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Produced by The Sideroad: An ezine, just off the information highway.
The SeamLess Life

Issue #17, January 4, 1999
By Master Certified Coaches
Sherry Lowry and Diane Menendez

On Becoming Artfully Resilient:
       Set Good Boundaries

"If you can't say 'no,' your 'yeses' don't mean a thing."
                        - Peter Block

For the past several issues, we've asked you to focus on resilience - the "spring back factor". Resilience lets you recover quickly from setbacks. When you're resilient, you feel better and success just comes more naturally to you.

Sounds great, right? No one would jeopardize their resilience if they could help it, you say.

Well, you may be doing just that. Every time you say "yes" when you want to say "no," you're jeopardizing your ability to spring back. Why? Because you're compromising your boundaries . You're letting things into your life that just shouldn't be there. Those things are sapping your energy, zapping your commitment to what's really important to you.

What are Boundaries?

Boundaries are the "walls" you create around yourself by the limits you set: limits around time, limits around who you let into your life, limits around what activities that you let take up your attention and your time. They are the imaginary lines that tell people how close they can come to you. Good boundaries mean that you spend your time and energy wisely. You don't waste anything on what's not good for you - people, activities, food. You are in charge. You're choosing what you let inside your life.

Boundaries are for protection.

Boundaries are the fundamental things that keep you "safe" and support your well-being. You learned how to set boundaries as a child--to say 'no' to strangers, to turn away people who wanted to touch you inappropriately, to stay away from kids who have measles and who aren't good playmates. If you were parented well, you learned how to make your boundaries tight and steadfast, to resist people who are "boundary invaders." You learned how to keep yourself safe and well.

Two year-olds know the power of saying 'no.' When things happen that a child doesn't like, you'll hear him scream "NO!" immediately. Saying "no" helps the child feel powerful and able to set limits - it's the natural foundation required for independence. It gives us power.

So why as adults are we afraid to say "no?" Probably because when we first heard our parents say "No!" to us, it meant "Stop immediately - you have no choice!" "No" was a signal that we were either unsafe at the moment or that what we were doing, and being, was unacceptable . It was a sign of rejection, that we weren't OK. When we were little, rejection meant that we were going to be cut off from the love and caring that sustained us. We could lose everything we had.

Saying "no", and thereby keeping good boundaries is hard when we think it means giving up someone's approval. You become afraid to say 'no:' afraid of losing a client, being rejected, not being liked. When you do it once, it seems like a small thing. When it's a habit, you're in trouble.

Keep Your Boundaries Tight

Whenever you say 'yes' when you should say 'no,' you're letting someone or something invade your boundaries. That is, you are interpreting someone else's request or need as a demand. You're saying to yourself that you have no choice about it. You can't run the risk of rejection or loss.

When you say 'yes' to their demand, you're really saying 'no' to yourself. For that moment, you're making them more important than the commitments you have made to yourself. You're choosing to do this, remember. It's your responsibility to recognize what's good and not-so-good for you, and to take appropriate action on that.

Worse yet, when you say 'yes' to something you want to say 'no' to, you're cheapening your word. As Peter Block said in the quote at the start of this article, your ability to say 'yes' is only as good and viable as your willingness to say 'no.' That's because saying 'no' means that you are very grounded. You know exactly the firm ground you're willing to stand on. You are clear about what you are willing to do. People respect those who are grounded and clear. If you say 'no' gracefully, and share the reasons why you won't say 'yes,' you'll be respected by others. And you'll regain respect for yourself.

How to Keep Your Boundaries Tight Around People

  1. Be clear about your limits. Allow no one to make demands of you. Allow people to make requests of you, ask for your help, or say what they need from you. But, no one has the right to make demands of you. If you hear request which makes you uncomfortable, your discomfort is likely to be a signal that this is an attempt to invade your boundaries. The person may not recognize they're invading. But you know it. Your body knows it. You feel like someone is trying to scale the walls of your well-being, and you want to get them away quickly. Whatever you do, don't say 'yes' under these conditions. It's time to say "NO" and really mean it.

  2. Keep your freedom to choose. Remember that when you can't choose to say no to others, or when you make others' troubles your own, you probably are not free to make choices in any part of your life. Start today to exercise your choice muscles.

  3. Set tight boundaries and attract great people. Remember that good boundaries attract good people. Tight boundaries keep out the needy and demanding ones.

  4. Learn to say The Graceful "NO". Yes, you can say "no" gracefully. Read our article next week for 8 ways to say no with grace, and maintain your relationships with others at the same time.

Where do you need to say "NO" right now?

Sit down right now and identify the places where you need tighter boundaries. Identify 5-10 "no's" you need to say. Then, for each, ask yourself, "what would I be willing to say ‘Yes' to in this case?" If there is something you're willing to do, say it. Choose wisely - only what you are willing to do, and can do gracefully, without resentment.

If you're struggling with boundaries, feel free to e-mail Diane ( or Sherry ( to schedule a free 1/2 hour coaching session.

Coming Attractions!

January 11: How to Say No Gracefully

Contact us with questions or suggestions.
Sherry can be reached at
The Lowry Group, Austin, Texas USA,

Ph: 512-527-0097

Diane and Sherry's book, Discovering Your Best Self Through the Art of Coaching, can be ordered at

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Text © Diane Menendez & Sherry Lowry, 1998, 1999. Part of the original Sideroad.
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