Recently, one of my best friends got hives at the aspect of telling someone no.
Red, itchy, blotchy hives.
What did she turn down, you ask? Was it organ donation or a marriage proposal? Clearly, it was something epic and life-changing, right?
She was asked if she could cover a shift at her part-time job. One of three jobs that she currently has. She turned it down because she hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours in three days and desperately needed rest.
Her answer and the reasoning behind it were as valid as you can get, and still, she broke out in hives. Anxious that she was inconveniencing her employer by choosing her health over covering a shift.
For every person reading this who thinks that this story is bonkers, there is another person nodding their head in solidarity, feeling my friend’s pain with every word.
Those are the people who haven’t mastered boundaries.
We’ve all been there. If you are in any of our Facebook groups or are reading this on our website, I’m going to guess that you are not good at establishing boundaries, and that causes you, among other things, stress, frustration, ANXIETY, and maybe even some resentment.
We’ve all been there. I myself am a recovering people pleaser, a reformed doormat. I’ve gone from letting people wipe their boots on my soul to being mostly able to draw lines around the sacred parts of my life. It’s not easy. There is pushback. Some people don’t like it.
Here’s the thing though, the people who don’t like it aren’t your people.
Establishing and reinforcing boundaries is an issue that has gained traction. It makes sense, given the fact that we are accessible to everyone 24/7. We constantly have people chipping away at our precious time and we are helpless when it comes to saying no.
We will forgo sleep, free time, and time with our loved ones in order to fulfill an obligation that we aren’t all that stoked about, to begin with. This begs the question; are we concerned about ourselves and our wellbeing, or are we worried about how the other party is going to feel when attempting to place boundaries?
Katy and I were discussing this issue as it pertained to her taking a sick day. Like me, she and Laura are people pleasers, so we provide each other with backbone from time to time (Teamwork DOES make the dream work!) She wasn’t feeling well, and in the time of COVID, all signs pointed to STAY HOME, but she was still wracked with guilt for canceling her clients for that day.
The similarities to what my bestie was going through at the same time could not be ignored. Katy, someone who would advise anyone else in her position to choose their health and wellbeing over the potential, and temporary disappointment of others, truly struggled with the decision to pack it in for the day. She was willing to soldier through her own illness in order to keep other people from being mildly inconvenienced.
I’m guessing at this point, some of you have gone beyond nodding in agreement, and are now shouting at your computer screens in solidarity, seeing a kindred spirit in those moments of doubt.
Like we always do in the office when dealing with a conundrum, Katy leaned on what she tells her clients when they are struggling with choosing themselves over pleasing others.
Think about how you feel when you place a boundary. Focus on how it feels in your body. Pay close attention to it.
Do you feel tension in your shoulders? A rumbling in your belly? Tightness in your jaw? Ringing in your ears?
Now, if you met an alien who had no idea about those feelings, how would you explain them?
Then, think about other physical discomfort/pain that you encounter in life, like hitting your shin, having a headache, dealing with a stomach bug. Is that worse than the feeling that you are currently experiencing?
If you can, and you do, endure that pain, then you can sit with the momentary discomfort that comes with placing a boundary.
Like so many other things that Katy and Laura have taught me, this one was a game-changer. My discomfort at establishing boundaries usually meant that I was losing a piece of myself in some way. I gave an inch and when someone decided to ask for that mile, I was incensed. But why? I was the one who set the precedent.
Being unable to place a boundary can cause problems beyond feeling taken advantage of. It can affect you professionally, it can damage important relationships, and it can set you up for burnout.
And of course, it makes those anxiety symptoms that you are working so hard to keep under control ramp up, hence the physical symptoms!
The way that I started to look at boundaries is that I am exchanging moments of discomfort for longer periods of anxiety leading up to the thing that I said that I would do because I didn’t want to upset the other person.
Like everything you are trying to work on in life, this takes practice and progress is not a straight line. Remember, I said I was a ‘recovering’ people pleaser. I still give in from time to time, but now, I’m better at identifying the where, why and how.
Where am I feeling the discomfort in my body?
Why am I feeling this way?
How can I place a boundary in the way that is best for me?
I will even go as far as trying another trick that I learned from Katy and Laura; playing out my catastrophic thought to the end. I ride out the worst-case scenario of placing the boundary, of saying ‘no’. I look at my imaginary scenario from beginning to end, and then I test its validity.
I ask it some questions, like “Even if that does happen, is that the worst thing?”
I also ask “If this person gets upset, or doesn’t understand why you are doing what you are doing, are they considering what’s best for you, or what’s best for them?”
As you can guess, my boundary placing can take time, but if I rely on the basic idea of temporary discomfort leading to lasting peace, I usually am able to make the right decision and place a boundary in the kindest way possible.
We all strive to be good people. We want to be there for everyone in our lives, but we truly cannot give anyone our best if we are not first giving it to ourselves.
If a boundary wasn’t placed, my bestie would have covered that shift but would have hated every moment that she was there. Since she was exhausted, she probably wouldn’t have been in the best mental space. She would be irritable and ‘phoning it in. Given her work ethic (Remember, I said she works THREE JOBS!) that would have bothered her more.
If a boundary hadn’t been placed, Katy would have stayed and more than likely, her illness would have worsened, forcing her to take an involuntary sick day or multiple days. She also would have run the risk of making others sick in the process, which would have devastated her.
When we look at boundaries as not just helping us, but helping others as well, it can enable even us chronic people pleasers to be more consistent at being able to say no.
…and it may save some of us money on Benadryl.