When I was about 11 years old, my mother gave me a button that read, “I just said no and I don’t feel guilty.” Geezzz. Setting healthy boundaries though needed and necessary is often a difficult task for most people.
Yet, let’s face it – without healthy boundaries, people find themselves in situations they wish they didn’t. They say yes when they really wanted to say no. All those “yes” responses means overextending ourselves. Healthy becomes unhealthy. Quickly.
How do we feel when we overextend ourselves? Exhausted, irritated, and angry. These feelings can lead us to not only engage in unhealthy behaviors and lifestyles but take our anger out on others in an attempt to quell that internal simmering anger and irritability at ourselves for not saying no when given the opportunity.
Because I used to be one of those people, until I wasn’t (well, not perfectly but no longer have a need for that button!), I truly understand the challenges and the guilt that often accompanies saying no and standing up for yourself.
In addition to time, practice, patience, determination, and an investment in yourself, concrete action steps are necessary to setting necessary and healthy boundaries. Saying no and setting boundaries in small doses is a skill that can be developed.
1. Move yourself to the top of list. That’s right. Honor your schedule, needs, and values. Know what they are. Equally important, know what they are not. I realize there are times times when we have to do something even if we don’t want to. We cannot escape all of those times. But even those times need limitations. Get in the habit of when asked to do something, ask yourself if this something that you want to do or feel you should do? Big difference.
2. Examine your motive. Have you thought about why you always say yes to things that you really want to say no to? Do you struggle with someone being upset with you if you set a boundary? Are you afraid they might not like you if you say no to them? Why do you continue to say yes to things?
We are all motivated and driven by different things. Find out what drives your behaviors and examine your feelings attached to those behaviors. The answer may just surprise you. Is this a fear, feeling or a fact? Most likely a fear or feeling. Think about it.
3. Hit the pause button and take five. Hit the pause button by not allowing yourself to do your usual “knee jerk” response of yes. Stop and think. Again, is this something that you want to do or feel you should do. Would it be so bad to take a few minutes and telling that person that you will get back to them once you check your schedule? Do you have to answer them at that moment? Probably not. Think about it. And then get back to them.
Giving yourself the necessary time and space to make a rational, not emotional decision is a game changer. A decision that in the end will make you feel empowered – even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. Eventually it will.
4. No backpedaling!. Honor your initial response of saying no and don’t change your mind based on feeling guilty because they will get used to that behavior and expect it again.
What to expect. Spoiler alert! It ain’t always pretty.
1.) Some backlash from people who are surprised by your change in behavior. After all, you are changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game without giving them notice. Your “no” will come as a surprise. Their reaction, most likely in displayed agitation OR silence, will speak volumes about how they feel about your response. They want to keep doing the same dance with you. It serves a purpose – for them. Don’t give in.
2. Recognize that feeling bad or “guilty” for setting boundaries – especially in the beginning- is normal. Expect it, recognize it, and learn how to move past it. Initially, people feel they are doing something wrong, by not saying yes. But you are not. You are taking responsibility for your life, your decisions, your path, your time.
3. Expect the ol’ change takes time. Yes it does. Don’t expect that setting boundaries will occur naturally, quickly, or overnight. You will have many fits and starts. That’s ok. Patience is key. Staying true to your investment in this change is key.
4. Remember, when you start setting boundaries, people will be put off by this and will likely ask you again with the hope that you will change your mind. Based on your previous behaviors they probably counted you “in” before they got your official answer. Can you blame them? Don’t you do the same to others? That’s ok. Stay true to what you want to do.
Many people struggle with setting their own boundaries. When a person starts to set healthy boundaries its a reminder to those who don’t, that they don’t.
Eventually, you will get to a place where you can say, “No button needed!” and will feel more comfortable drawing the line in the sand.