Once we set down this path of boundary work, the inner resistance can present itself in these multiple persuasive and self-doubting thoughts: Am I being selfish? These thoughts put into question why we're bothering to change and undermine our confidence and self-worth all at the same time. The important factor behind any change, big or small, is the why--understanding the need for the change. Once we gain clarity here, we have a rational answer to those somewhat irrational thoughts that are bred from caring what other people think about us, from fear of their reactions and uneasiness in trying on this boundary stuff for size. Boundary work is built upon repeated practicing and asserting--and following through on the consequences. What other people think of us isn't really any of our business; He'd put his right hand over mine and help me sketch things out like barns, or cars, or cartoon characters. He'd explain how to blend colors to make new ones, and how to add shadows where they belonged. I always felt safe there on his lap, unobserved and not judged. Nestled safely on his knee, and with his strong, bare arms cradling my tiny body, I somehow found the courage to unzip my heart. As fear beat the inside walls of my arteries and veins, I said, Daddy, I don't think Mommy loves me. I fantasized that he'd look me straight in the eye and ask me why I felt that way. I imagined telling him the way Mommy spoke to me when no one was around. I saw myself telling him that she was rough when she combed my hair, and that she called me a bad girl a lot. As long as I live, I'll never get used to Florida humidity. I've spent most of my life in the Pacific Northwest, where there's little humidity. Ruth remembered this about me and said we might as well meet at the coffee shop at my hotel in downtown Orlando, to spare me from having to walk outdoors. The lobby bustled with business people glad-handing, chatting aimlessly, and checking their phones. All around me I could hear deals being done or planned, along with the usual office gossip. When a six-year-old girl in full princess garb skipped through the sea of suits, it was like catching a glimpse of a unicorn.

She was obviously fresh from a trip to Disney World and still levitating from the sheer joy of it. Ruth spun through the revolving doors and quickly spotted me. We have to be able to look in the mirror and know that we're standing up for ourselves. The resistance doesn't come just from within, either. We like to know what to expect as much as is possible, and some people have a low tolerance for change--for living with the unknown. Rejigging our boundaries can be met with some external resistance because, more frequently than not, it changes the dynamics of our relationships. And that's completely understandable, but often navigable with clear communication and explanation. We might experience resistance to the change in other people, too, as they seek to understand and solidify their boundaries. Boundary work is built upon repeated practicing and asserting. There are times when our boundaries are met with an emotional response, and while that can be extremely distressing and icky, we have absolutely no control over how people will react. Unacceptance of our boundaries from others does not mean that we're being unacceptable, that we have to change our minds. I envisioned my father swallowing me up, and holding me in his arms. I prayed he'd sit my mom down and tell her he knew how she treated me when he was at work. In my room, while daydreaming, this is the way this story turned out. As my tiny heart beat, and my little legs squirmed, I tried not to let the tears that were making their way to the corners of my eyes fall and hit the paper my father and I were drawing on. Lisa, Lisa, Lisa -- don't you ever, ever, ever say that again. It was great to see her, though to be honest, she looked a little worse for wear. I'm sure you've heard all the dirty details of my shambles of a life. Actually, not all of them, I said, more or less honestly. You can be the most generous, kind-spirited, warmhearted, loveliest of people and still say no.

Upholding a no when needed stops your yeses from being taken advantage of. Newly found boundaries often highlight the people in our lives who prospered from our having none. The resistance can be symptomatic of their self-interest. Their reaction says little about our boundaries but quite a lot about their character and their lofty expectations of us, not to mention what they stand to lose when we get our boundaries into shape. Remember that it's a lose-lose game for us when we have no boundaries. We all deserve to be happy, but not at the expense of another person's happiness. An adverse reaction from someone else when we start to assert our boundaries often expresses that they would be quite content to be happy at our expense. Upholding a no when needed stops your yeses from being taken advantage of. You're going to make Mommy very mad if you do, he said softly in a disappointed tone, as he gently tapped my scrawny left forearm. I can still remember how the stiffening in my body felt as my mind began to understand that my father was not going to hear what I had to say. My mind swirled into a vacuum, as so many thoughts and feelings surfaced and died, surfaced and died. I worried that I had disappointed my father by telling him my truth. I worried that now he'd tell my mother, and she'd be even more verbally and emotionally abrasive when he wasn't home. I worried about what I was supposed to do with these feelings I had about my mother, too. The way she'd said sanctuary sounded like both a blessing and a curse. David, my son, he's up at the University of Florida. How about I go get us some caffeine and we can dive in? No means no and that's the beginning, middle, and end of it. To encourage people not to take no for an answer, which is so often the rhetoric linked with tenacity, striving, and achieving, is downright dangerous. No is a complete sentence that requires no explanation and should absolutely be taken at face value.

So many of us feel uneasy saying no in the first place; Keeping our intended no a no when we're on the receiving end of a relentless inability to accept it as such can wear us down, undermine our confidence, and put our safety into question--that's the really tough part. Accepting a no is absolutely not the same as bounce-back-ability, overcoming obstacles, or finding an alternative path when it comes to our careers or activism or seeking changes in our society; She'd call me crazy, or make faces at me, or call me names if I did. All my little mind knew was how jumbled up I felt. When in my mother's presence, all I could feel was a chill, as if the sight of me irritated her. I can't recall a time when she was ever nurturing, or made herself fully emotionally available for me. As a child I felt like my younger brother and sister, my uncles, my father, his business phones, her cigarettes, her chores, and her feelings all came before me. I felt like I was invisible to her, and in the rare moments when I did feel like she could see me, she could see only what was wrong with me, which always made me feel like I was never enough. Okay, she said a few moments later, setting down the beverages. Well, yes, she said with a genuine smile that relaxed us both a bit. A few weeks ago I was sitting in my little apartment thinking, for the first time in a long while, about what was next. It was so clear, clearer than anything I've felt in a long, long time. It can be a maybe later or it can be an I'd really rather not or it can be a resounding no. Yet what squeaks out of our mouths is a yes that's laden with everything it isn't. Imagine how much more straightforward our lives would be if our yeses were well-considered and certain. Imagine how much healthier our relationships might be if we really could take people at their word. Imagine, too, how much stress, awkwardness, and backtracking we'd be free from. For as useful and indispensable as we might want to feel or believe we are, what's really, truly valued and integral to healthy, balanced relationships is honesty. People who really care about us would rather we were upfront, honest, and not tying ourselves up in knots.

That's the painful part that we all experience--people come into our lives and the relationship is lopsided from the start. Those feelings--of love, respect, care, and compassion--aren't always reciprocated. I tried hard to please her by getting good grades. My brother was not the best of students, and I knew that his poor grades upset my parents. To make them feel better, and also to feel validated, I would strive to achieve, in hopes of fixing whatever that feeling was that felt so wrong in my house and in my blood. She'd praise me in front of my father, but on occasion would accuse me of showing off when I presented her with a good grade when my dad wasn't around. I never knew what to expect from my mother, but I knew she wanted my father to believe everything was fine between her and me. I couldn't name these feelings, which always seemed to get bundled up inside me somewhere. At night, before dinner, my parents would usually talk about the day. She paused for a minute, blowing on her tea before taking a tentative sip. Not only that--what's the future of love and relationships and marriage and sex? The chattering business types suddenly grew irksome. She was more relaxed now, as if she had transferred her anxiety to me. It begs the question: Why are we giving away our yeses to those people? The ones that we know, deep down, wouldn't help us, who would rather we were burned-out keeping their needs met than contemplate our own. Strong, thriving relationships include give-and-take. If one person is always giving and another always taking, then we're going to end up with one person on their knees with nothing left to give and another hopping and skipping and jumping with vitality for life. Those yeses of ours are valuable because they're a gift of our resources to another. Take time to appreciate the emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, financial, and time cost of that ever-so-precious yes, and make sure that a) you're refueled enough to be able to afford dipping into that resource, and that b) your yes is an unequivocal yes without strings attached. On a number of occasions I overheard my mother telling my father that she thought maybe there was something wrong with me.