I say yes to everything but myself. My boundaries exist like an erased pencil line. I march through life as a strong independent woman, and yet, my stride stumbles whenever anyone asks anything of me. I suck at honoring my own boundaries. I don’t want you to too.
Disrespecting our boundaries is masochism. It’s a form of self-harm to say yes to everything and everyone. No is the reclamation of power. People lack infinite resources. We can’t do all things for everyone. But I want to. There’s a thunderous need inside me to love everyone so deeply that they never feel unloved. I, without being asked by anyone, assume the emotion labor of so many others. So I reorient my schedule, my meals, my resources in the service of others. Yet, there are no martyrs in this essay. There is no Patron Saint of People Pleasing because it isn’t rooted in anything holy. People pleasing and disrespecting our own boundaries lives in the anxiety of abandonment, a paranoia no one will stay for our true selves.
The problem with saying yes to everyone is how it baits takers, it entices those who will gladly trample your boundaries while they withhold love and care. I write this because I know this. I am a taker magnet. My nervous system is conditioned to the cycle of saying yes because I want to make them happy. I want them to like me, so I say yes more when they become distant. That distance triggers my desperation, and I’m back to saying yes. There is no winning when you don’t have boundaries.
The risk in sticking to your standards is in the reaction of others. Not everyone will stay. The takers will leave or become angry because you are no longer a vending machine of affection and time. They’re not supporting your space because they benefitted from you surrendering it all. You don’t need these people. I don’t need these people. I only wanted them in the first place to feel less empty. But isn’t a life full of parasites worse than empty? Let them leave. Let me feel liberated with all the space and possibilities their hollow forms swallowed inside my heart. Let that space serve as a welcome mat to good things, bright things, generous things.
I deserve more than transactional relationships. A friendship, love, family where I’m constantly auditioning for space is one I do not need. Pursuing those people (Which I do way too much) discounts my self-worth. It implies that I need to earn love and affection. Love is not a competitive sport or a stock market. Love is not a parasite. Love shows up for people. Love gives boundlessly. It is an exclamation point not a question mark. I am writing all the things I need to read myself.
Boundaries don’t need to be curated. You owe no one an explanation for how you choose to heal, to take care, to flourish. Even if they can’t understand, your loved ones will respect your needs. They want the best for you. So your risk is in trusting that those you hold dear with love your boundaries as much as they love you. I’ve done this recently. Every time, I am terrified. With shaking grip and sweaty palms, I draw the line. My loved ones, more often than not, respect it. Some have not. My ears have been audience to shrill calls, indicting me for my selfishness, for retiring from the arson of my own needs. I have heard my worst fears about myself from the mouths of people I thought loved me.
I just can’t sacrifice myself at the alter of other’s approval anymore. This isn’t for a glamorous reason. It isn’t for anything poetic. I grew exhausted in the chase for everyone who didn’t love me. “No” emerged from all the gaunt places in me. And every time, I think they’ll leave. But generally, when I say I am tired or depressed or just need myself, my loved ones meet my fatigue with compassion. Their generosity is the exhale in my emotional torment– everything I was looking for right in front of me.
Reader, I want you to love yourself LOUD. Care for yourself at such a decibel that the takers heed warning and flee. The only way to accomplish that is through boundaries. The only way is through a chorus of “no”S to all the things that leave you starving. Self-sacrifice is not love. It’s self-abuse.
Cheryl Strayed wrote, “No is golden. No is the power the Good Witch wields”. Grab your wand. Awaken to your own magic. Run over the erased pencil marks in ink, and repeat the spell the good witch chants, “no”.