The first time I met wild roses I wandered off a path that followed a winding river, into a pocket of forest behind cedar trees.
My heart felt warm and soft and most of all I felt safe. This feeling of safety was so full, glowing and clear that my whole body relaxed deeply. I felt elated and almost high off the softness of it all. The pale pink petals, the gentle yellow pollen, the nectary smell and the bumbling bees. And in this hidden pocket of rose bushes that surrounded me on all sides, bursting with flowers and warm-blanket-softness, there were thorns everywhere.
Roses cannot live without thorns.
They cannot carry their medicine without thorns. Roses are all about tenderness and the ability to hold and witness grief. That is why they are heart medicine. That is why they arouse feelings of safety, because they are well-protected enough to hold the most feared and rejected parts of us. Their lesson is about complete love and acceptance and their medicine can only go this deep because of the protection offered by the thorns.
The princess in the picture is me on my 4th birthday. This piece of art is a spell I made to help me hold better boundaries. It calls on the magic of roses to protect the innocent and tender parts of myself that needed safety then, and still need saftey now.
Being raised as a girl, and now living as a gender-queer-femme, setting boundaries is a skill I have had to learn and practice. It is not always easy, especially when wading through the notions that having boundaries makes me “a bitch” for saying no, or “needy” for expressing that something isn’t working for me. My gender means I am constantly called to do emotional and caring labour. It also means I am usually dealing with a sea of misogynist violence. Looking at it now, it’s easy for me to see why boundaries are important, but that wasn’t always the case.
Here are a few reasons I think we can all benefit from learning how to set boundaries:
Boundaries keep us safe.
The dance of setting boundaries is largely about power exchange. Personal power, whether it be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, can be expressed through clear boundaries.
Boundaries increase spiritual integrity.
Many people, especially women and folks who are trying to be selfless and spiritual, often have subconscious beliefs that lend themselves to giving everything away. Often we do this for approval or to mend a deep down sense of unworthiness. Having boundaries allows our sense of integrity to bloom from the inside out, rather than giving ourselves away to win approval from others.
Boundaries are explicitly feminist because they create self preservation for oppressed people.
To me, feminism is about tipping the balance of power away from the oppressor, towards the oppressed. Part of experiencing oppression is giving yourself away for the benefit of the oppressor. We see this in rape culture and in the feminized and racialized nature of care-taking labour, just to name a couple of examples. Boundaries allow the scales to be tipped back in balance and they allow for self preservation in the face of power struggles.
Boundaries allow for greater tenderness and vulnerability.
In many ways boundaries are about creating stable containers. When your container is secure, whether it be in your relationships, your routines, your work – it is easier to soften and find trust, rather than be hardened in struggle, or depleted and unable to give to the things and people that matter to you. Roses are able to be as soft as they are because of the container the thorns provide. That is why they work so well as magical allies for assertiveness.
Boundaries allow for greater honesty and connection.
If you are saying yes all the time, when you really want or need to be saying no, then you are not being authentic with the people around you. Sometimes we are forced or coerced to say yes, when we mean to say no. That’s real. And sometimes we learn to say yes because that’s all we’ve ever known how to say. Learning how to say no, how to set boundaries and make requests for our needs to be met, is a way to be authentic in our relationships and our lives. To have people love, connect with and support us as we are rather than as we believe we should be. This kind of love, for me, has been liberatory and healing.
This piece has focused mostly on why boundaries are important, and less on how you can do the work of setting boundaries. I plan to write more soon about how to set boundaries.
For now here are some resources to continue your learning about and practice of assertiveness skills:
My path to learning good boundaries has involved many teachers to whom I am deeply grateful. Before moving away from the city, I taught feminist anti-violence assertiveness workshops with Safeteen:Powerful Alternatives to Violence, a program that was founded by Anita Roberts. Anita and all the facilitators in that program were invaluable teachers for me. I also recently took a 3 week online course with Pavini Moray called Embodied Boundaries: How to say “no” to your partner for increased love and connection (for lesbian and queer couples). I cannot recommend this course enough. It’s affordable, body-based, intimate and rich. Pavini is one of the most talented online facilitators I’ve worked with and is a gem for queer couples.
The plant world has also been full of teachers for me, especially wild roses and yarrow. Yarrow is a powerful wound medicine that can be used to stop heavy bleeding. The flower essence or tincture is often used to give energetic support to people wanting to set better boundaries. It’s a protective medicine and I’d highly recommend exploring it if you are feeling spread too thin.