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Here’s your permission slip: You’re allowed to say no.

Updated: Aug 29


What comes to mind when you hear that word? Is your first reaction one of discomfort? Maybe even some anxiety? Through so many conversations around boundaries, I have learned that oftentimes people don’t react warmly to the idea of boundaries. For many people, their immediate response is one of trepidation and fear, perhaps because there is so much misunderstanding and confusion around boundaries as a whole. So many people view them as something mean, extreme, or out of the ordinary. The reality is that boundaries are actually something that can improve relationships, and every person is worthy of setting them for themselves.

There are many different ways to define boundaries, but I like to think of them as a set of rules or guidelines that help others understand how to be in a relationship with you. They actually help to improve relationships, foster connection, and deepen our understanding of one another despite many people’s fears that boundaries will push others away. That’s not to say that it could never happen because, in reality, we don’t have the power to control how others are going to respond to our boundaries. However, when done with people who value us and their relationship with us, they really do have the power to bring us closer.

In order to set boundaries, we first need to believe that we are actually worthy of setting them! Of course, we’re never going to set a boundary with someone if we feel like we aren’t allowed to. If we feel like our needs and values don’t matter, and we should just “deal with it,” whatever “it” may be, we most likely won’t feel excited about the prospect of setting boundaries with someone. So here is your permission slip: You are worthy of boundaries! You are deserving of relationships that respect your needs and honor your boundaries. You are allowed to say no.

Many of you may have just read that and thought, “Ha ha, right . . . more affirmations that I don’t believe.” This is totally fair! If you’ve been programmed to think that you are not worthy of boundaries, that you are not worthy of others respecting your needs, and that you are not allowed to say no, then those affirmations above probably don’t do much for you. However, every time we start to practice affirmations, we slowly start to show our brains that there is another way of thinking about things. It’s okay if your thought after practicing an affirmation is “that’s not true.” With time, your brain will start to build new connections and, therefore, may start to believe that there is another way of seeing things. So although it may not feel like anything is happening, trust that your brain is responding to the information you give it. This will, of course, take time so have compassion and patience for yourself and remember that nobody is a master at something when they first start.

After we begin to actually believe that we are worthy of boundaries, we can start to evaluate which areas of our life or which relationships we would benefit from setting boundaries. When we think about boundaries, we also need to think about our needs and values because often they can help us to see where boundaries need to be established. When thinking about needs, there is an inventory from The Center For Nonviolent Communication that can be a great tool to use. You can check it out here ® A good exercise to start with would be to look at the list of needs on the inventory and highlight your top 5. As for values, has a Values Card Sort that you can utilize to help you think of values. If you’re interested, you can find that here ® The cards included help you rank values as “important to me,” “not important to me,” and “very important to me.” Similar to the exercise above, start by going through them and then organize them into the categories they give you. Both of these activities are a great starting point, and you can always journal about them or discuss them more with someone close to you, like a therapist!

Now you may have been reading this in hopes of getting tips for actually setting the boundaries with people in your life, but I promise this will come in a future post! However, the truth is that if we ever want to get to the point of actually setting boundaries, we need to first believe that we are entitled to them, and we also need to be clear on our needs and values. Once we are able to do this, hopefully, the idea of setting boundaries won’t feel as daunting as it may have when you first started reading this!

In a future blog post, we’ll dive into ways to set boundaries and give you some tools that may help you. In the meantime, I hope that you take some time to reflect on the beginning steps to setting boundaries and get clear on your needs and values. I’ll leave you with a reminder of the affirmations from above . . . .

You are worthy of boundaries.

You are deserving of relationships that respect your needs and honor your boundaries.

You are allowed to say no.

Fie O'Rourke, LPC, eating disorder therapist at Beyond Therapy and Nutrition Center offering eating disorder therapy

- Fie O'Rourke, LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor

For Fie's full bio, click here!

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