Boundaries are not just for dealing with unsafe people. Simply put, boundaries are: the skills of using “YES” and “NO” to exercise self-control over your life.
Boundaries are about being clear with yourself about what you will and won’t allow in your life. How you will let in the good and keep out, or at least limit if you can’t eliminate, the bad. They recognize God has given you responsibility for you. Responsibility to protect, care for, nurture, and express the value He has entrusted to you, this value being so great to Him that He came in the flesh, suffered, and died to redeem and preserve it.
Boundaries are like a fence around your yard with a gate in it. The fence makes it clear where your yard begins, and your neighbor’s ends. This aids you in knowing what your responsibility is to care for, and helps you stay out of your neighbor’s yard!
Meddling in your neighbor’s yard is not helpful. God has given them responsibility for their yard. If you over-function for them, tending to the things in their yard, you get in the way of what God is wanting to teach them. You sabotage them from becoming the healthy, mature, responsible adult God desires them to be. Meanwhile you neglect the responsibilities God has given you!
There is plenty to do in your yard. There’s no way you can be in somebody else’s yard without neglecting your own.
Plus, if you keep trying to clean up their yard and they keep trashing it – you become bitter and resentful. We call this dynamic: codependency.
Respect Others Autonomy
God is the only one in the universe that can make a person behave the way they should. And, He chooses not to. God has given us humans a limited autonomy over our life. Our choices are limited, unlike His, but we do have a real choice. Even to the extent of rejecting the one who created us and gave us the ability to make choices.
If God, the only one with the ability and correct judgment to make people do right, chooses not to, where do we get off trying to control others, even for their own good. Healthy mature people respect others’ “No” even if convinced it’s not in their best interest. They don’t pressure, manipulate, or withdraw love, approval, and acceptance if the other doesn’t do what they want.
We tend to judge others’ boundary decisions. We think we know best how they ought to say and usually that means “they ought to say yes to me the way I want them to!”
Sowing & Reaping
Sowing and reaping are part of the way the universe operates, as real as gravity. For better or worse, we experience the consequences of our choices. God has wired into our anatomy the ability to experience pain and has allowed pain to be a great teacher in our lives.
As a child, we reach out and touch a hot stove and experience pain. This pain teaches us it’s a bad idea to touch the stove. In the absence of pain, we would really destroy our bodies by doing destructive things we never learn are damaging.
We shouldn’t think of pain as always a bad thing. Just because something hurts, doesn’t mean it harms. Sometimes things that feel good are harmful to us, while things that hurt can actually be good for us.
While boundaries can result in others being sad, disappointed, or even angry that we are not doing what they want us to, that doesn’t mean they are not the right thing in a given situation. It’s OK to allow others to feel the weight/impact of their choices and at times the choices we have to make in response to their choices.
Boundaries are about taking personal responsibility for your life. While there are many things in life we may be powerless to change, we always have the power to take responsibility for ourselves.
- You have the power to agree with the truth about your problems (also known as confession).
- You have the power to submit your inabilities to God.
- You have the power to search and ask God and others to reveal more and more about what is within your yard/boundaries.
- You have the power to turn from the evil you find within yourself (repentance).
- You have the power to humble yourself and ask God and others to help you with your developmental injuries and left-over childhood needs.
- You have the power to seek out those you have injured and make amends.
Saying “YES” when we should say “NO”
There are a number of false motives for saying yes when we should say no. Some of them include:
- Fear of loss of love or abandonment.
- Fear of others’ anger.
- Fear of loneliness.
- Misbelief that loving means never saying no.
- Guilt — trying to earn a sense of goodness.
- Payback – acting out of a false sense of guilt about the blessings in your life.
- Seeking the approval of others.
- Overidentification with others’ loss. If you haven’t dealt with your own disappointments and losses you can over-feel others’, compelling you to try to fix it for them so you can feel better.
Yes! No. Yes?
A helpful tool for communicating boundaries is the Yes! No. Yes? sandwich. This approach clarifies to yourself why a boundary is necessary, what you need to say no to, and offers to the other what you could freely and healthfully agree to.
1st Yes – Affirms your priorities,
No – Asserts your responsibility and authority over your life
2nd Yes – Furthers your relationship with the other person
The first yes in the yes, no, yes sandwich represents what’s most important. It places priority on the things that matter most. It’s about identifying the reason WHY saying NO is important in a given situation.
- What does “NO” protect in this situation?
- What is at risk if I say yes or simply accept others’ behavior?
- What opportunity to say “YES” is created by saying “NO” to this? (Every yes is a no to something else.)
- What am I seeking to change by saying “NO”?
- What is wrong with the others current behavior or the situation?
- What would be improved if that behavior or situation changed?
Once you have settled in your mind why it is important that you say “NO” in a given situation, respectfully stand your ground. Don’t yield, but also don’t attack. If you really want to see change in a situation, it’s more helpful not to go on the offensive. You give respect not because of who they are or how they are responding, but because of who you are. Respect is an expression of yourself and your values.
Listen to the other person to understand, not to refute them. Ask clarifying questions. Give yourself and them permission to disagree. Remember, you don’t have to convince them of the validity of your “NO” for you to see its validity and act on it.
Empower your NO with a solid BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement). You develop a BATNA by thinking through, “What if this conversation doesn’t go well? What if they don’t respect my NO, or we are not able to come to a win-win arrangement? When you have a clearly defined best alternative to a negotiated agreement with the person, then you know exactly what you need to do if it doesn’t go as you prefer.
This reduces anxiety and makes it easier for you to stand your ground. It also gives you a clear understanding of what your alternatives are. If the present offer is better than your best alternatives, then it might be the direction you want to go, even if it’s not what you prefer.
If the other person is reasonable, take the time to explain your no. If they’re not reasonable, Proverbs suggests to us that we not waste our breath trying to convince a foolish person of the “rightness” of our decision. They’ll only resent you for it and you will be frustrated.
Use “The”, “I”, and “We” – not “You”
When trying to explain your no. The language used matters! To set the conversation up for success, use The, I, and We statements and avoid You statements. Try:
- When this happened…instead ofWhen you…
- I understood you to sayinstead of You said…
- We both want instead ofYou don’t…
Be hard on the problem, not the person.
- Describe the Facts: “When situation X happens…”
- Tell Your Story: “I understand that to mean…”
- Express Your Feelings: “I feel…”
- Describe What’s Important to You: “Because I want or need XYZ…”
The second YES in your sandwich is where you offer a suggestion as to what you could say “YES” to. It’s a yes for working together to find a solution that both parties can feel good about. It expresses a willingness to invent options that are mutually beneficial.
When a win-win cannot be identified, then it’s a “yes” to mutual respect. You commit to treating the other person with respect, even though you disagree with them about what should happen in the situation, and you ask the same from them.
Depending on how significant the “NO” is to the other person, they may go through a bit of grief. Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross published research in the 1970’s showing the sequence of emotions typical in grief. The pattern is not a hard rule and will vary for different people. In general the stages are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. We’ll discuss each of these in detail in the Grief Section. Have patience and grace with the person struggling with your “no,” but don’t give in.
Name the Game
Sometimes people respond poorly to hearing “NO.” Instead of respecting and accepting your no, they instead try to manipulate or pressure you into saying yes. When this happens, it’s best to give yourself space so as to not react. “Go to the Balcony” so you have the time/space to pause and take a deep breath.
By identifying and naming the tactics the other person is using to attempt to control the situation, you take the power out of it and resist reacting.
- Guilt / Emotional manipulation
- Personal Attack
- False Promise
Meet each resistance to your no by patiently and persistently naming the tactic used to yourself. This will neutralize its effect on you. Naming increases your emotional detachment by keeping you in your frontal cortex, so you don’t react emotionally.