learning boundaries

'No' is normal

creating-caitlin:

realsocialskills:

People in all kinds of relationships say no to one another all the time.

Bosses say no. Employees say no. Spouses say no. Friends say no. Exceptionally close friends say no. Girlfriends say no. Boyfriends say no.

Everyone who regularly spends time with someone will also routinely say no.

Some people will want you to treat no as a special word to be used only in emergencies. Those people are wrong.

Saying no is normal and routine.

creating-caitlin said:

I have A LOT of trouble saying “no.” And just as much troubling hearing it from others. Something to work on .

realsocialskills said:

This goes hand in hand for a lot of people.

One way it can play out looks like this:

  • People have trouble saying no because they feel like it’s inconsiderate or otherwise bad
  • So then they don’t say no when they ought to, and think of this (consciously or otherwise) as being considerate and having basic respect
  • Then they expect (consciously or otherwise) that other people will reciprocate by not saying no to them
  • And then other people actually *do* say no in circumstances where it’s appropriate
  • But they feel like it’s horribly inconsiderate and ungrateful

For instance:

  • Mary regularly asks Samantha to go to parties with her
  • Samantha enjoys this sometimes, but also finds parties really overloading and would sometimes rather say no
  • But Samantha almost always says yes anyway, because she knows that Mary really wants her to, and she feels like this is what good considerate friends do
  • Samantha really likes going to movies, and doesn’t like going alone
  • So she regularly asks Mary to see movies with her
  • Mary generally only says yes when she wants to go
  • Samantha gets angry and resentful, because she goes to parties even when she doesn’t want to, and feels like Mary should reciprocate by going to movies she doesn’t want to go to
  • It would be better if Samantha learned to say no when she doesn’t want to go

It might be worth watching yourself for this dynamic. When you have trouble accepting no from people, are you resenting the times you felt like you couldn’t say no?

Even more on learning no

Boundaries are complicated.

Sometimes you want someone to stop doing something, and you have every right to demand that they stop. Sometimes you don’t, because it’s something they have every right to do.

Sometimes it depends on the relationship.

Sometimes it’s very, very ambiguous.

Sometimes it’s the kind of thing where it’s ok to ask, but not ok to demand.

And this works in reverse. Sometimes it’s ok for people to demand that you stop doing something; sometimes it’s ok to ask but not demand; sometimes it depends on the relationship; sometimes it’s ambiguous.

When you’ve been taught that you aren’t allowed to have any boundaries, part of what that means is that you’ve probably been prevented from learning the tools to tell which things it is and isn’t ok to demand, insist on, or request. The relationships and various categories of obligations are probably unbelievably confusing.

Part of learning how to have boundaries is learning how to respect other people’s boundaries. Respecting boundaries isn’t at all the same as deferring to people, but the difference can be really hard to sort out.

This means that when you start learning to have boundaries, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. You’re going to demand things it’s not really ok to demand, and you’re going to refuse things it’s not really ok to refuse. You’re going to make mistakes about other people’s boundaries.

And you’re going to hurt people, including yourself.

That’s unavoidable, because it takes time to learn these things. This doesn’t mean you should give up.

Sometimes, while you’re learning about boundaries and making a lot of mistakes that hurt yourself and others, you might feel like you should give up. You might feel like you are irredeemably bad, and that maybe you’re just too awful to allowed to have boundaries. You might even feel like you’re too irredeemably awful to have the right to live (I’ve felt that, at times). These are really common and normal feelings for people who are learning this, but they’re not the reality.

You have the right to exist. You can learn this. You can learn how to have boundaries and respect other people’s boundaries. You can learn how to keep yourself safe and still treat other people well.

You have a lot to learn, and you have to keep caring how you treat people. It’s important to keep actively paying attention to your boundaries and other people’s. You have to continually work on it and improve, in both directions. You have to do the best you can, learn from your mistakes, and try to do better. You can do this. 

It’s ok that you are going to make a lot of mistakes. It’s not ok to ignore the mistakes you make. Part of learning to assert boundaries means that there are a lot of other skills you have to learn about understanding obligations and treating other people well. This gets messy.

You also have to accept that some of your mistakes are going to have consequences. On the extreme end, you might hurt people in ways that mess up relationships while you’re learning. Some mistakes you make might be deal-breaking for people you’d really like to remain close with. Even if it is not entirely your fault, even if you messed up ought of honest confusion, it still might be legitimately deal-breaking for someone else. You might get banned from cons you like. You might get fired. You might lose your place in a group you valued. It’s awful when that happens, but it’s bearable. It doesn’t mean you should give up. It means you should take what you’ve done seriously, keep learning, and leave the person you hurt alone if that’s what they want. 

Even when it’s not your fault you don’t know how to treat people, other people don’t have to tolerate it when you treat them badly. They also don’t have to sympathize, forgive you, or listen to explanations about how you came to misunderstand the situation. 

That’s the extreme end. That might not happen. What will definitely happen is that you will hurt people in more minor ways that almost everyone your age knows how to avoid. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but you do have to take responsibility for what you do, fix things if you can, and keep learning.

This is hard, but it’s important, possible, and worth it.

Don’t give up.

More on learning to say no

When you first start learning how to say no, you won’t know how to do it politely.

This means that you’ll offend people. Even when you have every right to say no. Even when everyone agrees that it’s ok to say no.

Asserting boundaries politely is a skill worth acquiring, if you can do it. But that takes time and practice. It’s something that’s learned alongside learning how to have boundaries; it’s not something you can learn first as a prerequisite for being allowed to have boundaries.

And when you haven’t figured out how to say no politely, the reactions you get might look to you like evidence that you really *can’t* say no. It might look to you like you have to choose between having no boundaries, or hurting people in unreasonable ways.

This is especially true if you are a disabled person who has learned to pass as nondisabled by following rules. A lot of disabled people are taught that they must pass at all costs, and taught not to asset boundaries as part of this. Starting to learn to have boundaries will probably undermine your ability to pass. That can be terrifying, and some ways people react might be triggering. But you’re ok. You’re not broken. You’re allowed to have boundaries, even if it means looking weird. Even if it breaks rules. Even if people are offended. You are a person and you have rights.

The rules for politely asserting boundaries are really complicated. It takes time and practice to learn these rules. And not everyone can master them. And even people who can have to be rude sometimes in order to have boundaries, and that’s ok too. Being able to be polite is not a prerequisite for having rights.

It’s ok to say no, and it’s ok to have a rough time learning how.