Hi, friends and strangers alike. Welcome back if you’re an OG subscriber and a warm welcome if you’re new here. This Thursday Thread is where I pose a question and we share perspective, experience, and insights in the comments. I always get excited to share space and read your responses. I’ll be tapping in tonight and throughout the day tomorrow. Today’s question is below!
Saying “no” wasn’t a part of my upbringing. Not as the first daughter. The Ada.It was always YES. Yes, Mom.Yes, Dad.Yes, Sir. Yes, Ma’am. Yes to elders pinching the soft of your arm, demanding more drink or chinchin. Yes to coaches that bench you and blatantly play politics. Yes to biased teachers who question your intelligence. Yes to shitty supervisors and yes to malignant managers. Yes to endless requests from siblings and cousins. Yes, yes, yes. You obey. You comply. You submit. You don’t openly question. This is how you show respect to others.
With time, and age, and experience, and enough shrinking from obeying, complying, and submitting, I finally started asking: How do I show respect to myself?
Navigating the answers to that question has been incredibly uncomfortable. Saying “NO” has been uncomfortable. Speaking up has been uncomfortable. Openly questioning has been uncomfortable.
I’m (still) learning that what you allow from others, is what you inevitably teach them is ok. And what you do not immediately correct only reinforces unwanted behavior. Boundaries do not get erected and enforced through passivity. They get erected and enforced through constant relentless repetition. Through clarity, with consequence.
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First time I comment on your post - this one resonated in me so loudly especially this part as I am the eldest of my family:
"You obey. You comply. You submit. You don’t openly question.
This is how you show respect to others.
With time, and age, and experience, and enough shrinking from obeying, complying, and submitting, I finally started asking: How do I show respect to myself?"
The only way I erected my boundaries is by asking myself questions like this one - is being uncomfortable or being the subject of your parents/siblings disappointment is that bad in comparison to the disappointment of yourself regarding this decision that concerns your wedding organisation? The answer was clear to me.
From a place of love, I respectfully but firmly erected my boundaries against my family expectations.
In general, when I am in a situation where I need to erect my boundaries, I ask myself this question: how bad do I love myself ?
It's a journey so I'll keep erected boundaries as much as such boundaries give me the peace I deserve.
Thanks dear Julia for your post and wish you all the best !
Thanks for this question! Resonate with a lot of what you said & whew, boundary setting is not for the faint of heart.
I’m offering myself A LOT of grace & reminding myself that unlearning something I’ve done my whole life isn’t an overnight situation.
I actually just wrote about this in my last post because the last few times I’ve violated my own boundaries, it was nudge saying “look at you tryna not make things uncomfy and whole time you end being uncomfy and the other person is completely satisfied.
My advice would be “be intentional” because setting, speaking & maintaining boundaries requires that & it’s all so new to me
Be dragging my ass from time to time 🤬😂
Nneka! Nneka whew oh my gosh that resonated with me on so many levels. This is my first time responding back to your newsletter, this really hit the spot. How am I navigating boundaries this season you ask. As the eldest in the family and the most respectful and fearing of my parents, their thoughts and validation of me holding so much power over me. I’ve ALWAYS said yes to everything and anything they asked of me or needed. Something I also did in other parts of my relationships. It wasn’t until I got in my mid twenties that I saw how it started to affect me. The constant pressure to make others happy and seek their validation that I started to challenge myself. This season has been one for the books. It’s been uncomfortable experience thus far. It’s tested my thoughts on what’s more important. I’ve come to realize that although this road is challenging and uncomfortable I’m committed to staying true to my self, my needs and desires. I can not pour into my own cup if I’m constantly seeking to make other’s full and that it is not my job to do so. I’m simply here to love in the capacity that I am able to and without neglecting myself. I am learning to give myself more grace with each day and learning to love myself more. I am learning to say No more without feeling guilty and understanding that their is power in saying No and putting my needs first. It’s definitely not an easy task but a necessary one. It will cost you some relationships but those that don’t respect your boundaries are not worthy of your time and love is the conclusion I’ve come to.
i lived a similar upbringing in that “questioning” was disrespectful. the expectation for me to always say “yes” or be available to whatever was taking place, was palpable; silencing my voice and so, i shrank within myself.
i carried this into adulthood interactions w employers, relationships (platonic & romantic), and in parenting my children.
it was through therapy while navigating a tumultuous divorce did all of these feelings re-surface and i began to understand boundaries, how to set them for myself & it’s importance in my life, and i learned the power of “no” as a complete sentence.
with years of practice, because the journey wasn’t easy because you feel like you’re letting people down, carry guilt & shame along the way...BUT, connecting my boundaries with meditation (prayer) that affirmed me in the whole being that i am, strengthened me.
i’ve come to love the sound of my voice, the thoughts & ideas i have and share...i love that i have perspectives and staunch beliefs that i stand firm on in spite of what anyone says or thinks.
boundaries has gifted me courage, strength, the ability to take risks, teaches me discipline and so much more. i love by boundaries. apply them aptly without fail. and keep on moving in this thing called life.
Oh! I soooo relate to this, fellow eldest daughter.
One thing I try to keep in mind is compassion. I realized recently both of my parents come from households where boundaries were a foreign concept, nonexistent. They literally do not understand them in the family dynamic. It’s so tempting to bemoan them & get frustrated- but I have to remember I am breaking this generational pattern.
So for example, I have a family member I love dearly who is struggling with alcoholism. At this point, cutting them out of my life completely is not what I want to do. They’ve been struggling with alcoholism for 20 years. I was the first person who ever said to them: I will not be around you when you drink. And that includes holidays, birthdays, etc. Again, no one had thought to say this, because that’s not what my family does....
I was fortunate they responded so well (they have relapsed sense then), but I think because I said: “because I love you, I HAVE to set this boundary” it was more effective than if I approached it less compassionately.
Boundaries ARE an act of love. Most importantly, for yourself. I love myself too much to be anxious and worried all the time about someone else’s addiction. Hell, I care about their sobriety more than they do. But I also love them too much to let them suffer without raising a point. No, I can’t take on their healing, their journey. Only they can do the work they have to do. But by setting the boundary, I am loving them and myself more deeply. And then when I set the boundary, I can distance myself from the situation, because I’ve said what I need.
Obviously this situation would look different with a friend or a partner, but I find family boundaries the hardest.
It's been a long road, but I'm in a season where I'm holding my boundaries more fiercely than ever. What's helped the most is realizing that every time I don't say no to someone or something that I don't want to do, it means I'm saying no to myself. It's been helpful to reframe saying no to others as saying yes to myself, and when I do that I can show up more authentically in my life and relationships.
Great and thoughtful post!
First borns/Eldest’s gather here 😩😖.
In a lot of cases boundaries are seen as lines that say “Do not cross”, and it is that. But it is also so much more.
Navigating this period looks like thinking of myself in any and every situation (very hard to do).
When there’s a request, ask, requirement, obligation, I ask myself “Where am I in this?”. If I’m nowhere to be found, I place myself in it, determine my T&C’s and make them known. Easier said that done of course.
I think it is most difficult for people pleasers (raises hand) to implement and uphold, as the ways in which boundaries are typically stretched and loose elasticity in the first place, is when they’re not even known to the ‘setter’. Perhaps until much later on.
Hence my question, “Where am I in this?”, because you sometimes don’t know until something happens, so to preempt that, how am I going to ensure that I am also a major player even if it is quietly or by not being involved at all and so on.
It’s a muscle that has to be practiced and practiced well before you get the hang of it.
Boundaries get pushed, just like laws get broken, and you have to enforce them, and that means advocating for yourself in small and big ways.
Oh gosh. This hits me deep in the gut. All my life, I'd been taught, both directly and indirectly, to be pleasing to others, to make other people feel comfortable - even if it meant I was uncomfortable, to "not be difficult" and be a "good girl," to acquiesce to what others wanted of me (to do/to be).
I realized though, within these past few years, that I just never felt comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in the inevitable emotions that would arise within me if I said 'no,' if I made my own needs and wants known. Would this person leave me? Abandon me? I also, to some degree, told myself that my value was in how agreeable I was (a deeply-etched belief in not only me, but also I suspect in the generations of women in my Vietnamese family), and that being an over-giver and an over-pleaser would keep me safe and loved. And would keep me worthy.
But I no longer want to feel like I am kneeling at someone's feet, waiting for their approval and validation of me. I've been telling friends I can't hang out when I feel tired (whereas in the past I would have talked myself into going despite my body's request for rest), speaking up when I have a concern, leaving a party when I feel it is time to go (rather than forcing myself to stay to make others happy), and more. It's been a learning experience, and I've been met with questions and pushback - both from others and from my own fear - and some 'no's have felt easier than others, but the most supportive thing throughout this journey for me has been to remind myself that I am worthy, that my needs and my feelings do matter, and that I am capable of supporting me. I trust myself now to take care of me.
Thanks so much for this question/reflection, Nneka.
My most recent download has come in this self-actualized quote, "empathy with integrity is the best way to honor my Self."
I've been reading this book called The Rewired Brain and one of the authors refers to the Self as this essence of who you are and who you have the potential to be. I don't believe I ever had an issue with going against authority, however, I have danced with people pleasing and allowing my heart & emotions towards someone else's personal experiences influence my boundary maintenance.
If I experience longterm distraction, discomfort, or overstep my own boundary to please another person, that's empathy without integrity. So now, I check-in with my Self and my own feeling body to see where choices are landing with me and ultimately the opportunity cost.
Being an Ada felt like signing up to consistently have your boundaries fried, dyed, and laid to the side.
I became an ULTIMATE people pleaser. So much so that I would say “Yes” to invites to hang out with friends or associates when I know fully well that I don’t want to go anywhere.
I’d even feel horrible declining things from people. But I’m learning there’s power in my “Nah, I’m good” and trying to fight that ancestral urge to “yes, ma...yes, sir”.
Thanks for letting us digest your thoughts this week <3
As a first-generation Nigerian American. Also be the first. This is the story of my life. It wasn’t until 2021 that I started advocating for myself and putting up boundaries. It is uncomfortable yet so rewarding! I say this because i dont feel trapped in a situation, agreement or choice that was not formerly mine to begin with.
This year “absolutely not” has been my phrase and it has been a fun phrase that I didn’t realize was a key part in how I have a grown over the years on “no, i actually will not accept this”. It made me realized that I eliminating the expectation that I must be anything but just be!
Boundaries to me means eliminating the expectations I have for myself and from others. Emphasis on the boundaries for myself I have to show up more for myself and respect what makes me sad, what makes me mad, what makes me happy I need to listen to me more. The best way to do it is by respecting, holding compassion, and love for yourself! Your mental, emotional, physical, spiritual health matters more then any demand from others.
Thank you for this thread this week it is everything! ❤️
I just feel like setting boundaries is such a bold, grown woman thing to do lol! And so even as I'm navigating boundaries in several areas of my life, I'm having to remember to give myself grace even if my voice trembles and my hands shake as I draw some new lines in the sand. I'm still (very imperfectly) learning to flex this muscle of self-regard, and that is ok. It doesn't make my needs or desires any less valid. And I like the metaphor of sand because it reinforces that, with proper openness and communication, boundary lines can and should shift. They're not static because we're not static, as people.
I think asserting boundaries has been especially difficult in relationships where I realize that the absence of them is what sustained those connections. What becomes of the relationships where my being agreeable, low maintenance, and overly accommodating is applauded and even enjoyed by the other party as a part of my personality, maybe even a "strength"? It's very daunting to have to reintroduce myself in this way. But I know I shouldn't absorb all the responsibility for any fallout that may come as a consequence. Chances are, the relationship was already as fragile as these new boundaries have revealed.
I've mostly thought of boundaries as a form of punishment (which is why they've somehow felt cruel to reinforce) when really they're an expression of honor: for myself, and in response to what the other person has communicated as their *actual* value (not perceived, or desired) for me and for our relationship. My heart is not a fortress, but it's certainly not a revolving door either.
Someone recently told me "You can't trust someone's "yes" until you can trust their "no"'.
If someone never says "no" you don't ever really get to know if they're saying "yes" because they truly want to and are able to at that moment. This idea made me re-think a lot of my upbringing and he fear I have around saying "no" to people.
Another idea that has helped me is saying "no" with a smile on my face. Declining doesn't have to be serious and negative, you can turn a plan down or say you're not available in a happy and polite way. If I don't bring in a negative vibe when saying "no", there doesn't need to be tense feelings around it.
Hey Nneka. Navigating boundaries has not been any easy transition for me as of lately. I’ve been conditioned my whole 22 years of life to be one way, and now making the conscious decision to unlearn that way of being and learn a new way of being, leaves me in a tough spot.
I find that setting boundaries with the friends and family members that are used to me allowing certain things is the hardest because to them it looks like I’m, out of no where, just being rude or “moving funny”.
The best advice that I can give is also some that I need to hear myself.
1. Be kind to yourself. Setting boundaries is a new territory that will take time to learn and get used to. You’ve went all you life not setting boundaries when you need to, don’t expect to be an overnight success.
2. Don’t expect people to know that you’re now setting a boundary. Be okay with communicating this as clearly as you can, and don’t shy away from repetition, as frustrating and uncomfortable as it is.
3. You cannot expect for other people to respect your boundaries, when you don’t even respect your own. Learn to value you time, limits, and resources, learn to actively show up for yourself, and others will follow.
Similar upbringing! Boundaries is a challenge and everlasting life lesson.
For me it is super hard but I am learning to change my word choice and asking myself as set of questions to make sure that I am not compromising me to make others happy.
As much as 'saying no' is uncomfortable, I am working on the 'no' and leaving the guilt with the no that escapes my mouth. It is hard, especially coming from a background of appeasing 'the elders' and culture of self-sacrificing. But it's like I have to learn to literally pick up the guilt, place it with the no, and then walk away knowing that how someone feels after I have provided my boundary does not have to do with me. It is uncomfortable, sometimes feels a bit 'cringe' but it is a protection of mind and spirit. This, of course, is SO much easier said than done.