Setting Boundaries and Taking Care of Yourself

I have a friend who does a very good job of saying “yes” to anyone and everyone who needs her help. Yet when I speak to her, she shares with me about her feeling burned out with life, burned out with her lack of boundaries, and why it is so hard to say “no.”

Ram Dass shared that one of the challenges many of us have in life is learning to say with an open heart. That often we are trained by society, family to not say “no.” Yet when we have difficulty saying “no” we then leave ourselves open to creating inordinate amounts of stress.

In learning to take care of ourselves, one of the lessons is the lesson of boundary setting. One of the keys to boundary setting is knowing your limits, honoring yourself, and honoring your time.

An excellent challenge for those of us who have a hard time saying no, is to practice it, just like a homework assignment in school. To let yourself go and just say no (no drug joke intended here) to someone or something just for the experience of it, and see how it feels, notice what your thoughts are when you do say no, what do you fear, what are your emotions, and then share those here.

Some questions to ask are what happens to you when you think “no,” but say “yes.” In some ways, this goes back to the authentic self. Which self is saying “yes.”

In this group I taught today of senior citizens, the issue of boundaries came up. One man, Sheldon, shared that he knows a woman that always says “yes” to everything. He was very bothered by it, because he believed that she had no boundaries. When I asked him did it bother her to say “yes,” he said “no” she is very loving and giving and has no problem with it. She said she loves saying “yes”. Was it true? Who knows? But there are no absolutes here. There is no right answer. Just an answer that is truest for you.

The bigger question is, are you saying “yes” when you are feeling “no,” and if so, perhaps an exploration of what it means to say “no” to someone else. Does it mean your heart is cut off from them? Is it just an old habit that keeps playing itself out? Is it something that needs to get developed and nurtured and practice, as any other behavior does.

Sometimes having a formula for assertiveness helps. Here’s one of my favorites. It is called “DESC” – Describe, Explain, Specify and Consequence.

It goes like this: When you ______. I feel _______. I would prefer you do this _____. If you do______ (reward), if you don’t______ (consequence). Example: When you come home late, after I’ve cooked a meal, and you don’t call, I feel disrespected/hurt. I would prefer you call me if you aren’t going to come home. If you do I’ll keep your food warm. If you don’t I’ll be angry, throw the food against the wall, and you can go and enjoy a nice hot meal at McDonalds.


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