Consent as a tool in healthy relationships

By: Anette Orillac, Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist, @sanamente_pty

The topic of healthy relationships and boundaries is very broad. Sometimes we don’t think about what permission we are giving others to act on us in one way or another until we are faced with an embarrassing situation or until we agree to something we didn’t really want or didn’t agree to . Not everyone is aware of this and that is why it is good to talk about it.

When we give our consent/permission to do something, it’s about accessing what I’m doing with full awareness. To do this, both parties must be in agreement, i.e. what is required clearly corresponds to what is given. When the messages are not so clear or the mind is confused, we leave a dangerous door open. Adding to the multitude of shady messages one can discern is the variety of interpretations. This can result in misunderstandings, friction, jealousy, arguments, betrayal of trust, betrayal and even abuse. It can occur at any level and at any age, but susceptibility may be greater in childhood and adolescence.

Clarity in communication is our ally to set healthy boundaries in any relationship: between parents and children, siblings, relatives, couples, peers, colleagues, bosses and subordinates, friends, etc. A clear and timely “NO” can save us from many avoid uncomfortable situations. Everyone is different and has their own beliefs and upbringing, but we must start from the concept that respect is a core value of living in society. Let’s teach our children to set clear boundaries and to respect the NO of others. Asking permission is better than asking forgiveness.

If someone does NOT want to agree to an intimacy, an outing, an complicity, or even a harmless prank, no one has to force them. We all have the right to privacy. Peer pressure plays an important role in this task and can break the will of the most undecided (not to say weak) who end up turning down the volume of their “NO”. Being able to say NO in a timely manner, loudly and clearly is the maturity to set boundaries without feeling guilty. Young people or children often do not dare to say NO for fear of others, the situation or because they feel left out of the group. They end up accepting situations that make them uncomfortable, suspicious, afraid, tormented, hurt, or confused. Let’s remember that during puberty important personality changes take place in young people and if they don’t set healthy boundaries, they may feel depressed or anxious when others cross their boundaries. This is especially difficult if you’ve never done it before or if you don’t have good examples at home. If you are used to not setting boundaries at home, you will be very revealing with those around you and later on you may fall into trauma, sadness or fear without knowing why.

On the other hand, there are many people who do not want to take “NO” for an answer, whether out of impulse, personality, resistance, or because they are used to a hostile, aggressive environment, an environment of rebellion, or of struggle – there are no limits or anarchy prevails. With them we have to be even more careful to make our NO clear.

Once consent has been given, it can change because what was expected did not happen as expected. Consent may vary over the course of a situation; that is, it does not have to be static or immutable. I may borrow my cell phone today, but I don’t want to borrow it tomorrow. A parent may give permission but then changed their mind and doesn’t want to give it. We don’t need to feel guilty about changing our minds, about feeling pressured, forced, confused, out of control, or frozen. It’s better to say “NO” when we’re not sure, and to go RED once than PINK many times.

Let’s connect with our emotions and allow our intuition to guide us in times when we need guidance. If we haven’t done it before, we can now with a little more information. If you need professional help setting boundaries or distinguishing which consents you are uncomfortable with, do not hesitate to seek advice, as there is no health without mental health.

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