Your Relationships With This One Tip

Are there people in your life who don’t respect your boundaries?

People you can’t talk true around, who use your words against you later?

People who don’t support what is best for you?

People who take and take, leaving you drained?

If you are nodding your head, you might need more discernment when it comes to who has access to you, and how much.

In this episode, I am covering what discernment is, why being discerning with the people in our life is important, how to practice discernment, and how discernment can improve the quality of your life and your relationships.

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

What Is Discernment?

Discernment is the ability to make intelligent, thoughtful, and mindful decisions and judgments.

It is also our ability to discern what we want, what we need, and what is healthy or unhealthy for us.

When we use knowledge and insight to form an opinion, or when we evaluate information and situations, we are practicing discernment. Our ability to discern is influenced by our lived experiences.

Discernment is a big part of achieving and sustaining vibrant mental wellness, which (as many of you know) is what my whole mission is about.

For example, it is important to make mindful choices about how we spend our time and with whom.

But many of us are operating on autopilot. We automatically say “yes” to commitments we later regret, we stay in stressful friendships, or we become conflict-avoidant to the point of self-abandonment.

These automatic responses often block us from tapping into using our discernment when it comes to the people in our lives.

Differentiating Between Preferences, Limits, Desires, and Deal-Breakers

It is important to know what your preferences, desires, limits, and deal-breakers are and have the ability to clearly communicate them.

If you are unclear about your boundaries or cannot express them, this might lead to confusion in your relationships or prevent the people in your life from making informed decisions. This can complicate building good relationships with others.

Discernment also helps us distinguish between preferences, limits, desires, and deal-breakers. Even though they all fall under the broad category of boundaries, they are not the same thing.

Let’s review each to gain more clarity around them.

What are preferences?

Preferences are things that can be negotiated or compromised on.

For example, you may prefer tea over coffee, or showering over taking a bath.

Preferences matter because they are part of who you are, but they are not as important as your deal-breakers or even your desires.

What are desires?

Your desires are a little deeper than your preferences.

Let’s say you have a desire to retire somewhere warm.

This is a big life goal and is more than a preference as it has a large impact on your life.

What are deal-breakers?

Deal-breakers are non-negotiable for you. Being discerning means you know you have a right to them and you are okay asserting them.

I remember a deal-breaker I asserted with Vic after we had discussed getting married: you have to stay fit and healthy to the best of your ability.

He was already 10 years older than me, which concerned me. Statistically, he will most likely transition before I do, and I want him to be here as long as I can possibly have him.

At the time, we both prioritized being physically fit, but I told Vic this had to be a forever thing, not a just-for-now thing.

I had previously broken up with a long-term boyfriend because he was not physically fit. It was not a judgment thing, it was a quality of life thing. I wanted to take adventurous vacations and easily walk four miles with my partner anytime and anywhere I wanted. I have this with Vic.

Some people have judged me for my deal-breakers, but I don’t give a crap. My deal-breaker is for me. Vic had every option and right to say he did not care about his health and was not going to stay in shape.

Being able to talk about our deal-breakers in relationships is important, regardless of what other people might think about them. They matter to you, and you have a right to them.

Discernment Versus Judgment

Another place where we have to be discerning is knowing whether we are judging someone else, rather than using discernment.

In the scenario I just shared, it might seem like I was judging Vic, but I was saying what I needed.

Judgment is other-focused- you are determining there is something wrong with the other person.

Of course, the problem with judgment is you are not always right.

When we judge others, we are also on the wrong side of the street. What other people do is on their side of the street, unless it impacts you.

For example, if Vic willfully became a couch potato, did not go for his annual physical, or did not listen to his cardiologist, it would impact me because I love him and would feel compelled to take care of him.

Let’s use another example: someone in your life has a drinking problem, which distresses you. Judgment might say, “You are weak because you cannot stop drinking. I do not love or respect you when you drink.”

Discernment might say, “I choose to set boundaries around my exposure to you when you are drinking because I love you and I love myself.” The more you are exposed to someone when they are drinking, the more distressed you become, and the more damaging it is to the relationship.

Think of it this way- discernment is empowering and creates boundary possibilities, whereas judgment is a dead end where you simply label the person as bad.

How Family Dysfunction Impacts Discernment

If you grew up in a family culture of dysfunction, abuse, or addiction, you may find it difficult to discern what is or is not healthy.

When love and pain are intertwined in childhood, it becomes ‘normal’ and may lead to painful adult relationships as we (often unknowingly) repeat unhealthy patterns from our family of origin.

It does not need to be this way.

When you develop discernment between what is healthy and unhealthy, you can decide to have a different experience from what was true for the adults in your life or even your own childhood.

This begins with reclaiming the power you have to protect yourself emotionally and energetically. You can choose who you let yourself be vulnerable with.

You do not have to answer every intrusive question asked. You do not have to grant unfettered access to your internal life or your tender heart to emotionally untrustworthy folks.

My advice would be, don’t.

Be Discerning About What You Share With Whom

The self-awareness you need to be discerning is important in each of your relationships.

For example, we need to be discerning about how much we share about ourselves and with whom.

I see this a lot with my therapy clients seeking intimacy. They meet someone they like and share deeply personal information in an effort to forge a greater connection, only to regret it later.

If you share vulnerable information with someone else, it is important to ensure the person is emotionally trustworthy first.

Many of us tend to project our positive qualities (this is called positive projection) onto other people. Just because you are emotionally trustworthy does not mean everyone else is.

How can we become more discerning about whom we let ourselves be vulnerable with?


Let people reveal themselves and gather evidence of their trustworthiness.

This does not necessarily mean hoping they fail. It just means slowing down and taking your time when building relationships.

New relationships, whether romantic or platonic, are a luxury. There is something magical about the beginning of a relationship. We do not need to rush and make insta-intimacy happen. (It does not exist, anyway.)

Many of my clients fall into this trap and find themselves questioning why they felt compelled to share sensitive information with people they barely know.

Ask Yourself This Question

If you are wondering whether you need more discernment in your relationships, ask yourself this question: how do you feel after interacting with the people in your life?

If you are endlessly exhausted or feel used and abused after you are with someone, take note. This is a relationship you might want to change, and you can change the rules of engagement.

Many of you have written in with comments indicating you do not feel like you have a choice in your relationships. Like if you have a difficult family member, you have to deal with them and deal with them on their terms. Or if you have a childhood friend, you have to be friends with them because you are “friends forever.”

Here is the thing: one of the Boundary Boss Bill of Rights is the right to make mistakes, to course correct, and to change your mind.

Part of becoming more discerning is giving yourself permission to change your mind about how much access someone has to you.

There is nothing wrong with this. It does not matter who the person is. You can even do it with a family member.

If you have found yourself needing permission to change the dynamic with someone in your life, this is me giving it to you.

5 Strategies to Become More Discerning

In the guide (which you can download here), I give you strategies to become more discerning, and I will go over a few here.

#1: Be Selective

You need to be selective about who has access to you and how much access they have.

Your VIP Section represents a sacred place in your heart, mind, and life. It is (or should be) reserved for nourishing, enlivening, and energizing connections.

Not everyone in your life deserves to be there.

If you find yourself over-giving, over-doing, or twisting yourself up into a pretzel for certain people in your life, you need to decide if these relationships are valuable to you and how you want to proceed.

Need some help? I walk you through an inventory in the guide- you can download it here.

#2: Stop the Auto-Yes

Being discerning means knowing what someone is asking of you before committing to it. You need this clarity to manage expectations and avoid feelings of overwhelm and anger.

Someone in my Boundary Bootcamp course recently shared that she agreed to write a speech for an old friend before realizing she was traveling the next day. She barely slept and was exhausted by the end. She wanted to know how she could avoid this situation in the future.

I told her, remember this feeling. You cannot travel back in time and change what happened, but you can remember how you felt and give yourself permission to change your mind next time.

This may have looked like agreeing and then telling her friend, “You know what? I just realized I am traveling early the next morning. I will not have the bandwidth to do this speech justice. I have to hand it back to you. I can look at the draft after you get it together, though.”

This is how we set limits with folks. Even if you rock the auto-yes, I promise you can still change your mind.

#3: Context vs. Convincing

You need to be discerning with how much information you give people when setting a boundary with them.

You do not need to provide context to everyone, especially acquaintances. When you provide a lot of context, it might sound like you are trying to justify your boundary (which you do not need to do).

I provide context to the people I love if I want them to understand me more deeply. For example, if my sister was hosting a cocktail party the night before I had a big presentation, I would not just say “no” to her invitation.

I would say, “Hey, I have a presentation super early the next day I have to prepare for. I am so sorry, but I will have to miss it.”

This is not the same as justifying my boundary. I am simply giving my sister context so she understands I would be there if I did not have the presentation.

#4: Feedback Needs Respect

We also need to become discerning about who we take feedback from. If you do not respect someone, who gives a crap what they think about you?

You shouldn’t.

Instead, set boundaries with the people who feel like they need to tell you what is on their mind at all times. (We all know someone who does this!)

Here is a script you can use: “Oh, hey Uncle Bob, I am not seeking input on this. I’m good. I will figure it out on my own.”

Will Uncle Bob like this?

No, but I will like it less if I have to sit through another lecture from Uncle Bob I do not want to listen to anyway.

#5: Become More Mindful

Increasing your mindfulness can help you be more discerning.

Practices like guided meditation, breathing exercises, and journaling can create more internal space and self-awareness.

Tending to this internal sacred space allows you to respond mindfully, rather than with a knee-jerk reaction. And responding mindfully is the definition of being discerning- you are making an informed and mindful decision.

The more you flex your mindfulness muscles with these practices, the easier it is to shift away from automatically accommodating other people or letting the status quo stand, because it does not need to stand if it does not work for you.

I have included a few mindfulness resources in the guide for the episode. Download it if you want to begin increasing your mindfulness today!

Let me know if this episode was helpful for you. Tag me on Instagram (@terricole) in a post or a story and I will repost it, and please share this with the people in your world who could use it.

Thank you so much for spending your time here and as always, take care of you.

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  1. I started listening to your podcast recently, and there are so many relatable gems!! Thank you for helping provide context around why one may be feeling a certain way and suggesting ways to improve. My one ask is some of the content is about your husband who you do choose. How would you respond if let’s say it was Vic’s parents who are overweight, and so you don’t have much in common as far as they’re always slow to go anywhere, do anything, but your significant other isn’t that way. If it were potential friends you have nothing in common with, it’s normal to say ehh didn’t mesh, move on. Any thoughts on when it’s in laws who don’t value the same things?

    1. Hi Victoria, thank you for listening! I’m so glad to have you in my crew. ❤️ If I’m understanding your question correctly- we can have different dealbreakers for different situations and relationships. I wouldn’t necessarily have the same “you must prioritize staying healthy” dealbreaker for my in-laws as that does not affect my life in the same way. If your in-laws have different values and you tend to clash on them, then I would recommend setting boundaries to protect yourself and the relationship. For example, if it’s politics, maybe politely decline engaging in those conversations and redirecting. “I would really prefer talking about … instead. I’m so curious to hear how it went!” Let me know if that answered your question.

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