long as I am trying to make everyone happy, I will attract people that will attach themselves to that weakness. They will know either consciously or subconsciously that they can continue to expect more and more from me, and never have to give anything in return.
They are not taking advantage of me. There are no vampires. I am giving my power away. I am choosing to live this way. I can stop the cycle by enacting a boundary.
I am a work in progress
I am learning. I’m still clumsy. Sometimes I set my boundaries too aggressively and hurt people. Sometimes I wait too long until I’m resentful and realize that I should’ve set my boundary months ago. Sometimes I catch myself saying yes, and realizing minutes, hours, days later that I actually meant no. I didn’t feel safe saying no. But I am learning to say it anyway.
No is a complete sentence
You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your no. You don’t have to feel guilty for saying no. If your no makes someone else upset, it doesn’t mean your no was wrong. You can’t fix, control or change the way people feel about your no.
I have faith that with time and practice, my boundaries will become clearer to me, and then to those around me. The people in my life will respect my boundaries because they were clear from the beginning and they were always aware of them. I will no longer feel guilty for expressing a boundary because I have seen the benefits firsthand that they provide me. My boundaries keep me safe and happy.
originally published on Medium