The importance of boundaries is common wisdom: Setting limits on other people’s behavior keeps us sane and safe. But as we all know, it’s one thing to talk about standing up for ourselves — it’s another to carry it through. Boundaries come at a cost.
When we say “no,” when we don’t go along with the crowd, when we let someone know they’re out of line, we run the very real risk of making other people — and ourselves — uncomfortable. It doesn’t feel great to be told, indirectly or directly, that we’re a hardass for setting limits. For some of us, that criticism is unbearable. The thought of being seen as mean, selfish, stuck up or greedy is so horrible that we go through life trying to be pleasing no matter what.
For many of us, the reluctance to stand up for ourselves is because we never learned how to assert our boundaries skillfully. Especially those of us raised femme/female/as women, we were taught from an early age to be kind and accepting and pliant. We learned to keep silent when someone is rude because they’re a guest in our home. Or, to say yes to any request because that’s what it means to love someone. However, I’m just here to say that while being polite and kind and generous are admirable qualities, our self-worth and self-determination are more important.
Here’s the thing — always being nice, letting people do whatever they want, never saying “no” in the hopes that will get you what you want — is a flawed game plan. The reasoning goes something like: If I’m really accommodating, other people will be as considerate of me as I am of them. Actually, no. That’s not how the world works, not even a little bit. The world tends to punish, not reward, passivity.
The corollary to the people-pleasing strategy is the fear that lies behind it: If I stand up for myself even just a little bit, people will think I’m horrible. They’ll be hostile or reject me altogether. Also no. I understand where that fear comes from, but it’s just not the case. The fact is plenty of people move through life calmly asking for what they need — and mostly getting it — without confrontation or conflict. It’s a communication skill that anyone can learn and improve.
I’ll write more on how to practice assertiveness next month, but for now, let’s focus on what it means to give up our power.
No Boundaries vs. Boundaries
A terrific book on the subject of skillful self-assertion is How To Be An Adult by the psychologist Dr. David Richo. Richo offers a clear, easy-to-understand breakdown of the stark contrast between what life looks like when we allow others to pull us in all directions, compared to when we defend our personal limits:
When we disregard our needs and desires, we tend to feel aggravated, aggrieved, unappreciated and disrespected. It’s common to struggle with depression, anxiety and fatigue due to spending so much energy worrying about what other people think of us, rather than trusting ourselves. It can feel like we only exist to serve or like our lives don’t have value.
Relinquishing control comes from a desire to be liked. But it turns out that respecting ourselves attracts people who are respectful, folks who care about our desires and who want good things for us. Those people who don’t, who get bent out of shape when we express an opinion, who only care about their needs? It makes sense to ask if they belong in our lives anymore.
As I mentioned before, effective assertiveness is a skill anyone can improve at. One of the great things about camming is it offers continual opportunities to enforce boundaries in ways both big and small. Next month, I’m going to offer advice on how to practice asserting yourself both on cam and in real life.
Tapping into our authentic desires while jettisoning the users and abusers? There’s no question that life is definitely better with boundaries.
Until next time, be sweet to yourself.
Lola Davina is a longtime veteran of the sex industry and author of Thriving in Sex Work: Heartfelt Advice for Staying Sane in the Sex Industry, a self-help book for sex workers available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and wherever else ebooks are sold. Get the audiobook version here. Contact Davina at Lola.Davina@ynotcam.com and visit her on Twitter at @Lola_Davina, as well as on Facebook.
Image of Lola Davina courtesy Pat Mazzera.