Healthy boundaries 101: How to understand your 'no'

I remember a time when I was completely paralysed by my inability to understand my own boundary and how 'no' felt for me. I was meeting an acquaintance for a drink. He was somebody I had met at a personal development course, and I considered this purely a platonic meeting before another event I was heading to that evening.

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As we shared a sofa and chatted about what we had been up to since leaving the course, I noticed him touching my leg quite often. Instantly, I felt a rush of annoyance ripple through my body. I didn’t say anything. And then it happened again and again. Thoughts were racing through my head: ‘Does he think this is a date? ...I don’t like this. You’re making a big deal of nothing... it's harmless'.

I’m not sure if he confused the effort I had made with my appearance for the evening event, being for him.

One thing was for sure, I was no longer present in the conversation. In my head was a raging battle between saying something in the most polite way possible, versus subtly changing my seating position so I was out of reach. The latter being impossible as we shared a sunken couch. I knew I felt uncomfortable but kept telling myself it was harmless and also, I just didn't know how I would tell him this. So I said nothing and endured this frequent touching until we said goodbye. 

Sound familiar? So many of us sit through uncomfortable situations not realising it means a boundary has been crossed. We then have an inner battle of anger and self-doubt that shows up when we think about saying something. It often feels like a prison, as if the only two options are to sit and endure with a tight smile or say something and face irreversible conflict. 

But that’s actually not true. The other option would be an authentic conversation that could lead to more understanding and enjoyment of the interaction (without touching). In this example, it was my physical boundary that was being violated. But I doubted my own boundary by thinking I was making a big deal of nothing.

It can feel like a child tugging at your sleeve, that you hardly notice because you’re lost in thought about not wanting to cause a scene. Sit there and visualise that. Because the child tugging at the hem of your top is you. You as a child. It is you, wanting you to take notice of their discomfort, wanting you to do something about it. This feeling may be the same as you felt as a child, wanting your parents to notice your true feelings about a situation you were forced to endure. 

The only way I could have done something about my boundary was to acknowledge and honour it myself first. Sometimes our ‘no’ isn’t very strong, it can be just a slight feeling of discomfort or annoyance in the moment or when we’re on our way home from seeing someone. 

Here's how you can use experiences like this to understand your own boundaries and become familiar with how your body is telling you 'no'.

  • Close your eyes, and think of how it felt in the exact moment when something happened which made you feel uncomfortable.
  • Focus on the sensations in your body, where do you feel it most? Write it down
    What thoughts were running through your head? Write them down
  • What emotions were you feeling? 
  • Now take some time to really think about what it is you needed at this moment.
  • Now imagine what you would really like to happen. Imagine whatever you say next will be met with respect and warmth from the other person. What would your request be?

I cannot stress how important it is to get in touch with your feelings and needs. There is no wrong answer, how you feel is how you feel. You can talk yourself out of believing your boundary should exist, but it's still there, and it’s usually linked to something you need being fulfilled or unfulfilled. 

So, take some time to understand your ‘no’ and understand your own boundaries first. You don't have to wait until the next time you feel discomfort. Use your past experiences to connect more deeply with yourself and train your boundary muscle. Honour yourself first to gain the confidence to take action. 

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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London, Greater London, SW11
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Written by Rajini Lolay, Restore The Giant Coaching - Personal Development
London, Greater London, SW11

Rajini Lolay is an accredited Coach. She coaches women to excel personally and professionally by reclaiming their voice, time and energy. She's the founder of Restore The Giant coaching practice and has helped 100's of women worldwide up-skill in healthier boundaries and self connection practices.

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