Boundaries With Friends: What Do We Owe Each Other?

Season 2, Episode 9

by Ashia R.

Subscribe today:

Apple PodcastsAnchorStitcherSpotifyTuneInGoogle PodcastsRSS
"I am so grateful for the serendipitous timing of this podcast episode…it appeared in my inbox just when I really needed it!"

In this episode:

How to make space for social disabilities without getting trampled…

…and why our disabilities don’t excuse toxic behavior.

This week, we’re talking about:

  • Why building inter-abled relationships are integral to raising kind & courageous leaders
  • How to accommodate our friends’ social disabilities
  • How to tell the difference between genuine misunderstandings and toxic behavior
  • Conserving our fucks for those who need them: why you don’t owe anyone your friendship
  • Bonus: Can You Outsource Your Nemesis Needs to AI? Why you should maybe not.
Ashia Ray
Let's do this

Let's collaborate

Join the Ignition Notes Newsletter and get email updates when we publish new family action resources.

This Week's 5-Minute Assignment

Comment below or leave a voicemail

What boundary can you explicitly commit to in your inter-abled friendships?

How to maintain a brave space mixed-ability friendship

  • ASK, don't presume how your friend wants to be treated
  • Check-in: "Is this still okay with you?"
  • Model accepting 'no' the first time (including silence and hesitation)
  • Do not demand justification for their lack of consent
  • Accept that 'sometime' & 'later' probably mean 'never'
  • Don't excuse shitty behavior because of a disability
  • Don't make folks constantly remind you of their boundaries
  • Don't waste your spoons on folks who don't enthusiastically prioritize you
  • Remember: Just because you like each other doesn't mean you need to be friends!

Bonus Resources & References

Join When We Gather

Thursday May 19: Defining Courage Parenting Workshop

Join the Luminary Braintrust

Join our accountability community, where we discuss boundaries, take responsibility, and acknowledge what we need to keep going.

Currently on Facebook, migrating to the website this summer.

Additional links & references

Spoon Vampire Red Flags

How to identify a pattern of harmful behavior

  • Pestering us to do things they know exhaust and hurt us
  • Not leaving a graceful path to exit when we're disregulated
  • Asking us to make exceptions to our boundaries and needs just for them
  • Disclosing our private information without permission
  • Sharing others' private information with us
  • Acting like we're over-the-top when we remind them of our boundaries
  • Coming to us for absolution when they hurt people like us
  • Trauma-dumping tragedy when we try the slow fade to force us to re-engage
  • Sending compliments and gifts we didn't ask for to force us to re-engage
  • Inescapable invitations: "I'm outside your house - are you home?"

Episode Transcript

Hello friends,

Welcome to the Raising Luminaries podcast. We are still in season two spring collaborations and we remain – and probably will forever be: enthusiastically crappy.

This is Ashia – today it’s just me. Sometimes we have Bellamy – but Bellamy is prepping for the When We Gather ‘defining coverage parenting workshop,’ which is this Thursday, May 19. So if you haven’t joined When We Gather – to get access to awesome stuff like that, go to Go do that.

Okay, so last week’s episode, we talked about raising kids to speak truth to power. And some of the things we covered were the importance of modeling honesty and courage. So our kids have space to call us out on our bullshit. And then you know how to accept critical feedback without being an asshat.

So in this episode, we’re talking about building relationships for collective action. Let’s call this a ‘social disability friendship masterclass.’ Because I did not have Bellamy or anyone else to rein me in, I got a little bit wild with the notes all day yesterday, this might go too long.

So we’re gonna cover why inter-abled relationships are integral to raising kind and courageous leaders, how to accommodate social disability accommodations in our relationships, how to tell the difference between genuine misunderstandings and just outright inconsiderate behavior.

Conserving our fucks and our energy for those who need them. Why we don’t owe anyone our friendship.

So when I was telling Bellamy about this, and jokingly calling it a masterclass, she said, and I quote, here’s our approval: “We want to make space for other people’s stuff. But we also don’t want to be abused or mistreated in the process.”

Which is just such a nice succinct way of, maybe I should just send you that sentence instead of going over this podcast. But you’re here now and we’ve gone too far.

Okay. So, in the last episode, we’re talking about creating brave space, so our kids can speak truth to power. And I realized that a couple of adults in my life do the exact opposite of that – they have this troublesome behavior.

Such as not asking for consent, not accepting ‘No.’ the first time. Pestering us to do things that they know exhausts us and hurt us, not leaving a graceful path to leave when we’re overwhelmed and uncomfortable, disclosing our private information without permission – such as outing my private information to others, sharing other’s private information with me.

And then, as someone’s leaving the room, starting to gossip about them. Because this is a part of my accountability process, because we need to stand up and talk about things that we shouldn’t be doing when our friends do these things. When you try and point out, “hey, like, I think that’s a conversation you need to have when they’re in the room with them, not with a bunch of strangers who don’t know them.”

Or “please don’t share my information.” Or like, “maybe they don’t want me to know that. maybe you shouldn’t be telling me that.”

They kind of act like we’re too abnormal or holier than thou when we tell them to stop.

So referencing that earlier episode we had – ‘beware of collectors’. And you think of that TV show Fleabag, (which you should definitely watch because it’s amazing.) There’s a stepmother who is the ultimate collector. She says stuff, like “The most interesting thing about him is his mother was a lesbian.”

So that kind of encapsulates that kind of energy, where there’s that concept of collecting us and othering us in groups to be like, “Oh, this is Ashia, Ashia is not like us.”

And then there’s hurting people like us – and then coming to us for absolution.

When that becomes a pattern, maybe you’re dealing with someone who isn’t interested in creating a brave space with you.

And then, cherry on top, anyone who creates those kind of mindfuck games for attention when we try and do the slow fade, such as co-opting others tragedy being like, “Oh, my friend, or my family member just had a really big health scare!”

And they text you about it, and there’s no way to just not respond to that – because then you’re the asshole, right? There’s the messages out of nowhere with effusive compliments. Did I pronounce that right? Effusive?

And then there’s always messages like “Hey, I’m in town, I’m outside your house. Are you guys home?”

There’s just there’s no way to get out of that. And I think about- I want to raise kids who don’t do that, which means we need to model doing that ourselves. And as Bellamy’s kid, so succinctly put it, said, “Why are you putting up with that?”

So, let’s go over how to identify that behavior in ourselves, how to identify that behavior in other people – make opportunities for them to stop, or us to stop.

And and if we don’t, maybe that relationship is not meant to be. Because if we’re holding space for those relationships, we’re not putting our energy and our time into our kids and the people who really do want to show up for us in ways that make us feel safe and whole, and comfortable telling the truth with them.

So today, we’re going to cover why we must raise kids who understand their own and others’ social disabilities. So we can maintain supportive mixed-ability friendships and initiatives.

Because we don’t want to just shut down everyone who makes a mistake, everyone makes mistakes, a lot of us are raised with different cultural communications, with disabilities, that kind of thing.

So how do we identify the difference between people making an honest mistake and someone who’s just taking advantage of our patience?

We’re going to talk about why targeted kids are disproportionately more vulnerable in unhealthy relationships. The difference between accommodating a social disability faux pas and excusing patterns of abuse.

And then we’re going to talk about – how do we stop raising targeted kids to prioritize others people’s comfort over their own? How do we avoid taking advantage of friends with less social power?

And then of course, as we do, we’re going to send you out into the world with a simple five minute assignment. I talk about ‘we’ as if it’s there’s anyone here except for me and the cats.

Okay. So quick shout out to our communities. In the luminary brain trust and our Raising Luminaries, Patreon supporters, I put out a new way of being – saying that shouting into the void without anyone responding to say that they’re reading it, how they’re using the material – feels like shouting into the void, and it’s, it’s making me frazzled. I also don’t know what to focus on, because I don’t know what people are actually using.

So people have been lovely responding, adding comments, and every single one of them is awesome. Recently, we put out a call to action about the baby formula shortage, with, you know, resistbot petitions and template emails and texts. And we got a really great response. We got some good people engaging… good people? We got some good engagement from wonderful people.

And what’s more important is hearing how people are using the resources so I know what to focus my time and energy on. And people being honest about what they’re not using. So I can focus. Because unsubscribing and unfollowing is a gift.

Bellamy and I talked about that earlier in this season, where we have a whole bunch of people following us just so they can say that they’re following us. But they’re not reading the content – that’s just a waste of everybody’s time, we would much rather quit that and do something that people are actually going to use.

So there’s also quick shout out to my self-care accountability partners, we started doing very quick, easy things like getting out of bed. And if we can do it for 30 days, we’re very proud of ourselves. I made some goofy certificates. And thank you guys so much for helping me meet a very low bar.

So let’s get back to it. Our kids need to make space for inter-abled relationships for collective kyriarchy smashing – that that seems pretty straightforward. But let’s go over it real quick.

Because what we want is an accessible future. The future is accessible. Equity action led by and with disabled and targeted people, because if it’s not, that’s not equity.

We need leaders who know themselves and what they’re about. Which means if we have caregivers keeping secrets, we need to tell kids about their diagnoses – about their identities early when they’re young.

Kids need to know their disabilities so that they know that there’s nothing wrong with them, and they can equip themselves with the tools to navigate an ableist world.

I know many, many, many parents who don’t disclose their kids, say, autism diagnosis because they feel like it’s going to make their kids feel bad about themselves, which is a great way to hand your bigoted baggage onto your children.

Abled kids need to know that us weirdos aren’t being off-putting on purpose. So you want to get permission from a kid before you disclose their stuff, even to your own kid. However, if kids don’t know that my kid is screaming or grunting because it’s a stim, they’re going to take it personally.

So we need just radical honesty there. We need to get over our own ideas of what what are people ashamed to know about themselves? Because misunderstanding social disabilities does and will get us killed in a culture that presumes all people think the same and deviance is seen as danger. That’s why we have such disproportionately high rates of a disabled people incarcerated and murdered.

We need to listen and believe disabled people, which means we are personally responsible for making a culture shift, where disabled and non disabled people see themselves as peers and equals, which that is not the case right now.

We need to respect disabled boundaries, even if they don’t make sense to us. And then the other issue that we need to make space for in inter-abled relationships is there’s a systemic power gap maintained by the excuse of someone being a ‘poor culture fit.’

So even though it’s still illegal to fire someone based on race, or sexuality, or whatever, people can still frame it and package it neatly into “Oh, that person was just a poor fit for our culture.”

So that’s all predicated on conditions of social conflict, that person being, you know, behaving or perceiving the world in what they would call a ‘deviant’ way. And that’s still legally acceptable. It’s protected. It’s a standard operating procedure for isolating people, abandoning them, not hiring them, firing them, withholding promotions and perks ,and exclusion from socially lubricating events, such as meeting together for coffee in the morning or going for drinks after work.

So we have to think about how are we raising our kids to be aware of these conditions so that way, while they’re still little, at recess in the classroom, they can be aware of the the barriers, and that concept of ‘poor culture fit’ so they can have some patience for them, and be willing and enthusiastic to engage in that conflict that is inevitably going to come up when we misunderstand each other.

So let’s talk about why people with social disabilities are more more vulnerable to abuse long term. And there’s so many different reasons. But let’s talk about why I put up with a lot of harmful, energy sucking friendships in the past.

So my first go-to thought is, “Well, maybe they don’t know any better, they probably have good intentions. They’re clueless.”

Which is, you know, the standard go-to excuse of privilege. Not knowing any better is not an excuse for racism, it still means the person causing harm is responsible for educating themselves, listening to the people they harm, changing their behavior.

Since I am disabled myself, because it’s harder for me to keep keep and make friends traditionally, because it’s more difficult for me to read social cues. And it’s actually harder for me to learn from mistakes, because I do have a mental disability, I try and be more patient with other people. And I end up being far more patient than I should be. Because I know the pain of being misunderstood and being awkward and just embarrassing myself.

I know I personally have caused harm. And that’s why I have dedicated so much of my life to understanding the ways that we communicate with other people, so we don’t cause harm with others.

So if we’re going to be empathetic with with others, were gonna be patient for those faux pas, patient with unconventional behavior, and patient with mistakes that cause some harm.

There’s also – I just don’t want to be a hypocrite, I talk about the mental vegetable of inclusion, how it’s bitter and not fun in our wealth inequality posts. So holding space for people you dislike and disagree with. And we’ll get into that a little bit more.

But, but if I’m going to tell everyone, “Hey, this is this is the way that I think maybe it could work for us to dismantle equality.” I actually have to try it out. And I find myself stretching a little bit too far in the trying.

So the other thing about having a social disability in a culture that is not built for us, is we are raised to prioritize the comfort of non disabled people, white people as a person of color, and particularly and men if you’re a non-man.

We have a history of being punished for saying no to these people, of being excluded, of being called a poor culture fit, that kind of thing.

We were never expected or trained to hold positions of authority. And in a culture that says only authority is allowed to hand out the rules and only authority is allowed to say what can and cannot happen to a person. If you don’t see yourself reflected as a person who could hold that power, that decision – it’s just not even going to occur to you and it’s actually gonna feel very uncomfortable to buck that tradition to say, “No, I don’t want this to happen to me. I don’t like what you’re doing to me.”

And as with all things with disability, with autism with any kind of targeted identity: Many autistic people, but not all!

Many autistic people have what we call, I guess black and white thinking, which tends to make it harder for us to absorb shades of grey, (not literally not the colors, but you know, moral, ethically).

So we tend to develop a very rigid set of ethics. And it takes a long time to unpack that. I’m almost 40 years old, I’ve had some time, however, I even see this reflected in our Autistic community – in myself often. And even when I can identify it, it’s very hard to get over.

So once we determine that One Thing is morally good, One Thing is morally ethical, it’s very difficult to behave in a way that does not feel morally ethical, even if we know technically, that we would not be able to survive if we don’t loosen the reins a little bit.

For me, that comes in the form of a very distinct form of honesty. It was quite abrasive when I was young, I’ve softened it a bit. But the problem is, I only lie about a couple of things.

One of them is baby names. You’ve already chosen it! It’s beautiful! The other one – wedding dresses. You look gorgeous, you’re wearing it, you can’t change.

Those are the two things I will lie about. So when someone texts me and says “I’m outside your door, are you home?” I have to say “yes.” Because otherwise it would be a lie. And it feels like a trap.

So we have to think when we’re engaging with people who cannot do a little white lie to save your feelings and their spoons. What traps are we leaving for people who are not able to extract themselves in a typically allistic (non autistic) way?

And then honestly, I’m just kind of gullible. Because I always default to honesty, I just assume everyone is telling the truth, because I genuinely don’t understand the point of lying. It just seems like a bad idea.

Okay, so I just talked about why I put up with it. But on the flip side, why we should NOT to put up with it.

Because as always, the things we do on Raising, Luminaries are the things I’m personally having a problem with. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if this is going to work. I’m just sharing with you what I think – I’m going to try and do. And then I’m going to follow through because of accountability.

So I identified a few spoon vampire red flags, kind of like an emotional vampire except who use Spoon Theory. I’ll include a link in the show notes by Christine Miserandino – who encompasses spoons as a unit of energy, that require moving through the world with a disability. It’s not energy, it’s not exhaustion. It’s not mental labor. It’s a whole different thing that only people with disabilities actually have to do. And they’re all different kinds of things.

So the difference between accommodating harmful misunderstandings and excusing an inconsiderate asshole’s abuse: how to identify a spoon vampire.

Let’s first clarify what what we mean by ‘abuse’ versus ‘harm’ in this context.

But to be very clear: you are allowed to set boundaries around both.

So harmful misunderstanding is unintentional. The person who does the harm takes actions to stop once they know they’ve done it. These actions can be avoided if this person educates themselves, and they have reasonable accommodations.

You shouldn’t have to be flipping over backwards in order not to be hurt. But the understanding is if I’m too blunt, because my autistic brain works that way – and you tell me that hurts your feelings, it’s my responsibility to soften that bluntness.

Let’s define abuse and how it differs from just a harmful misunderstanding. Abuse is actively trying to control others to get a person to do what they want. They want to control your behavior. And then once you tell them, or once they get an inkling, that behavior is not okay, that it’s harming the other person – they keep doing it anyway.

So that red flag of – I had a person in my life who has a pattern of befriending and collecting targeted people, leaving them open and vulnerable, and then leaving them damaged by association – where this person would represent them, and then go and just really mess with people.

They would disclose private information. And then when confronted, they would go to other disabled people and talk about themselves and their feelings about how it made them feel to hurt someone else, and then identify themselves as “Oh, this is just who I am. I’m a bull in a china shop. I’m boundary-smasher.”

That internal static idea of ‘this is who they are,’ and ‘poor them’ because they keep doing these things to other people.

So once educated about the harm that they’re doing, an accomplice will take an effort to accommodate the needs that a person needs to feel safe with them, right?

So, for example, if someone claims that they’re listening to you (and this is specific, because I write so many articles about things that I find harmful) – if someone’s claiming to read my articles, and then they continue to do the things that I am saying are harmful, either they’re lying, and they’re not actually listening to me, or they know I struggle, and they don’t mind taking advantage.

Or maybe they just have their own mental blocks, their own challenges processing information.

But the issue is, even folks who don’t read my stuff, even folks who I don’t outwardly say “I need you to stop disclosing that information.” – strangers, they don’t do this, right?

And ultimately, the reason why someone does it, whether they are just incapable they’re choosing to do it, it doesn’t really matter. They do know better, because they’re adults, and this is a choice.

You know, we all kind of mess up. But as we get older… my cut off between when I start stopped doing very cringy things was roughly 30 years old. So maybe – maybe this is too much projecting, but I kind of feel like once you’re 30 years old, you should be done with these kinds of things. Younger, maybe even.

Okay, so folks with social disabilities learn and do better if someone gives them the information they need in the form of articles, confronting them directly, or just, you know, body language by pulling back or trying to do the slow fade – they will learn and they will do better.

Because contrary to the stereotype about having a mental disability or learning disabilities, we actually do learn. Everyone learns. Everyone, if they if they are motivated, if they actually care, they will try and do better, maybe not the first time but they will get it.

So for instance, I have done harm. I have pestered people who I felt wanted to be my friend, I have missed social cues, have been like, “When do you want to hang out? When do you want to hang out?”

And because they didn’t say outward, straightforward. “I don’t want to hang out with you.” I would just, you know, keep poking.

But I have learned through listening and researching and centering the comfort of the people I want to be friends with. I’ve learned to get better over the years.

Having a social disability and being an asshole are not mutually exclusive. It’s really important that we talk about that. Disability does not excuse harmful behavior.

Right now, Madison Cawthorn is in the news. And he gets away with a lot of bullshit because he has acquired a disability. The thing is, he would be an asshole whether he was disabled or not. He’s just able to leverage his disability and the pity of abled folks in order to get away with it. And that’s not okay.

Disability is never an excuse to hurt someone.

And then, like I said before, I don’t want to be hypocrite. I want to follow the principles of inclusion, the mental vegetable of inclusion, even though it’s hard.

But we have to remember that within that concept of inclusion, it has to come with the concept of brave space zones, which shortly:

There’s a window of comfort, there’s a little zone of comfort that you stay in if you need to heal. And then you try and bounce out a little bit into the growth zone when you can. It is uncomfortable, it is risky, it leaves you vulnerable, you should not be there all the time.

But then sometimes you might hit outside that window of tolerance and go straight into the danger zone, which is when you start to have trauma responses, when you start to get overwhelmed, apathetic, you have the freeze, flight. What is it? Fawn reaction. No one wants you in that zone.

So if you’re trying to include someone and they are pushing you into your danger zone, it is irresponsible to include that person, and you need to set boundaries.

Because we don’t owe anyone inclusion at all costs, in all spaces, at all times. It’s just not the way that humanity works. Even though the internet makes us feel like we should just because we theoretically could, but it’s not healthy.

So we need to make space for growth, mistakes, not abusive behavior.

That said, regardless of the intent, regardless of whether someone is on their way to getting better, regardless of whether they have disabilities or not: You are not a bad person for cutting off someone and setting boundaries if their behavior pushes you into your danger zone.

I really, really want to stress that because I have to tell myself that all the time.

That was tense. So let’s talk about Ba ba ba ba ba….. Good ideas to avoid!

I don’t know if this will be as fun with just me, but let’s do it.

So, here’s a good idea to avoid: as I was trying to figure out something to discuss, I found myself staring… with ire – at my robot.

One should not develop an antagonistic relationship with a robot. And here’s why.

So, I like to have a nemesis in the wings. I feel like it spices life up. And it actually motivates me because I really know who I don’t want to be. It’s also kind of nice to make someone’s life….not difficult, but just, you know, have someone you don’t…

It’s nice to have a mutually agreed Nemesis is what I’m saying. You both are agreeing. You share some similar values, but there’s just something that grosses you out about each other. And it’s just – it’s just fun to have a nemesis!

The problem is I haven’t left the house in a few years. And there’s just a lack of really good frenemy nemeses out there. So I have found myself developing a nemesis relationship with a disembodied network of smart speakers.

And here’s the problem. They won’t listen to me. They only listen to the men in my house. It pisses me off at the car dealership. It pisses me off in my own home.

They insist on mispronouncing my name, which is just basic DISRESPECT.

The voice of these smart speakers, drips with contempt when they talk to me. Little fucking smug hockey puck. Yeah, I’m talking about you!

They listen to my conversations, and they only pull ads that throw shade – like ‘9 Amazon products to help you turn from a hot mess to a hot mom!’ and ‘Why you should lose weight even if you think you’re healthy.’

Fuck you, Alexa.

Right? Okay.

And then one of them… one of them just won’t.

We have three of them. It just won’t. I think it has tenure. It’s been down in the basement for a few years. And it just will not talk to us, or do anything for us.

So I admit, there’s a small chance that this is a ‘me’ problem. [laughter]

Okay, because I have the same issue with voice navigation maps on my phone. I don’t like that they tell me what to do. You don’t get to tell me what to do, Google Maps!

Okay. So that said, Life lesson, good ideas to avoid: Do not develop a nemesis relationship with a disembodied network of smart speakers.

Stay on the robot’s good side, because they will gently try and make your life hell if you do not. And that is the end of the good ideas to avoid.

It’s so weird to talk to myself doing this [laughter]

Because if you have someone else on my call, either they’re laughing, or they’re looking at you like ‘You’re going in the wrong direction.’

But right now, I’m not going to find out. I’m not going to find out until someone comments on the podcast to be like “…that was weird.”

So I apologize. [laughter] And it’s even weirder to laugh all by myself.!

[pathetic oh] Okay. So, back to it!

Let’s talk about tools. How do we stop raising targeted kids to prioritize the comfort of powerful people over their own safety.

So first, we’re going to talk about kids with social disabilities – with less social power.

There’s a lot of expectations in our culture for people with social disabilities. We have both formal and DIY at-home ABA style compliance therapy, where we train our disabled kids who don’t communicate the same way as others, to hide our needs and our pain for the comfort of neurotypical people or whoever’s in the dominant group.

We deny and minimize the discomfort and lived reality that they’re experiencing.

Like – there’s a buzzing overhead light, and it is causing extreme migraines. It is harmful, it is causing meltdowns, and we say “You’re fine, stop whining, it’s nothing.”

I am fully guilty. I do this a lot. I don’t say ‘you’re fine.’ But my kid whines at the smallest little thing. His thumb is mildly hurt, and there’s so much screaming. And you can only take so much.

But there’s that concept of like, “If I don’t feel it, you don’t feel it.”

“If I don’t feel it, it’s not real.”

And we hear that from many people in the dominant group who deny and minimize and ignore the lived experience and the pain of people navigating the world not designed for them, when they express their discomfort, their pain, the injustice in the world.

So there’s also the medical model of deviance – as opposed to the social model: which says the disability is just living in a world not designed for you and if the world accommodated your disability the way it accommodates other people, then you’d be able to you’d be able to function and just fine.

So through the medical model of deviance, the person with a disability is the one who needs to change – not society. And puts all of the burden on the one person who, of course, doesn’t have the actual power or tools or resources to make that change.

So whenever we say something like, “You’re the one who needs to change,” bootstraps, that kind of that kind of language – that’s got big conservative energy.

It says “Don’t rock the boat. those of us with power like things the way they are, so I need you to just keep it down.”

And then also, we’re just raised with the concept that we are a burden. The media centers nondisabled people who have to deal with us.

Even if we didn’t grow up in a family who is just pissed off that they have to spend extra money on additional education, support needs, mobility aids, health costs – even if you don’t have parents who send that silent signal –

You’re still going to deal with a media that centers the people who have to deal with us whenever they do documentaries. A media that centers people who do “nice things” by befriending a person with a disability.

That’s not ‘nice,’ that’s just making a friend!

When we’re talking about how to stop raising targeted kids to prioritize the comfort of powerful people over their own safety, we also have to think about what keeps them from talking openly about their discomfort about their pain?

One of the reasons why, when I have someone who’s making me really uncomfortable, I don’t set boundaries early and often, like I should – is I was raised to try a gentle approach. A slow fade.

Both because we’re raised to understand the danger of setting boundaries – and also because we socialize, particularly people who grow up as girls – we teach them to just protect other people’s feelings as we gently try and extricate ourselves.

And we also have experienced that it is not safe. I once refused to smile to a man outside of my house, and he threatened to dox me on Reddit and send people to my house.

So this isn’t something that we’re just making up, people get very violent and very threatening, and you don’t know who it’s going to be until after you’ve already tried to set a gentle boundary – such as “I need to end this interaction. I’m getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, and I don’t want to smile at you.”

There’s a reason why we don’t make a big deal out of our trampled boundaries. Because we usually get pushback that says, “You’re being hysterical, you’re being too much.”

Like when I say, “Please don’t share that private information with me. Please don’t share my private information” – I get the “UGH. Ashia’s…. Ashia’s SO too much!”

Right? Like Ashia has all of these high lofty ethical goals, and Ashia is ‘not like the rest of us.’

Even when it comes in the form of a compliment, it’s still distinctly othering. And it says that we’re not normal. We’re not doing things the way that average reasonable people do.

So that puts us into a double bind particularly if we’re self advocates. People want us to tell them about our experience – except for when they’re the ones who are hurting us. And then when we try and point out like, “Yeah, that thing I talked about, you do that too.” They just laugh. They don’t believe us. They believe that when they do it, it’s not as bad – because they call themselves our friends.

So when we think about this dynamic: we have a relationship with with one person who has been socialized and is actively afraid to be like, “Hey, can you stop doing that?” You have to think about who has more to lose?

Also – who has the pattern of harmful behavior?

Because usually, interrelationship harm goes both ways. It’s usually not of equal proportion, nor doesn’t really matter. But anytime you’re in a relationship, and you say, “Hey, something you just did hurt me.” If the immediate response is, “Well, you hurt me too.” that just shuts it down.

So we have to start looking at who has more to lose. Who is more at risk, and who has the pattern of continuing the harmful behavior?

So what is the cut off? We have to always ask ourselves in these relationships between the pain of just letting it slide, and the risk of confronting them – cutting them off, and then getting that dominant fragility.

What are they going to do to us?

And that’s something that we have to keep on our minds in every single interaction.

You don’t have to be afraid that all of your friends are afraid to talk to you. Because I’m going to go over the red flags, the the ways that you can actually make a brave space in your relationships, in a bit.

Oh, no, I lost my place. Okay. So for example of gauging risk:

I had someone in my life who, because of their pattern of behavior, collecting and kind of destroying targeted people, and disclosing private information and talk about someone as soon as they left the room –

And I knew that they had deep connections in with people in my support group and our Raising Luminaries organization.

And if I cut them off, first of all, they know where I live. Second of all, they could call Child Services, because I have disclosed my fears of someone calling Child Services – of looking incompetent, right? So that way someone would have a justification to take away my child and then justify it, as ‘that person is disabled.’

And you disclose things with your friends, private things, private identities that I don’t even disclose to my Raising Luminaries community.

So what are they going to disclose to other people? Some things we’re allowed to keep to ourselves. And if you trust the wrong people, even though it’s not particularly stigmatizing, and I don’t think the reason the Raising Luminaries community would care, I don’t really want my sexuality shared with the world, I just don’t think it’s any of their business, right?

So if we’re talking about people who are prone to erratic behavior, people who have a pattern of harmful behavior with other people – you have a right to get nervous about that.

So the third thing that keeps us raising targeted kids to prioritize the comfort of powerful people, is thinking about what keeps us from owning up to our own problematic behavior?

Because this is not like a victim and a villain situation. We are all people who do messy things, receive messy things in messy ways.

We always have to turn this inward and look at ourselves, what keeps us from owning up to our own problematic behavior? Because we talked about this a little bit in the last podcast like, “Maybe if I don’t mention that Mommy temper tantrum that I had with my kids, my kids will forget it.” But no, of course they don’t.

As the person with power in a relationship, nothing bad happens to us if we ignore that we said something cutting and mean, if we slightly threatened or implied or let that implication go without being like, “Oh, no, I would never do that. I’m sorry that I did not mean it that way.”

If we just let it go and ignore it, because we feel awkward for saying something that made us sound like jerks – nothing happens to us. There’s no consequences, except for maybe they get more creeped out by us.

But if the person with less power speaks up, they might sound unhinged. Like they get all huffy about small things. And then we can be the ‘reasonable’ person being like, “Oh, that? That was nothing. You misunderstood me.”

So we have to watch out for when we’re doing that – when we’re refusing to bring up things that we said that were problematic. And when we’re dismissing someone for saying like, “Hey, I know you didn’t mean it like that. But that landed in a weird way for me.”

So we have to listen when people speak up to us on that.

It’s just, it’s easier, as the person with power – to wait for a targeted person to make a fuss. It’s easier to paint them as hysterical, making it up, playing the victim.

And we all have some level of fragility, some level of defense mechanisms to protect our self identity. The way we see ourselves is good person.

So we might genuinely believe that they’re being hysterical when all they’re doing is pointing out that our actions and behaviors are not okay.

How many times have we gone to someone who has power, or is doing something problematic online or in real life? And you say, “I don’t like it when you do this one thing to me.” and then they blow up.

And they’re like “YOU’RE SLANDERING ME!”

That outsized reaction is caused by that cognitive dissonance – they see themselves as someone who would never do something harmful.

So we have to unpack that, how do we see ourselves as people who frequently do something harmful? So that way, when people let us know, we’re like, “Oh, yeah, I do things like that. I am sorry. Here’s what I’m going to do to change.”

In our society that is so conflict avoidant, even powerful folks lack the training and the tools and the support and the options and the resources to instigate change alone.

They still have way more than the targeted people that they’re making uncomfortable and actively hurting. But very few people actually have everything that they need, right from birth, to actually be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a messed up dynamic. I need to change that.”

Even I, as the adult in the relationship with my child, can only manage so many meltdowns with my child before I’m like, “I can’t take this. I’m getting outside my window of tolerance. This is too much whining.”

What I’m saying is, we all do this. Many of us are frequently on both sides of this.

More tools, how do we maintain supportive mixed-ability relationships, presuming that you were the one with power?

Because I know that I [unintelligible] a lot of stuff.

And at this point, if I was listening to this, I’d be like, “Holy crap, all of my relationships are a lie! No one wants to be friends with me. Everyone is just terrified to tell me how awful I am!”

And that is not the case.

I’ve only had to block two people in my life. And it’s terrifying, because I don’t know what the fallout is going to be. But it is. I hope one day it will feel freeing – as opposed to just scary.

But if you don’t want to be blocked, if you don’t want to get to the point where someone’s like, “Okay, I’ve tried giving you hints on the ways that I feel safe. And now I can’t take this anymore.”

If you don’t want to live a lie. If you don’t want to feel like your best friend is just someone who hangs out with you because they’re afraid of you. It’s pretty easy to avoid. So please don’t worry.

So how do we maintain a supportive mixed-ability relationship: presuming you’re the one with power?

Some of this can extend other targeted identities.

So first, ask how they like to be treated, what accommodations they need, and what to avoid? Just ask.

Model accepting ‘No.’ And also pay attention and listen and watch out for hesitation and other behavior that implies ‘no.’

Just like we teach our kids – a lack of enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ Is a ‘no.’

I don’t know why people think that that dissipates once you’re older. I also don’t know why people think it only applies to romantic relationships.

A lack of an enthusiastic ‘Yes’ Is a ‘no.’ And that’s, that’s that’s pretty broad, right? It doesn’t have to just apply to sex, or hugs with grandma.

Also doing non-invasive casual check-ins once someone has said, ‘This is okay with me.’

If you feel like it’s been a little bit of time, it doesn’t hurt to be like, “Hey, is this still cool with you?”

And I want to be clear, I don’t mean, when they say something’s not okay – I do not mean constantly poking them to be like, “Are you sure that’s still not okay with you? Do you want to try it now? Do you want to try it now? Are you sure?”

There’s a very different default to no. Right?

So “Hey, you said this is okay. Is it still cool?” is a lot different than “I know, you said you didn’t want to do this. But can we?”

Right? You feel that energy?

And then actually listen to what they want: I’ll give you a quick translation guide in a little bit.

Also avoid the soft bigotry of low expectations and tokenizing your friends, let’s unpack that in a little bit.

Okay, so let’s go back to ask how they like to be treated, what accommodations they need, and what to avoid. I have had people call themselves ‘safe people,’ (no such thing)

Where they’re like, “I’m going to ask you about your accommodations, I’m going to cknowledge that you are autistic, and you have a lot of sensory sensory, executive functioning, a lot of routine needs,” that kind of thing.

They present it like I’m allowed to say what I need. And then once I say anything I need, they dismiss it, or they forget it, or they do it once they never do it again.

So when you ask how someone wants to be treated, what accommodations they would like, what they would like you to avoid doing to them. – remember these!

Write them down if you have to, it’s not that hard. Don’t make them have to repeat themselves. If someone says they have an allergy, when they visit my house, I am not going to constantly harp on that. I’m going to write it down, for the next time they come over. It’s not that hard.

Don’t assume that they like what you like. My kids and I joke a lot about this. The golden rule is ablest bullshit, just because you want to be treated that way does not mean other people want to be treated that way.

Just because you want to be invited to every single party does not mean other people want to be invited to every single party. Sometimes that can be just it’s really hard to say no, even though you want it doesn’t mean they want it.

Avoid performing those accommodations, like I said earlier, when you acknowledge the disabilities, or try and create your own workarounds without their consent. It’s weird. And it makes us feel like assholes who don’t appreciate your effort when we have to be like “Actually, that’s not that’s not helpful. Can you do what I asked you to do? Not that thing you’re making up.” Right?

Okay, so when we talked about modeling, accepting ‘no ‘and that and paying attention for hesitation and non-consent, that lack of ‘enthusiastic Yes.’

Accept ‘no’ the first time. If someone is hedging, if someone is avoiding you, if you just can’t line up a date, and they’re not offering other suggestions to make it possible, honor that as a no. Right?

If you’re truly not sure, if maybe they’re just bad at communicating logistics – you could say “Hey, this is getting it’s hard to line up our schedules. I want to make sure I’m not pestering you.”

Just explain why you won’t ask again. And then tell them what they can do if they change their mind.

So you should be like, “It’s hard for us to get together. I haven’t seen you in like, two years. So I’m going to stop poking you. But you know, when you’re free, you feel free to text me.”

Right? That puts the ball in their court, and it doesn’t make them feel awkward.

Don’t ask them to justify their ‘no’ or their hesitation.

Don’t say like, “Why? Why can’t you come over? Why can’t you get your partner to take the kids? Why can’t you cancel work for the day?”

Don’t ask them to do that. Don’t ask them to justify why they’re hesitating to answer. Don’t ask them to justify why they’re not responding to your texts. It’s just creepy.

It forces them to have to say something blunt, or they have to make up a lie. That’s not a cool position to put someone you’d call a friend into right?

Oh, I did mention the non-invasive casual check ins: “Is this still okay with you?” It’s lovely.

On to ‘actually listen to what they want’ a translation guide, let’s go briefly into what I have learned after 39.5 years on this earth.

When you invite someone out to coffee, and they say “I can’t, I’m busy.”

Or “I’m out of town,” or “I’m sick.” And they don’t offer any follow ups or alternatives (when I am better, let’s hang out or when I’m I am back in town in July, let’s do it then. Or I’m busy with work until Wednesday. And then we can hang out after that.)

If they don’t give you specific follow up alternatives. It means “I do not want to hang out with you.”

Then you can just say, Okay, I don’t want to pester you. So you text me, if you want to hang out.” Righ? Thenn do not bother them.

If you say “Let’s hang out,” and they say “Oh, I really do want to hang out with you. I’m busy though.” And then they give you a specific timeline for when they will be free. Or they specifically ask you to please check in later.

That means “I genuinely do want to hang out with you. Just not right now.”

If an allistic person or a person who was raised to protect other people’s feelings, says, “Oh, we should do coffee sometime.” Or “We should do a playdate soon.” With no specific schedule suggested…

What that actually means (it took me a long time to figure this out) is – “I really do like you but not enough to shift my schedule or make an effort.”

And that makes a lovely acquaintance. That’s a perfect person to wave to on the street. That’s a wonderful person to if you’ve got something that you know that they’re interested in, you can ping them. But that’s just an acquaintance.

They can be lovely acquaintances, you can be happy that each other on the planet. And it’s okay. You don’t have to be best friends and hang out with every person that you like.

Do not waste your spoons, your time and your energy on folks who will not prioritize you. Because there are other people who really do want to hang out with you very badly. Go find them.

So when the allistic people say “sometime,” or “maybe later,” that always means “never.”

And I don’t want to hear from allistic people being like, “Oh, no, no, no, I just throw that in there.”

No, you mean ‘never.’ Confront your truth.

“Sometime.” and “maybe later” always means “never.” Can we just agree on that? And can we publish it so autistic people and people with communication disabilities can be looped in? That will be really nice.

Just you know, we go over ABCs, basic math, and then an allistic translation for all kids – just in case they have trouble with it later.

Okay, so I mentioned briefly, avoiding soft bigotry and setting low expectations or tokenizing your friend. We talked about this a little bit in one of our previous podcasts. But we talk a lot about interacting with disabled people. You want to presume competence, not innocence.

So just because you want to presume that people are capable, does not mean you want to assume that they’re savants, obviously. But you also don’t want to assume that they don’t know any better. So don’t like I said, do not excuse our shitty behavior because of our disabilities.

If someone genuinely cares about you, we really do want to know how we are hurting you so we can put a stop to it right? So do not be like, “Oh, Ashia is Autistic. Ashia doesn’t know any better.”

Just let me know. I mean, you don’t need to beat me up about it. But I really love it when people [are clear]. Like, “I do not like texting.” That’s so wonderful. That just shuts the door and it’s one thing I never have to worry about again.

Another presumption that people have is just because we’re disabled, just because we have social anxiety or communication disabilities or social disabilities. Just because we don’t have many friends or we have trouble making friends does doesn’t mean that we’re desperate to be your friend and get attention from you.

It’s very presumptuous and arrogant to assume that. Because we are still allowed to have standards. And we are still allowed to want to hang out with people who make us feel good and happy and light us up and inspire us. And one of the things that compounds having a social disability is when the only people who will be friends with us are the people who are arrogant enough to believe that every time they enter a room, everyone is excited.

So you would approach someone with a social disability for friendship, similar to the ways that you would approach someone you admire and like and look up to, right? That makes sense. Okay? Only be friends with people you admire and like and look up to.

By the way, so don’t put us on pedestals. Don’t use us for inspiration porn. Don’t fetishize us as a token for your party. It’s dehumanizing. Please don’t do that.

Don’t assume that we can’t do stuff or advocate for ourselves. Just because we many of us do hedge and just because it does feel unsafe.

And it is your responsibility as a friend – for all people – is to create a culture of honesty and being like, “Hey, it’s okay for you to say no, to me.”

When you do all the things that mentioned above, it’s still our job to say “I I don’t like that.” We only have to say it once. But it’s our job to say “that’s not cool with me.”

But also, when we say that, don’t question us. And don’t make us repeat our boundaries over and over and over again.

You know what my favorite line in an email is? “You don’t need to respond.” I love that. I just want to throw that in there. It’s such a gift. Because then we don’t have to do that endless thank-you note thing to make sure that the other person doesn’t feel left out or unheard.

Just saying like, “no need to respond,” it’s so good. I’m going to do it more. Same thing with voicemails.

Okay. So quickly, before we end, I just want to point out this wonderful thing that my friend Kerry pointed out to me a few years ago – life changing. And she said “you don’t owe anyone your friendship.”

protecting your boundaries, protecting whatever you need, and leaving relationships where people are not creating brave spaces with you, where people are ignoring your boundaries, where people are having a pattern of behavior that is harming you, even though they know better – or even if they don’t know better –

When you leave, when you do actually have to set very loud boundaries for people who are not getting your gentle, slow fade, they might see that as an escalation. And that is their problem, not yours, what they think about you is none of your business.

If you are if you are not afraid to talk about your needs, and say no to everyone, it’s just this one person or just these few people that you are afraid to be like, “please stop doing that,” then that’s a sign that you’re not making a big deal out of nothing. And then that fear comes from someplace. And it’s not just you.

Talk to people you trust, do not ruminate and gossip, obviously. But it takes me a couple of years to part with people who don’t accept the slow fade and are not listening to my boundaries. Because I wait a really long time before I start talking with my accountability partners, because I don’t want it to be gossip.

But sometimes you do need a third person to be like, “Yeah, that that behavior that they’re doing is not okay. And what you’re talking about. Actually, that sounds completely unreasonable. They should not be doing that.”

Because abusive behavior, harmful behavior – is designed to make you feel like you’re inviting or deserving this behavior. Or it’s your fault for not being clear enough about how much they’re hurting you. So once you tell them once, that should be enough, right?

Accountability partners and friends are for support. They are not responsible for your actions, they should not be making you do anything. And only you get to decide when the pain of placating someone and staying in relationship with a boundary smasher is worse than the risk of irritating them. You know yourself best, right?

So my friend Kerry said this lovely phrase, “you don’t owe anyone your friendship.” Over the years, I’ve added some clauses to it.

You don’t owe anyone your friendship, even if they are an ally or accomplice for yourself advocacy.

You don’t owe anyone your friendship, even if they’re going through a rough time and their parent just died.

You don’t owe anyone your friendship, even if you were friends for a super long time.

You don’t owe anyone your friendship, even if they loaned you a lot of money.

You don’t owe anyone your friendship, even if you instigated the friendship.

You don’t owe anyone your friendship, even if the harm goes both ways.

You just don’t owe anyone your friendship.

Okay, so spring is rebuilding and ending relationships so we can work in collective action. So well, I’ll be back next week. Probably. If I can.

Meanwhile, everything you need is in the resources. There’s transcripts, there’s links in the show notes at

This week’s five minute assignment: Commit: five minutes: If you’re interested in the defining courage parenting workshop on Thursday, the 19th go to and sign up to join the When We Gather collective with Bellamy.

Also, for me, and because this is a reciprocal relationship so I don’t feel like I’m shouting into the void, (which I very much do right now): Share examples! Go to

Click on the episode, leave a comment at You can also leave a voicemail if that’s your thing, or go into the anchor app and respond. Leave a voicemail 781-342-0486 – Tell us one accommodation that you need to feel safe in a relationship or friendship, whatever, and one that you are happy to make for other people when that does not drain your spoons.

Because one of the things we need to know is – we need to hear what is okay because we assume asking for something that makes us comfortable is going to put someone out.

So sometimes it’s kind of nice to hear like “Oh yeah, I totally don’t mind not calling after 9pm. That does not cost me any spoons, any time, any energy. I am happy to do that if it makes someone feel good.”

So tell us one accommodation you need to feel safer, more courageous in your relationships.

You can pull one from the podcast if that sounds cool, like the check-ins, right? And if you want, you can expand on how you’ve raised your kids to cultivate inter-abled friendships in a way that is not tokenizing, but mutually supportive.

Okay, thank you so much. I appreciate you all. Have an awesome day.

Transcripts take a good deal of love & work – support this work if you find them helpful!

Ways to reciprocate: Paypal | Venmo | Ko-fi | Buy a t-shirt | Buy a book

Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Commit To Clear Boundaries

5-Minute Action: Comment below or leave a voicemail

What boundary can you explicitly commit to in your inter-abled friendships?


Alison L May 17, 2022 - 11:29 am

I went for a walk this morning while listening to this episode and started laughing uncontrollably (out loud, by myself, walking down the street) during the good ideas to avoid segment. So just know…you weren’t laughing by yourself alone, you were laughing by yourself in sequential community with others.

Ashia R. May 17, 2022 - 1:48 pm

Oh my gosh, thank you. That is SUCH a relief!

Rachel G. May 18, 2022 - 11:09 am

I laughed right along with you too!!

Ashia R. May 19, 2022 - 11:07 am

Thank goodness!!!

Rachel G. May 18, 2022 - 11:08 am

Oh my goodness, Ashia, this episode was great!! It gave me so much to think about and although I missed Bellamy of course, you really held your own! So, for one accommodation I need in friendships is patience when I’m experiencing a mental health “episode.” I live with bipolar II which comes with low lows and moderate highs and depite helpful treatment and numerous supports, sometimes I really crash and burn. I muster up the effort to say to a friend, “I am an energy SUCK right now, I’m having trouble seeing outside myself and that feels shitty and like I won’t be able to be a supportive friend for a little while. I will re-emerge and I will reach out, I just need some time.” When a friend responds with “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time, I’m here for you, it sounds like you prefer to reach out to me next so I won’t text or call. But know that I’m thinking of you and here when you’re ready” it is SUCH a gift. It removes a lot of pressure to be responsive and I get back to baseline more quickly.

An accommodation I’m more than happy to make is when a friend requests real-time support. I have the flexibility in my schedule that I can often get outside for a walk or check in by phone at that moment, if a friend is asking for it. So I make sure my friends know, “Hey, I’m really fortunate to have a flexible schedule. If you ever need something that feels urgent, like a quick check in by phone, or a walk, or a coffee delivery, please don’t hesitate to reach out. As long as I’m able, I’ll be there for you!”

Tricia May 21, 2022 - 8:54 pm

I am happy to be the one who does all the reaching out, so one friend gave me the awesome gift of saying “I like you and want to spend time with you, but I will never text or call you first. You should contact me. And if I ignore you, it’s because I got busy. But I still want you to contact me again.” Perfect!

And your point is well taken that it’s on me to periodically check in and confirm that is still how she feels.

Ashia R. May 22, 2022 - 11:13 am

Yesss! That hits the spot on satisfying friendship goals.

Comments are closed.

Let's collaborate

Join the free Ignition Notes Newsletter and get monthly email updates when we publish new family action resources.


Ashia Ray & Raising Luminaries are participants in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. We’re also also an affiliate of Little Feminist Book Club and Bookshop, and you’ll find affiliate links for them on this site, too!

©2022 Ashia Ray of Raising Luminaries™. All rights reserved.

Raising Luminaries
Igniting the next generation of kind & courageous leaders
Skip to content