Boundaries are one of the most important aspects when it comes to creating healthy, sustainable, respectful, and loving relationships.
When we honor our boundaries, we are loving ourselves in the best possible way. And when we do not honor our boundaries, we are treating ourselves poorly. Yet, knowing what our boundaries are exactly is challenging for many people. And certainly is a growing edge for those that come to work with me privately and in my workshops.
After I teach my clients what boundaries are and encourage them to honor them in very specific ways they ask, “How do I know? I often cannot tell whether I am a “yes” to something or a “no” and then I feel confused. And then I might do something I feel regretful of later. It gets messy.”
Learning whether you are a “yes”, “no” or “maybe” to something – whether it be a request for a date, or an invitation to a party, or a sexual engagement – it can be very hard for many to know what they want (or don’t want.) It is painful to say “yes” when we actually mean “no.”
Readers, take a moment to tune in right now and ask yourself whether you’ve said “yes” to something sexual when you really weren’t sure you wanted to, or when you were downright clear that you didn’t want to, but you did anyway. Unfortunately, our desire to be loved, or liked, is very strong and that part of ourselves will say “yes” in the name of being liked, or accepted. This begins quite early on in our development when we get positive feedback from our parents, teachers or friends when we do something they want us to do! It doesn’t take long to figure out that when we make someone else happy (even at our own expense), we feel loved.
However, as adults, we spend years undoing this sacrificial pattern that no longer serves us and our desire for truth and authenticity. (Ideally, we teach our children the same so they don’t need to spend years undoing!)
So how do we know? How do we honor our true selves and love ourselves by respecting our boundaries?
Pay attention to your body is the simple answer. Our bodies respond to “yes” and “no” differently. And to keep things even more simple and respectful, I teach my students and clients that “maybe” is “no” — if we are not 100% clear feeling “hell yeah!” then, please respond with “no thank you!” You can always change your mind or come back and readdress the question at a later time but for now, “maybe” equals “no.”
What does “yes” feel like?
It feels open; a deep breath, a welcoming invitation, genuine curiosity. It feels exciting (even if it feels a bit scary); it feels like something you want to approach and learn from; perhaps a risk you are willing to take.
What does “no” feel like?
It feels like constriction, questioning, confusion, cloudy, blurry, needing more information. It can feel like a stomach ache, a headache, a distraction of some sort. You may notice yourself procrastinating on something (or responding to someone.) It can feel too scary or daunting; a risk you are not willing to take.
The body sensations can be subtle so I suggest you practice. Notice when someone asks you something how you feel in your body. Especially take the time to notice when you are sure you are a true “yes” to something (perhaps a flavor of ice cream is a good place to begin.) Then notice how your body feels when you are clear that you are not open to someone or something. Make a mental note of the body sensations so that you will recognize them later.
It takes practice but it’s a practice very worth taking seriously. Honoring and respecting yourself impacts your relationships in a very positive way. You bring joy and clarity to your partnership that adds a feeling of uplifting to both of you. When you say “yes” but mean “no” – the energy between you gets cloudy and confusing and eventually filled with resentment and distance.
Your body will communicate with you clearly, all you have to do is listen and respond.