Who has ever said yes to something but were internally screaming a no?
We all have people asking us for time, money, attention, physical or emotional connection, labor, and on and on. Helping others, giving them our time or attention is a good thing, so I want to clarify that boundaries are not just about saying no. Boundaries are about making thoughtful choices which allow us to say yes to the things we want to say yes to.
We humans are social creatures. We are driven to seek connections with others. Forming connections, or attachments, helps us navigate challenges in life. Much like a toddler will cling to her parent’s leg, step away to explore, then run back when they need reassurance. Saying no to a request goes against our need to connect with others. However, when we repeatedly say yes to things we don’t feel good about, we can end up neglecting our own needs. This turns an act of kindness that helped us feel good and brought us joy, into a burden that we feel resentful of.
Resentment is an interesting experience. It’s a low simmer, just under the surface, that tells us something isn’t right. Something about the situation feels off. We might feel taken advantage of, unheard, or manipulated. Each experience where we feel resentment adds a link in our chain of resentment. They build upon each other, and if we continue to carry the chain around, and add to it, it will get heavier and heavier. This resentment chain makes it difficult to want to say yes to anything, because we’re constantly on guard, looking to protect ourselves.
Setting boundaries allows us to set down the chain. When we can stop carrying it around, we’ll have more energy to make the kind of thoughtful decisions that bring us joy.
Why is it hard to set boundaries?
-fear on loss/abandonment/loneliness
-fear of anger
-fear of self perception (I’m a good person, good people sacrifice for others)
-fear of approval (will other people think I’m a good person?)
-guilt for disappointing or hurting someone.
Feelings of resentment, fear, or guilt are indicators that there is an area of your life that needs boundary work.
Here are three concrete tools for helping to establish boundaries in your own life.
1. Have a Plan
It can be difficult to think clearly if you feel put on the spot. Having responses planned out ahead can help buy you time to evaluate whether the request is something you are willing or able to meet. One example, “I’ll have to check my calendar, but I’ll get back to you” can buy you some time to evaluate if the request is something you have the time/energy/desire to meet.
2. Don’t Explain
Sometimes, in an attempt to soften our “no”, we offer explanations that may or may not accurately represent our true reasons for saying no. This can be dangerous as it gives the requester the ability to counter with an adapted request that may feel more difficult to refuse.
3. Offer an Alternative
Offer an alternative if there is one that you feel good about. “I’m not able to make that planning meeting, but I will write up my proposal and email it to you before friday”.
All of us have boundaries. Whether we communicate them openly or not, we are setting boundaries. Holding back, or acquiescing out of fear or guilt means we are setting an loose boundary that will likely lead us to feel resentment. Setting clear and proactive boundaries allows us to form relationships with others, free of resentment, and allows us a greater sense of peace and joy.
If you are struggling to set boundaries in your life, and would like help learning how to make changes to reduce feelings of fear, resentment, or anger, call and schedule an appointment with Alice. 801-944-4555.
Alice Roberts, CSW