A boundary is when we say ‘no.’ It might be ‘no’ to your toddler playing in the street or a ‘no’ to an unhealthy relationship. Some people have ‘no’ down really well. Others really struggle with it. But very few have the ‘no’ down with room for feelings and respect. This is an essential part of healthy relationships and boundaries are a critical part of healing relationships. I’m Rebecca Thompson Hitt and this is the All Relationships Can Heal podcast. Today is Wisdom Wednesday and we’re talking about Respectful Boundaries.
We’ve been exploring my 8 guiding principles and today we’re talking about principle #7.
Principle #7- Boundaries are an important part of life and healthy relationships. We can set appropriate limits with others while still respecting their needs and feelings- if we are aware of ourselves. This is true of parents and children, couples, and every relationship we have. Boundaries are critical for healthy relationships. When something isn’t safe or doesn’t feel safe to us, we need a boundary. Just as we wouldn’t let a child play in a busy street, we need to be able to say to others that something isn’t ok with us. Boundaries can be anything from, “I need a minute to think about what you just said” to “I can’t spend time with you anymore,” or “I can’t let you hurt me.” Different situations require different kinds of boundaries and it is also a critical part of healing relationships with both children and other adults.
So, first, we need to be aware of ourselves, our own stories, and our own unconscious places and to do that, we need to pause. We need to check in with ourselves. Remember that our feelings are our inner guidance system, helping us find our way? When we check in with ourselves, we can ask how we’re feeling in this situation. Is this a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for you? Sometimes it’s easy and super clear. You’re not ok with your 13-year-old borrowing your car because she doesn’t yet have a driver’s license. Easy no. But the no came from inside of you, in that pit in the middle of your stomach or the tightening of your shoulders at the thought of that happening. The next step is to take that no and move into a respectful place before you respond. In our completely hypothetical situation, it might sound something like this: “Amy, I know you really want to take the car for a spin, but I can’t let you do that. It isn’t safe and it isn’t legal. But I’ll listen if you want to help me understand why this is coming up now.”
In real life, a 13-year-old who wanted to borrow the car, in all seriousness, probably wouldn’t have this conversation first, so I’m using it just to demonstrate what I’m talking about. Believe me, I’ve heard crazier real stories, but even those crazier sounding stories and those people in them deserve the respect of someone being curious about what’s going on for them WHILE still saying ‘no’ where it’s needed.
Pam Leo, author of Connection Parenting, says that every no someone hears (notice I didn’t say “your child hears”) is a loss. That doesn’t mean that we don’t set limits, but it does mean that we respect the feelings our child is having when we need to use no. This applies to our important relationships, like our relationship with our partner, too.
Wisdom in these situations is being able to connect to your own body to discern your yes or your no, check back in and make sure this is reasonable and not clouded by your own stories and feelings, (see episodes #23 and #24 for more details about that) and to set a limit when needed that is still respectful of the person and the feelings. This isn’t easy, especially because most of us didn’t grow up with this and we haven’t experienced it. But it makes a huge difference in our relationships when we can find a way to respectfully say no.
The best part of learning to say no with respect is that then your yes really means something. Ray Castellino, my mentor and co-founder of BEBA (Building and Enhancing Bonding and Attachment in Santa Barbara, California) says that you can’t have a true yes without a no. Think about it. If you say yes when you really mean no, your yes really means nothing. And our kids, especially, feel that. But so do our partners, friends, and colleagues. When you genuinely say yes and mean it, it’s felt. How powerfully this helps our relationships to be authentic and clear! So, ‘no’ is important, critical, to healing. Speaking our truth is critical to healing. And finding ways to say no with respect and still create room for the feelings goes a long way towards healing.
I would definitely encourage you to explore those places where you need to say no or where you say no often, whether this is with your child, your partner, or someone else in your life. What happens for you in the places you need to say no? Does it happen with respect? Do you not say anything at all and wish you had later? Does it come out with force? What did boundaries look like for you when you were growing up? Take a moment and reflect and create some awareness of your own story and what boundaries looked like when you were younger. Do you see any patterns, good or less than ideal?
I’m Rebecca Thompson Hitt and you’ve been listening to Wisdom Wednesday on the All Relationships Can Heal Podcast. Please join me tomorrow for Thankful Thursday as we explore our 8th and final guiding principle about community and self-care.