One of the first steps of establishing self-respect and garnering respect from others is to know your boundaries, and when/how to enforce them. This can be challenging to do, since we generally care to be liked by others, and saying no, or expressing non-tolerance, can result in confrontation or negative judgment. This is especially hard for “people pleasers” – defined as those who exert a lot of energy prioritizing the needs of others over their own, and sacrifices self in order to be liked and accepted by others.
If you can identify with this behavior, you may find yourself feeling drained, under-appreciated, and constantly harboring guilt. Doing things out of obligation can cause resentment, and allowing others to impose their needs on you can make you feel taken advantage of. Here are some tips on how you can harness the power of no in order to maintain integrity with your own values and needs.
Establish Your Non-Negotiables
Whether it be romantic relationships or friendships, define what values are important to you and what your non-negotiables are. This list will vary from person to person. We all have our “thing” – an issue or tipping point that we are extra sensitive to. Perhaps you have a no-drug policy because you had a traumatic experience with an ex taking drugs. Perhaps you prize honesty above everything else because you were cheated on in the past. There are some boundaries that when crossed, can be worked out and there are others that have a more black and white consequence. Know where the hard lines are. Expect that when you tolerate the breaking of a boundary, resentment will likely ensue.
Speak Your Intention
Different relationship dynamics come with different expectations, standards and unspoken rules. Confusion and disappointment are often the result when two people have conflicting ideas of what that relationship dynamic is. To avoid this, clarify where people stand with you. Is the person you are seeing on a regular basis and sharing intimate moments really just a “friend” or is there an unspoken rule of monogamy that is expected? Should the childhood friend (whom you no longer have any compatibility with) receive the same amount of energy and investment that you give to your inner circle of your present life? If you find that people have unrealistic expectations of you and are constantly demanding more of you than what you can give, it may be a cue that some clarity is needed. Speaking your intention and letting people know where they stand can iron out the acceptable and non-acceptable expectations that fall within that dynamic.
Learn How to Communicate a Breach of Boundaries
The people in your life will mess up. They will make mistakes that will hurt you. They will act selfishly at times and at times may be too overwhelmed dealing with their own lives even when you need them most. These things will happen to you, and you will likely do some of these things to others. We’re human, we make mistakes, and hopefully we learn from those mistakes so we minimize the hurt and pain we cause others because of our lack of experience. Great relationships are not built on avoiding conflict or mistakes, rather, adversity can be an opportunity for two people to become closer.
However, that doesn’t mean you tolerate repeated poor behavior and disregard from your your loved ones. It is important to hold others accountable when they cross a boundary with you. This may be scary, because you don’t want to close the door on a relationship with someone. But if someone can’t handle the hard questions and truthful conversations, you need to seriously wonder if that relationship has an inevitable expiry date. Here is a suggestion on how to frame the conversation:
A) Present the facts and how it affected you:
“When <discuss the act/behavior that occurred that breached your boundary>, I felt <discuss how the act made you feel>.” Don’t make an overgeneralization or character attack (e.g. “You’re always so selfish”). Such statements attack character, and those conversations just result in two people reacting on the defense.
B) Explain why this is not okay with you:
Clarify how the act breached a boundary of yours and how this conflicts with your values.
C) Inject empathy and be solutions-oriented:
Your desired outcome is an improvement in behavior for the future. Dwelling on right/wrong and blame will not contribute to the result you want. Empathize, acknowledge and move forward to find the solution.
Here is an example:
When I found out that you lied about the situation, I felt hurt and disrespected. Trust is a key value of mine, and honest communication is something I find important in my close friends. I feel that I am honest and considerate of you, and would expect the same respect in return. I want you to know that lying is not okay with me. While I understand that you may have felt uncomfortable telling me the truth, how can we make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future?
You can use language that can communicate your boundaries in a more gentle manner. Here are a few suggestions:
“I’m not comfortable with…”
“Let me think about it.”
“I’d like to help you, but there are some other priorities that need my attention and focus right now.”
“This doesn’t fit because it’s not aligned with my goals and the vision I have…”
Evaluate. Edit. Evolve
The people you surround yourself with, you become. The ones you invest your time in and let occupy your headspace will affect your energy, attitude and subsequently how you are with others. Just because you have history with someone does not mean that person should get automatic status into your present and future. Your stage of life, values and priorities change, and sometimes you need to update who you surround yourself with. For example, your wing-person from your crazy single days who is still spending weekends getting drunk at the club may not understand that you now have a family, and you can’t just take off for a weekend to Vegas like you used to. As you grow, the people in your life need to be reassessed to see if they still fit. Evaluate. Edit. Evolve.
Saying no can be uncomfortable because you don’t want to disappoint or reject someone. However, there is only so much of your time, energy and resources to go around. If you continue to let others deplete you and burden you with guilt, you won’t have the energy reserved to give to yourself and the people/projects that you really want to expend your love and attention to. You will come across people who will project their expectations on to you, and position favors and requests as if you owe it to them. If you feel that you cannot say no, or that you’ll be judged or disliked because you are standing ground for your own needs and priorities, you may want to take a hard look at the dynamic of that relationship, and evaluate if it’s healthy for you.
[infobox bg=”redlight” color=”black” opacity=”on” subtitle=”Dr. Judith Sills”]”If you feel you can’t say ‘no’, at least to some things, some of the time, then you are not being loved – you are being controlled.”[/infobox]
Photo credit: Frank Busch