Our Real Work: Jess Ryan, MS

Coaching and consulting. Something's calling. It's your life.

Boundaries for when saying no isn’t an option


Boundaries are about more than saying no (though sometimes practicing saying no to things we don’t really want to do is a good starting point). Boundaries and no get tied together because, well, saying no to outside influences, ideas, and actions is a way of defining our boundaries—super important if our boundaries are too porous or flexible.

But what happens when you can’t say no? I hear you: C’mon, Jess, you can always say no.

Yes, and no. Saying no to going to your sister’s wedding because you’re tired and not feeling well. It’s not going to fly. And if you have a good relationship with your sister, you want to be there . . . you just want to be there and be in bed at the same time. Or maybe she could just move it up a weekend . . . not going to happen.

Having boundaries is hard enough, but we don’t live in a bubble in isolation. We have relationships with family and friends and people at work. We are part of a greater community. How do we navigate the wants and needs of the people in our lives, who have wants and needs of their own, and stay true to ourselves and our personal boundaries?

Sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes our boundaries take a hit. Sometimes we cave. Sometimes we have to choose between equal, competing interests.  Sometimes life just happens.

And then we come back. We come back to the practices that ground us. We come back to our boundaries.

Very practically speaking when you feel like you’ve taken a big hit or are in a boundary, shame tailspin, here’s what you can do:

  • Ground and nourish yourself. Start by getting space. Then do something that brings you back to center: take a bath, get into nature, SET A BOUNDARY and take give yourself some time.


  • Reflect with space.
    What boundaries felt like they were being violated? How did I know?
    What were my actions? Emotions? Responses?
    What could I have done differently? (Sometimes there’s nothing you could do differently.)
    This check-in gets you out of reaction mode and puts you back on the path to healthy boundaries. Know what happened and how you dealt with it. But don’t beat yourself up about it.
  • Forgive.
    Practice forgiveness of others who violated your boundaries. Forgive yourself if weren’t able to honor your boundaries (always common for people who are working on building better boundaries) or forgive how you reacted and choices you made.  And sometimes, there is nothing to be forgiven. Funerals, weddings, birthday parties, important business trips sometimes coincide with illness, other life events, and unforeseen incidents. Sometimes it’s more about surrendering and accepting than it is about forgiving.
  • Focus on the positive.
    What did I do really well? Remind yourself not of where you felt you failed, but where you held strong, where you nurtured yourself, listened to your own needs, stood strong.
  • How can I take care of myself now?
    Most of us forget this one: the how I can I mend and nurture myself right now step?  (And this can happen moments, days or WEEKS after boundaries have been tested.)

Sometimes life just gets crazy town. Boundaries can keep us balanced—except when they can’t. That’s when this step is so critical. If you haven’t been taken care of some part (or parts of yourself), stop and do that. It could be taking a day off to rest and reconnect with yourself—or it could be a few deep breaths to center yourself right now.

Boundaries aren’t something you establish and cross off your list. They are something you develop and maintain and tweak. You can have really healthy boundaries and have everything fall to crap, so you turn back to your center, back to you boundaries.

My sister, brother, and I at the wedding. I wasn't going to miss THIS.

My sister, brother, and I at the wedding. I wasn’t going to miss THIS.

You let go of shame and anger and resentment. You let go of overwhelm and set up that safe space for you to interact in your body and mind and spirit. You set up that space where you show up in relationships and connect and hold true to yourself too.

Are you violating your own boundaries? Letting somebody else do it? Feeling like life itself is storming the walls of your boundaries? You can do something about it. Start now.

My online boundaries course will be opening up soon to help you develop healthier boundaries in the real world—like the one where your sister gets married when you’re feeling sick and you want to do all the things but feel the overwhelm because you just can’t.

Sign up HERE and you be among the first to know when the course opens.

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