A Guilt-free “No.”; Boundaries for the worthy.

There are countless things I’d love to do if I had limitless time: backpack in the Rockies, white water raft in West Virginia, connect with all my friends from school, play Ultimate Frisbee every other day, make meals for my family every night…

One of the things that I’d love to do and actually have done has been reading bedtime stories to my little brother. It’s a sweet experience of adventures and connection. But some nights it is incredibly late and I have to choose between reading a chapter of a bedtime story or getting enough sleep. Both are good. But I can only have one.

Let’s revisit an old post and introduce a helpful component: boundaries! We set boundaries for ourselves to keep ourselves safe and to take care of ourselves so that we have something to offer others.

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Danny Silk does a splendid job of saying it how it is in his book Keep Your Love On. “Not everyone should have the same access to you. You are responsible to manage different levels of intimacy, responsibility, influence, and trust with the people in your life.”

That really stood out to me. Life doesn’t just happen to me (victim mode). I have a role to play–an important role to play! I am responsible (to myself, to others, and to God) for myself. To fulfill this, I need to be intentional. I need to move into a place of authentic power and founded identity. Because not everyone should have the same access to me.

If I’m not intentional, I forget this. True, my closest friends’ hurts hurt me the worst, but everyone else’s hurts also are valid and pretty quick I start feeling guilty if I don’t do something to help anyone who needs help. And everyone needs help! So I’m left at “guilty” as a pretty normal state of being. It seems like Christians are conditioned to feel this way. Mr. Silk understands this too; “It’s easy to think that it is spiritual to offer all people unlimited access to our lives. But everyone who tries to do this eventually discovers that it is not sustainable, healthy, or spiritual…at all.”

Trying to give part of myself to everyone who asks for it, or to everyone who has a need, leaves me a bare-boned skeleton, unable to give those closest to me the attention and care that they deserve.

Two noteworthy thoughts. First, Jesus had boundaries. The only perfect human to ever live had boundaries. We are not unspiritual if we limit our commitments and specify where our energies come to an end.

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Secondly, I am created in the image of God. I have value. Hence I need to be taken care of. To give myself completely away to others is not taking care of myself according to the worth I have (which I don’t get to determine for myself–see this previous post).

That being said, we need to think through our priorities. We need to recognize those loved ones who we have committed ourselves to and make sure we’re saving enough of ourselves for them. We need to know how far we can go with our resources.

And then we need to say “no.” to everything else.

My favorite take-away from Mr. Silk’s chapter regarding boundaries was

This is how boundaries work. You say “yes” to something, which necessarily means saying “no” to everything else. At first is may be a challenge to hold on to your “yes” as all the things you said “no” to present themselves and say, “Really? Why not?” but if you consistently set a firm boundary around your “yes,” eventually the things you said “no” to don’t present themselves to you as viable options. It becomes a lifestyle to live within your boundaries.

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Last night I was exhausted to the point where I could likely blow up. My little brother asked for some time with me before bed. Before reading this chapter, I would’ve felt guilty saying no. But now I recognized that I didn’t have a good self to offer him last night. It would be better for both of us if I just went to bed. I firmly stated “no” and found such authentic power in knowing what I needed and being able to hold to my boundaries.

Find authentic power. Live with self-worth. Kick shame & guilt to the sidelines. It takes lots of courage. AND I believe you have it in you. Join me in creating healthy boundaries for yourself and your limited resources. You’re worth it.

I refuse to be a victim; finding authentic power

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I didn’t choose to break my neck. I didn’t choose to lose my job. I didn’t choose to be betrayed by one of my closest friends.

Life has thrown some crap my way and I’m not a huge fan. It’s forced me to change plans, to wade through thorns, and to deal with a lot of flippen’ paperwork. This sucky life has victimized me.

My last blog post mentioned boundaries. Since then, I’ve educated myself much more on the topic. Victimization and boundaries actually go hand in hand. I’m reading a fantastic book on boundaries that explains “any time there is a boundary violation, there is a possibility of victimization.”

For example, you have the right to be treated with respect in the workplace, so you set yourself a boundary that you will only work in an environment where your work is treated with respect. But say your coworker is consistently taking credit for your good work while consistently blaming you for his careless mistakes. Your boundary has been violated; you’ve become a victim. And, trust me, you’ll be feeling it (anger is a signal that a boundary of some kind has been crossed or needs to be set).

Admittedly, this probably isn’t the most encouraging news you’ve heard all day.

But. But this isn’t the end. Because, as soon as you are made aware of the boundary violation, you have the choice to change the situation. Say, for instance, you leave this job and search for another.

Granted, you’re likely to still feel like the victim. You feel forced to change jobs. You feel forced to adjust your life because of this one disrespectful coworker. You feel like fate has it in for you.

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Maybe this change forces to live on a lower income, move in with a friend, give up your life-long bucket-list vacation to Colorado.

But the truth of the matter is, you weren’t forced. You had a choice. Maybe you’d exhausted all other suggestions, efforts, and avenues, but you are always left with two options: you still had the option to either stay or leave.

Because you respect yourself (you’re 100% worth it), you decided to leave–regardless of the consequences. You saw that you were in a situation that consistently created legitimate boundary violations, and you chose to get out of it. This is not a position of continued victimization. This is a situation where you found your authentic power and acted on it (you are the only person you have control over. When you make a change for your own sake, you’re implementing that power). My favorite quote from this whole chapter was “If you don’t protect yourself, you become a victim of your choice to not take action” [italics mine].

I broke my neck. I certainly didn’t chose that! But I chose to use my new schedule and new (limited) physical abilities to focus on self-care and other activities that were important to me. I was suddenly asked to leave my job. I certainly didn’t chose that! But I chose to find a new job and to recreate my identity on a firmer foundation. I was betrayed by a close friend–my choice? No! But I chose to set boundaries and to use this as an opportunity to learn more about my own legitimate needs.

Your everyday life might victimize you. But, “You are only a victim for a nanosecond.” –Pia Mellody. Whatever you do in response to that less-than-pleasant (oh, trust me, I understand that pain!) situation is your choice. You have the authentic power. I make no claims that it will be easy, fun, or not even the worst thing you’ve ever had to do in your life. But you will not be helpless. You will have a choice and, with that, comes hope. What will you do with your power?

Set up boundaries, believe in in yourself, and practice good self-care. You are worth it. You are not helpless.

I have legitimate needs. I need to set up boundaries.

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My recent discovery is that I have needs. Legitimate needs. And I need to make sure they get met.

On the one hand, your first thought might be, “Well, duh. Very insightful, girlfriend. Everyone has needs. For example, everyone needs water, food, love…” Or it could be the opposite, “‘Need’ is a very strong word. Most of what you think you need is really a want.” I would know; I’ve tended to ride these extremes.

However, the fact of the matter is that there is a middle ground–one that deserves our attention. Sometimes I inaccurately frame my “wants” as “needs.” But just as likely, I fear, I dismiss my sincere and legitimate “needs” as only selfish “wants.” And that isn’t fair to myself.

I, after all, am a princess of the True and living God, complete with needs deserving much more than flippant dismissal. I am worth fighting for and I–being the one best aware of my needs–have the responsibility to fight for them.

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Honestly, it is a bit humbling.

It’s humbling to admit I have needs. It’s humbling to put a limit on what I can do for others because I need to take time for myself. It’s humbling to ask for things I need.

But I’m worth it. So I’ve been learning to set up boundaries. Not to control others. But for my own safety–out of self-respect. It’s not easy.

First, I have to recognize needs that I have a right to: Respect. Trust. Truth. Space… 

Then I have to set up realistic, concrete boundaries.

“I need rest, hence I can help you, but only until 10 pm.”

“I need respect so if you continue to use that tone of voice with me, I will walk away.”

“I value our relationship, however, I need it to be grounded on trust and if you continue to lie to me, I will have to remove myself from this situation for my own safety.”

“I need someone to listen, so even if it might inconvenience her, I will call my friend.”

“I need help with dinner, so I need you to turn off the TV.”

“I need your attention, so I need you to set aside your phone.”

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While the concepts are always true, most of my specific boundaries are grounded in some time and circumstantial frame; things I need in certain moments, but not all the time. For example, some nights I can stay up later than 10 talking to a friend. Sometimes I can grin and bear it and make dinner alone. Sometimes I can just journal instead of talking in real time to a friend. However, just because they aren’t always a need doesn’t dismiss them as never a need.

I definitely don’t claim to know the trick to determining when a desire is a want versus a need. That’s a struggle I’m dealing with every day. Do I really need time alone or am I just wanting it? And then there are other confusing conflicts; I need time alone to rest and she needs someone to be with her and listen to her. What then? My mom needs to be treated with respect, but her son needs to be heard and loved regardless.

So, no, I don’t have that down yet. But for now I’m giving myself space to recognize that I do have needs. Legitimate needs. And, being a human created in the very image of our great God, I have a right to treat myself with respect. In fact, I have the duty to stand up for myself–to make sure my needs are met. Because I’m worth it.

You’re worth it. And you do have needs. And that’s perfectly okay. It’s right, even. So give yourself space to listen to your needs. And then set up boundaries to take care of yourself. It’s how God created us. Self-respect is not selfish.

Comment below. What are some needs that you legitimately have? What are some boundaries that are appropriate, even though they may sometimes feel selfish? What do you do to differentiate between a want and a need?

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