For years, if someone was treating me badly, I tried to win them over and make them be nice. To do this, I set out a plate of my freshly baked homemade cookies.  But I refused to let anyone else take care of me. I had no idea what a healthy boundary was. Last month, I finally said yes to something good.

I Said Yes To The Bad

In the past, I spent several hours a week talking on the phone with my mother-in-law. I didn’t want to talk that often for that long, but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by cutting the conversation short. Instead, I hurt myself by not having enough time to do what I needed. Another unhealthy yes was when my tenants wanted a dog. I didn’t want them to have one, but I said yes anyway. Again, I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I was also afraid they would leave, and I needed their rental income. Several thousand dollars in damages later, I was the only one hurt. These are just two of the many ways I used to say “Yes” out of fear or guilt.

How I Set A Boundary With No

I was really good at saying “No” to dinner invitations with friends and family. My son was a very busy little boy, and I couldn’t control him. I didn’t want to hear anybody complain about him because I knew I was too pleasing to stand up to criticism. For the same reasons, I also declined free babysitting and play dates. I was terrified to let people into our world, so only a few persistent people made it in. Saying no to relationships was a way to keep myself safe.

I Had A Lot Of Good Excuses

I rationalized my behavior in many different ways:

  • Being overprotective of my son because we adopted him
  • Also being overprotective of my son because of his extreme ADHD
  • My strict Baptist up-bringing told me to put others first
  • As the oldest child, naturally I’m over-responsible

The real reason I did this:

I saw myself as less than everybody else. That distorted reality shaped every decision I made. My crazy behaviors were really a defense mechanism.

When Hurricane Irma beared down on our condo, we were forced to evacuate. We loaded our car with the essentials and headed north. No hotel rooms were to be found. Anywhere. So, we drove through the night to my family’s home in Tennessee. Hotel-less, tired, and hungry, I had no choice but to accept my cousin Greg’s invitation to stay with him.

Why Saying “Yes” Was Easier

In the last two and a half years of recovery, I learned three big lessons:

  1. Boundaries aren’t only about keeping the bad out. A healthy boundary lets the good in.
  2. I am equal to everyone else. So is my son.
  3. My son’s behavior doesn’t define me. He doesn’t have to be perfect and neither do I.

Staying with my cousin was my first adventure in traveling with boundaries. Greg set the tone for a great visit by spending some time alone in his room on the first night. This was a win win. Greg had a private sanctuary from Hurricane Carver, and I didn’t feel obligated to be engaging or “on” the whole visit. During our stay, we made some wonderful memories with Greg. My husband, son, and I also enjoyed a day exploring on our own. One night, Greg treated us by fixing dinner. He made chicken parmesan, which is something I often cook for my family. This comfort food, served from the comfort of someone else’s kitchen, hit the spot.

Greg’s Parmesan Chicken

I must admit, his was a little better than mine. He baked the chicken at a higher temperature, so the topping was browned to perfection.


  • Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup of mayonaise
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese

Bake at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, until chicken is done. I use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. We served his chicken with a salad and a baguette of pretzel bread I picked up at the grocery store. Sharing a meal, sharing kindness, and sharing a space led to many happy memories. I’m so glad I said “Yes.”

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Pam Carver

Pam is the author of two books: Co-dependent In The Kitchen, and Find Your True Colors In 12 Steps. She's also a contributing editor for Reach Out Recovery. She's a recovery advocate who likes long walks on the beach and chocolate.

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