I had a hard time learning the concept of boundaries in my life. I wasn’t really a “yes man,” but I had a hard time learning how to set a boundary with someone when they had certain things they’d come to expect of me. I would usually just makes excuses of why I couldn’t say yes rather than just saying no. I always felt like I had to have a reason to say no, or at least find one.
No one holds your time or energy hostage.
You do not have to say yes simply because someone asks you. And you don’t have to say, “I really wish I could but…” You can just say “No. That’s not right for me.” Or, “No. I can’t help with that because I have other priorities right now.” Or, “I love you, but no, I can’t spend time with you right now because you have cancelled on me too many times and my time is valuable.” I know this sounds harsh and the hardest part about setting boundaries is letting everyone around you learn to take no for an answer. Some will get very upset. They are used to getting whatever they ask for and this is natural. Some people may feel that you are acting less loving towards them or that you are upset with them in some way. This will pass. People will learn to appreciate your boundaries because they will know that when you say yes, you really mean it and you will not resent them for it later.
The Message Bible has a passage they title “Empty Promises”
Matthew 5:33-37 “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.
Setting boundaries and being straightforward is not just good for you, but it is good period. Jesus even told us to do it! I have had so many friends over the years who have cancelled plans. It has gotten to a point where there are many people that I will invite to a big party or see if they happen to be somewhere, but I will not make direct plans with them because they have wasted so much of my time by canceling. I even had a friend, when I asked if she was coming to my wedding, say “I really want to but I don’t know yet if I can make it. Can you just save me a seat?” I happened to have some extra space at that point, so I just said fine but I knew she wasn’t coming. People who know how to set boundaries and organize their priorities will love you harder and be honest with you always. It may hurt hearing no.. but you will appreciate it in the end.
There will be people who will not appreciate your nos. These are people you need to seriously consider your relationship with. These people feel they are in control of your time and energy and will not ever accept your autonomy. This is a big sign of a toxic relationship with a controlling person. Sadly, this person may be a family member who you can’t avoid or even a spouse. If this is the case, I recommend family counseling immediately and I recommend even more strongly that you continue to set these boundaries. Maybe this will help your family member realize their own controlling behavior, but even if not they will eventually get used to your limits and many will move on to find someone else that is easier to control.
Set yourself free. This does not mean being selfish. This does not mean being rude or condescending to others, but it means that you will be able to give 100% in everything you do which is all anyone can really ask and what everyone really wants.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m not sure who the first person was who said that. Probably Shakespeare. Or maybe Sting. But at the moment, it’s the sentence that best explains my tragic flaw: my inability to change. I don’t think I’m alone in this. The more I get to know other people, the more I realize it’s kind of everyone’s flaw. Staying exactly the same for as long as possible, standing perfectly still… it feels safer somehow. And if you are suffering, at least the pain is familiar. Because if you took that leap of faith, went outside the box, did something unexpected… who knows what other pain might be out there, waiting for you. Chances are it could be even worse. So you maintain the status quo. Choose the road already traveled and it doesn’t seem that bad. Not as far as flaws go. You’re not a drug addict. You’re not killing anyone… except maybe yourself a little. When we finally do change, I don’t think it happens like an earthquake or an explosion, where all of a sudden we’re like this different person. I think it’s smaller than that. The kind of thing most people wouldn’t even notice unless they looked at us really close. Which, thank God, they never do. But you notice it. Inside you that change feels like a world of difference. And you hope this is it. This is the person you get to be forever… that you’ll never have to change again.”