Lesson #3: Saying yes is a muscle. Saying no is a muscle.
One of the biggest things I've learned about over the years in therps is setting boundaries. I did not grow up setting boundaries. I did not learn from my family how to set boundaries. I learned how to avoid people or situations that I didn't want to say no to. I learned to tell white lies to get out of things I didn't want to do. I learned to take on piles and piles of other people's emotional baggage and carry them around and think it was some kind of badge of courage to do so.
This lesson in particular is about the boundaries that take the form of "no" and "yes". Because although they are one word responses, they are some of the most powerful ways to set boundaries.
No, I don't want to do that. No that's not right for me. No, I am not doing this for you. No, this relationship is not working out for me. No, I won't let you speak to me this way.
Yes, I want to try this new thing. Yes I'm moving away. Yes, I am taking a risk. Yes, I want to do this.
Therps said my lack of boundaries was like building a castle with no scaffolding. Without setting up structures to build my castle, I had no clarity on where the castle started or ended. I had no picture of what it looked like. And so when I tried to build it, it was frail and lacked foundation.
(Side note: My therps and I discuss many things in metaphor. I love metaphors to a fault so they help me process information. She has some good ones, too.)
How do I know where the scaffolding goes though?
Listen to your body and your heart and your mind. You get to decide where it goes.
What if it's in the wrong place?
Scaffolding is temporary - you get to move it around if you want.
How do I know if I'm setting a boundary from a place of desire and intent and not fear?
It's a muscle. You strengthen the muscle with practice.
It's harder at first. It's exhausting to say no. When I first started saying no thanks to plans, instead of making up some excuses ("i've got these other plans sorry."), I felt like I was committing a crime. I was wracked with guilt and fear that people would point at and shun me. Now it's much easier for me to say "No, thanks." or "No thanks, I'd prefer to just go home." and relish in the joy of my own introversion.
Then come the harder no-s. No, I deserve more. I deserve better. No, you can't meet my needs. No, it's not working. No, I'm not going to take this on for you because this is your shit and not mine.
The yesses are even harder for me. I'm incredibly risk averse. And unlike saying no - which I find I say to other people more - I have to say yes to myself a lot. And it's HARD. Because my anxiety and my depression and my fear are screaming no, they are saying I PROMISE the scaffolding goes HERE, super close to your heart and super low to the ground. And I've had to work so hard to listen to the tiny squeaky part of me that says, "Build higher and bigger here. It's ok. It's ok to say yes. It's ok to set a boundary for yourself that is big and broad and gives you space to play and explore."
Some of the nos and yesses feel less exhausting and shameful and some still feel daunting. Sometimes I slip into white lies and avoidance. But bit by bit my scaffolding came together.