Some Practical Boundary Skills

Jay Feld - Some Practical Boundary Skills Cultivating a solid sense of self involves knowing what to say “yes” to, and what to say “no” to. Some opportunities are right and ripe for us to embrace, and others are not. We want to embrace life, say “yes” to life, but we must first take an inventory of what truly brings us life and what brings us the opposite. Then we can more clearly discern who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing.

In order to say “yes” to our true self, we will have to practice setting boundaries with the people in our lives. We can’t say “yes” to our true life without simultaneously saying “no” to that which is not best for us (at least, not right now). Here are two practices that will help you set boundaries with a combination of honesty and kindness, and with a minimum of drama.

  • “I’d love to (… sigh …) but I can’t.” This little intervention contains three important elements:

(1) “I’d love to …” represents your sincere desire to help the other person. When people ask you for something, what they are really asking you is, “Does my happiness matter to you?,” and, of course, your answer is “Yes!”

(2) “… but I can’t.”  But you are also trying to meet you own goals and live your own best life, and you are limited by time, energy, resources, and pre-existing commitments. Sometimes you just can’t. You will have to practice not allowing yourself to be drawn into a debate about your “no.” “No” is a complete sentence!

Finally, (3) the sigh (it has to be relatively sincere!) communicates your sadness that you just can’t make them happy, with respect to this issue, at this time.

  • Speaking in the “I.”

When people want you to pursue a course other than your authentic one, you can listen politely and with genuine openness, and once you’ve made up your mind, begin your reply with, “As for me….” This practice of “speaking in the ‘I’” has a number of advantages:

    • It gives you the most immediate access to what you’re thinking and feeling.
    • It helps you to “own” your feelings.
    • It keeps you from getting embroiled in fruitless discussions about what “everybody” should or shouldn’t do.
    • It helps you maintain a radical focus on you own authentic path.

The older I get, the more concerned I am to know God’s will for myself, and the less concerned I am to know God’s will for others. Certainly, I want input, feedback and constructive criticism from those who know me well, but the (simultaneously fearful and joyful) responsibility to make choices consistent with my own authentic life is mine alone.

An important practice in cultivating a solid sense of self is our commitment to saying “yes” to our own unique path. This will sometimes involve saying “no,” with honesty and kindness, to the sincere requests of those around us. “Thanks so much for asking – I’d love to (… sigh …) but I can’t.”

Jay R. Feld HeadshotDr. Jay R. Feld
Licensed Marriage and
Family Therapist
(917) 572-4068

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