Setting, maintaining, and enforcing boundaries are things that I didn’t understand until recently. I knew there were moments when you were obviously supposed to say no, but I believed those were really only clear safety situations, like being offered drugs or an attempted rape. I didn’t realize that it is necessary to set clear boundaries along the way in order to hopefully avoid those big deal situations.
I also didn’t know that nice people set boundaries. I thought that in order to be kind and likable and polite you were supposed to always say yes.
I also believed that my value and worth were based on whether other people liked me. I thought people would like me better if I were helpful and easy-going and didn’t bore them with how I felt or what I thought. I didn’t know how to say no to little things like letting a fellow student copy my 8th grade algebra homework, so how was I supposed to say no to bigger problems, like dealing with a client who repeatedly exposed himself to me unnecessarily? We all know the importance of saying no when we’re being hurt, but sometimes we can’t get the words out. Sometimes we freeze. This is something I want to discuss in the future, but for now I want to talk about why boundaries are one of the most important aids in cultivating clear, positive relationships of all kinds.
Brené Brown is a researcher who studies shame and vulnerability. I have learned so much from reading her books and listening to her interviews and talks. One of the topics on which she educates is the necessity of boundaries. In this video, she explains that without clear communication of what we are and are not okay with, we become resentful toward the individual. We begin to sacrifice our well-being because we think it is noble, and by allowing inappropriate behaviors to happen, we cause them to think that those behaviors are okay or even desired. It takes courage to say no when we aren’t sure how the recipient will respond. Maybe it’s a friend who has started showing up unexpectedly at inappropriate times. Maybe it’s a family member who consistently gives unsolicited advice and becomes aggressive when you don’t follow it. Maybe it’s a client who won’t stop asking you out, even after your rehearsed line of, “Thank you, but I don’t date clients.” has been used over and over again. Our natural reaction is to do everything we can to keep seemingly beneficial people in our lives, and even make excuses for their unwanted behavior— —We all need friends, and maybe she’s just going through a phase that will stop. —Of course Uncle so-and-so has my best interest at heart. Maybe he knows something I don’t and I should just do what he suggests.—Perhaps he’s being so persistent because we’d actually be a good fit and I’m just not seeing it. Maybe I should go ahead and give him a chance...
The main reason why I have continued cultivating unhealthy relationships is fear that the individual will leave if I don’t comply.
When I opened my private spa, I was desperate for clients (like, hopefully someone walks-in so that I get to eat dinner tonight desperate). I didn’t want to lose any money, so I wasn’t willing to set boundaries that would give clients a desire to leave. I didn’t realize several truths that would have benefitted my life and my business:
The right people respect you more when you set boundaries
Dealing with aggressive, manipulative, or mean clients was not worth my physical, mental, emotional safety, OR the money
Clearing out negative clients would’ve opened up room in my schedule for better ones
Setting boundaries creates honest relationships that are free of resentment and white-lies
Boundaries reinforce your value and worth
By communicating what is and isn’t okay, we are able to keep clear and open relationships. We don’t give the impression that we can be bullied or coerced. We let people know that we have self-respect and recognize our value. All of these things point us toward a safer, more positive and honest life, and learning to set boundaries in minor areas gears us toward doing the same in major ones.