Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Back-Firing Boundary Boosters

Sometimes, in an effort to say “No,” where it is uncomfortable, or in an attempt to say “Yes,” to something needed by body and soul (but strangely unjustifiable according to some learned and not-so-effective-standard-of-self-care,) we can inadvertently create a hard-to-change identification with limiting conditions that may not be as solid as they seem.

Last week, a friend prepared a gluten-free dinner for me knowing I’d eliminated gluten from my diet since my twenty-five day migraine almost a year ago. When asked how the headaches were going, I told the truth: I’ve had very few in the last year and almost no multi-day migraines. I also confessed that I occasionally missed them and so have to be mindful not to go unconsciousness and nibble a cookie or two.

Why would anyone miss the pain of a migraine or semi-consciously flirt with the idea of inducing one? Because migraine days were days off, days when I could move more slowly, sit in front of the computer less, say no to invitations or postpone obligations I did not really want to accept or keep.

My friend knew exactly what I meant. Having spent some time years ago struggling with depression, she found she sometimes missed the day-in-bed-reading that she’d granted herself as a coping strategy. We both marvelled at how the alleviation of the pain and suffering we had managed in the past meant we had to struggle with our propensity not to give ourselves those valuable days of rest and renewal when we were feeling well and pain-free.

Please do not misunderstand me: I did not get migraines so I could get a day off, and my friend was not feigning depression to justify a day of reading in bed. But, when other causal factors were found and remedied, we became aware of how we needed to cultivate awareness of our right (and responsibility) to make choices and set boundaries- to take a day off, to read for pleasure, to turn down invitations or not make obligations that were simply not a fit for us.

Sounds simple but watch yourself the next time you say “No,” to something. Do you use some other condition as an excuse when it’s simply not the way you want to spend your time or energy?

Years ago, raising my sons on very little income, I realized one day how easy it had become to use our financial status as justification for not doing things that I didn’t really value. But I didn’t want to wed myself to poverty, to develop within myself a solid-seeming identity based on not having enough. Of course I had limited resources but I started saying, when it was true- “That’s just not where I want to put my resources right now,” instead of saying- to myself or others- that I “couldn’t” for financial reasons.

Sometimes we can’t do something we value. I’ve missed many occasions I wanted to attend because of physical illness. This isn’t about going into denial. If we can’t do something that has value for us because of a real physical, financial, or emotional limitation, it’s a good idea to acknowledge this particularly to ourselves so we remain rooted in the real.

And let’s sidestep any naive magical thinking- not using illness or poverty as a reason for not doing what we don’t really want to do, or as a justification for what we really do want to do, will not cure illnesses or bring us riches. But it does help us become more aware of where we might be self-sabotaging our efforts to be well and solvent.

Words have power. Hearing ourselves say, “That’s just not something I am drawn to do right now,” or “No, that’s not a commitment I can make,” (when these things are true) or declaring a “day off” simply because it is what we need to do for our well-being has a huge impact on our psyche. It cultivates a sense of our right to be and our responsibility to live a life that is truly sustainable so we can contribute to the co-creation of our shared life. And it helps us honour others when they express that right and fulfill that responsibility in their lives.

So, I’m practicing saying “Yes,” or “No,” without unnecessary explanations or justifications. Because using limiting conditions of the moment to boost a wobbly sense of the right to set boundaries and make choices might just back-fire by wedding us to conditions that often can and do change.

Oriah (c) 2012


  1. This sounds familiar ;-)

    But I remember how I learned as a teacher that if I took a mental health day off when I needed it, I got sick a lot less. And I wound up taking fewer days off, which assuaged my guilt over doing what Tom Robbins once called, "phoning in well"

  2. Hi Oriah,
    I am getting married next year and was looking for wedding verses and a friend recommended the invitation. Reading through it I had a real physical (especially in my heart), soul recognition response which is not usual for me. I then came on to read a bit more about you, and reading your blog post again gave me a really strong soul recognition response, feeling a strong emotional need to cry... about nothing in particular. I just wanted to let you know how powerful your words were to me, and I can't wait to read your books.

    Much love,


    1. Miriam, congratulations! So glad you are finding words that touch you here :-) Oriah

  3. What a timely message! After what seemed like centuries of being the solo female at some well meaning friend's holiday dinner, I started spending the holidays alone by choice--and being infinitely happier. I work a tough job, so I relish the solitude and time spent outdoors with my dogs, then indoors with a stack of movies I've wanted to watch. I no longer feel like I'm missing out on anything--just the opposite--I feel like I'm gaining a much-needed vacation.

  4. So well said. I love hearing others give themselves permission to say no without excuse or explanation. Simply because saying no, feels like the right choice. It affirms me and my choice to live this way too. And fuels me to keep up this life-enhancing practice. Thanks for your words today Oriah, Laurel

  5. It's hard to remember that "No." is a complete sentence with a period at the end. Setting limits is the hardest thing for many of us, especially since there is increasing pressure to do more and more with the same amount of hours. And especially for women. Thanks for this wonderful encouragement to always do what is right for our own well-being. Blessings, Oriah.

  6. Wow. I've been working on saying no to things that I'm just not up for, but I've definitely always come up with an excuse of some kind to justify it. Perhaps I can be more true to myself if I'd just allow myself to be honest.

  7. I am not good at saying no... But I learned along time ago to process the usage of my resources as a choice whether that be money time or energy.... I tell my children how we spend our money and how we use our time are choices we make or allow others to make for us. Our priorities/values are reflected in those choices and only the individual can truly change them if they should so desire.