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.
Take this quiz and find out! I got 62.. how about you?
“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.”
Dreams are beautiful, right? They help us to reach farther, try harder, never give up on ourselves. So they must be a good thing. But what happens when trying harder and not letting go starts to suffocate you? That’s my story, and I know this same story belongs to many of you.
To everyone reading this that has “the one that got away,” maybe this will finally bring you some peace. I’ve had my own. He’s a wonderful, amazing person and I will always love him in some way. He taught me so much in the time that we were together and in the times inbetween. I learned how to be vulnerable, how to fight for things instead of allowing myself to be the victim, how to truly selflessly love, how to hold on, but most importantly, how to let go.
It all started with a dream.
I met this boy for coffee. We had this amazing talk, you know.. one of the ones that change your life. One of the ones that make you see the world turn to color for the first time. It’s not that I fell in love with him that day, it truly didn’t have anything to do with him. It was my seeing myself through his eyes. It was my seeing myself for the first time. In that moment, I met the first person that ever saw the world the way I did. And in that, I saw myself in him.
As the months passed, we saw each other as much as we could handle without running the other direction in an overwhelming fear of what we were feeling. It wasn’t enough to form anything real, but it was enough to form a dream. I built this dream subconsciously, like some kind of inception. I don’t even remember when it happened. It was just that I knew how the story would end. At least, I thought I did. I knew how I expected the story to end, at least.
And when we finally stopped running, we found something truly beautiful. We walked on the beach. We asked each other real questions as we got to know eachother and ourselves. We laughed and wrote music and danced and everything you might find in a Nicholas Sparks book (minus the 1950’s bathing suit and the tragic death of your favorite character). We were perfect.
For 10 days.
Ten days later I left for an international trip for an entire month and things started falling apart almost immediately. But the dream grew. Somehow the dream grew inversely to the pain. When things got bad, I had even more fervor to “fight for it” because what we had was “so worth it!” But it always hurt because I always ended up empty. On the best day even, I wanted more. I wanted everything with him and it was never enough. It could never be enough because of the dream.
So the dream grew and the relationship poisoned both of us one day at a time. We forced it to work for about 6 months and then inevitably, a devastating break up where we were both broken to the core. Then we got back together a year later when the fantasy of what we had lost had gotten to us, and it ended with the same result. And we seem to revisit the idea every so often when enough time has passed to forget.
The dream was destructive. The dream was the poison.
You would think a dream like this would be a perfect thing because you would never give up on the person. Unfortunately, in this story and many, many others I’ve heard over the years, it doesn’t work that way. It is all emotion and nothing real. You give up much more easily because you stop being able to love where you are. You stop being able to love the simple things. You stop being able to love the one you’re with because they will never measure up to the vision you’ve built of them.
You stop being able to love even the good and great things because you are blinded by this dream of brilliance. This dream where you are part of a movie where you’re the ingenue and he’s the perfect prince in shining armor. The dream of the house you’ll live in and the kids you’ll have and the way you’ll dance when you’re both 80 years old. This isn’t what you have. What you have is pain. But you convince yourself to suffer through the pain because.. the dream.
You tell yourself, we might not we happy right now, but we will be soon. Once he figures out _______. Once we move out of this town. Once we find ________. Once he finally lets me in. Once I finally let him in. And that’s the dream. The blank to be filled in. And the dream remains a blank.
On the topic of Nicholas Sparks books: In the book Three Weeks With My Brother he says, “Dreams are always crushing when they don’t come true. But it’s the simple dreams that are often the most painful because they seem so personal, so reasonable, so attainable. You’re always close enough to touch, but never quite close enough to hold and it’s enough to break your heart.”
That’s why these dreams are so dangerous. They seem so reasonable. You think, he’s not a bad person. I’m not a bad person. We love each other desperately. When he hurts me, he doesn’t mean to. When I hurt him, I don’t mean to. So this dream, this one I can have. If I just hold on, if I just give him another chance. You don’t realize that telling yourself this is only bringing you farther from the dream.
The more you hurt him, the more you let him hurt you, the world in which that dream lives is dying. The trust bridge under your feet is on fire and you are fanning the flames. You are both fanning the flames. A good friend gave me the best advice of my life, “If it hurts you put it down.” She said, “it doesn’t have to be forever. It doesn’t have to mean you put down the memories with it or the feelings. But you do have to put it down.” You do, you have to. For your sake and his.
Set boundaries to free yourself from resentment. Set expectations because you are training people how to treat you. And set limits so that you know when to let go.
Let go of the dream so you can find a love that is based on truth instead of hope. Encouragement instead of pain. Investment instead of sacrifice. One that doesn’t leave you empty, but fills you with gratitude for the things you’ve found that you could have never even dreamed of.