boundaries - how do you do it
January 24, 2018 11:23 AM   Subscribe

My resolution for this year is to get better at saying no and to be more in tune with my boundaries and holding them. What has worked for you? What books, exercises, articles, etc. have helped you develop healthy boundaries?

I am generally an easy-going person. I don't often feel that strongly about day to day things, especially in my partnership. I am also realizing that when I do feel strongly about things, it is difficult to articulate and enforce in all of my relationships. I'm looking for self help books, articles, etc. that will help me practice 1) understanding what my needs are 2) articulate what those needs are and 3) holding to whatever boundary I set.

I'm in therapy! And that is helping. I am also looking for resources outside of therapy and things that I can work on solo.
posted by allymusiqua to Human Relations (15 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
The site Captain Awkward has a lot of stuff about boundaries.
posted by Eevee at 11:46 AM on January 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency are good books for this.

Best advice I ever heard about boundaries came from one of those books: "You cannot set a boundary and simultaneously take care of someone's feelings."
posted by Amy NM at 11:54 AM on January 24, 2018 [20 favorites]

Best answer: The first time you say No to someone is often the hardest it gets easier after then.

Realise that often you don't have to justify saying No.
posted by 92_elements at 11:58 AM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My sister had a terrible time saying no, all her life. She worked with a therapist and explored the reasons why, etc. But she said what helped her the most were little behaviors that helped with the anxiety when she was learning to say no.

When someone asks you for something, stall. Say, "Let me see..." "I'm not sure..." "Can I get back to you?" This gives you a chance to calm down and decide what to say.

Even more effective, she said, but uncomfortable the first few times: just pause. Don't say anything for a few seconds. Sometimes, people will preemptively say, "Or if it's not convenient I can find someone else to help."

When she got braver, she could say to some askers, "Do you have other options?" This one works better with family and close friends.

These aren't enough by themselves, but they can reduce the initial grip of anxiety.
posted by wryly at 11:59 AM on January 24, 2018 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Be prepared for pushback. The status quo suits the people who are not respecting your boundaries. They will be unhappy with you for starting to enforce a boundary, because you will be telling them to stop doing something that they like doing. Even if you say it in the nicest, calmest way possible, they will probably be unhappy with you. This is hard, because--if you're like me--it makes you want to back down so that they will feel better again. Try and resist the temptation. Know that you are not doing anything wrong. They will adjust to the new boundary. But it takes time and effort.

The second thing to be prepared for is: you can't just enforce a boundary once and have it stick. You have to keep enforcing it until the person changes their habits, and it is often a long process. So if you have a conversation with someone and they seem to understand what you are asking and why, and then a week later, they are back to doing the same old thing, don't despair! You haven't messed up! You just have to keep consistently re-enforcing it.

Also, I think it helps to pick one situation that is making you unhappy and start enforcing the boundaries there, and just work on that one boundary for a while until you get it established. It can be a sort of tiring process, so I think it helps to not feel like you're fighting on all fronts at once.
posted by colfax at 1:01 PM on January 24, 2018 [12 favorites]

This is such a simple thing, but it really resonated with me: When you say yes to one thing, you are saying no to something else.

Think about it. That something else is often what you'd prefer or need to be doing. Always weigh the "something else" before you say yes. Saying no becomes about taking care of yourself and making your own needs a priority. (Saying yes I'll drive you to the doctor means I'm saying no to shopping for groceries today. Saying yes I'll be in that choir means saying no to Wednesday nights at home. Saying yes I'll listen to you endlessly talk on the phone means I'm saying no to having a productive afternoon, etc.)
posted by MelissaSimon at 1:03 PM on January 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

There's a really nice, inexpensive little book on this that you might enjoy: The Art of Saying No.
It gives tons of examples, and although they are more for work and friendship than for intimate relationships, the strategies described are ones you might want to integrate into your everyday life and practice doing, so they are at the ready for more personal situations.
I was impressed with this book!
posted by Knowyournuts at 1:41 PM on January 24, 2018

A friend taught me this mantra: "'No' is a complete sentence." Keeping that in mind has helped me reduce the urge to explain reasons for refusal. "No, but thank you for thinking of me" has been a helpful go-to.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:42 PM on January 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is SO HARD! I have been working on my "no" saying for about 10 years now and it's still hard to set boundaries, but gets easier all the time.

The first step, for me, was to realize that I very rarely actually had to answer in the moment. I say "let me check my calendar" or "I'm not sure, let me get back to you." Under pressure I would just wildly agree to things that I just plain did not want to do, and I would end up either (a) attending and being miserable or (b) flaking.

Step two: realize that just saying "no" is actually way better and less rude/disruptive than flaking at the last minute! This is something I still struggle with, but it helps keep it in perspective.
posted by assenav at 3:24 PM on January 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that boundaries are not about telling other people what to do, they are about deciding where your lines are and what you will do if they're crossed. You can inform the other party where they are if you feel like it, but you don't have to.

So, for example, you don't snap at the chronically late friend about not respecting you, you decide to take care of yourself and wait no more than 15 minutes before going into the movie theatre.

Good boundaries can cause a little awkwardness at first, but they lead to fewer arguments and less resentment all around.
posted by rpfields at 6:45 PM on January 24, 2018 [17 favorites]

Totally agree with rpfields. Boundaries are all about you deciding what you will and will not do. Most of the time the person you are making a boundary with/about doesn't have to know anything at all about it. So saying something like, "If you keep doing that, I'm going to leave" doesn't really need to happen. You just need to make the deal with yourself and leave when the person keeps doing [bad behavior]. In fact, I think in a lot of cases, it's better not to tell the person because then they'll do their best to try to convince you that you don't need to change your behavior (and therefore, they don't need to change theirs).
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:09 PM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Eevee's comment about Captain Awkward reminded me of this amazing advice from the Captain: #583: The Worry Wyvern and The Dragon of Disappointment. "Having the conversation, saying the script, enforcing the boundary rarely works automagically. It’s just meant to be a place to start, so we don’t all have to just take whatever people say to us and squirm in silence." The situation she outlines differs from yours in its particulars, but maybe you will be comforted by seeing the enforcement of boundaries in action.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:14 AM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

The most effective book I've found for this is Let Go Now: Embracing Detachment by Karen Casey. I read a different page of it every morning and every evening and it's so helpful to have that daily reminder and reinforcement. There are a few religious references in it but those are easily ignored. This book has really helped me change my thoughts and behavior.
posted by a fish out of water at 1:02 PM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

This sounds kinda silly and simplistic, but the best tool I found was to practice in front of a mirror. For me, it was important that I felt comfortable and projected my own real self. To do that, I tried out different tones and phrases until I could say them and still feel authentic and true to my own nature.
posted by raisingsand at 9:06 PM on January 25, 2018

Best answer: In a way, boundaries are about respect, not just for yourself but also for other people. Often, over-accommodation and an inability to say 'no' come from a kind of mushy, underground, unspoken sense that other people are incapable, helpless, needy, not to be trusted, unable to handle their own emotions, etc. "If I don't do this, no one else will!" or "If I say no to him, he'll get upset" or "It will be so terrible and hurtful if I say no to this than it will destroy our friendship."

There is a hidden condescension there, right? You don't trust other people to handle the crushing disappointment that will come along to you saying no to their minor request. It's helpful to me, when I'm gearing up to say no to someone, to remember that in a way, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt. I'm trusting them to hear "no," just as "no," and not to interpret as "I hate you and you mean nothing to me and you're garbage." I'm trusting them not to need my "no" to come accompanied by three paragraphs of explanation as to why I can't do this right now, and ten million apologies, and suggestions of how I can't do it now but maybe I can at some vague point in the future. I'm trusting that they're telling the truth, and if they accompanied their request with something like, "if you can't, it's no big deal," then they meant it.

When I say "no" to someone, now, it's a sign of respect. It means I trust them to be okay, to handle their own emotions, and to tell me honestly if it's actually a problem. It means I trust them and I respect them, and I know that they'll be fine.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 9:35 AM on January 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

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