This is a work in progress for me! It’s something I’m much better at, but I still need major improvements. Every experience I have where I’m being polite and obliging when I feel frustrated, pissed off and a firey rage is slowly building on the inside is a ‘learning experience’.
I had a ‘learning experience’ the other day!
I pride myself on having a very free and flexible working life. I work from home and it’s fabulous. The problem is, sometimes it’s a bit too free and flexible. If I get a spur of the moment invitation for lunch, I would often say yes! A friend who has been away for a while was back home and text me to see if he could call over for lunch, I said yes; that I was working but was happy to stop for lunch with him. He said no problem, he’d be over in an hour for an hour. Great stuff!
He arrived anyway, 2 year old nephew in tow! We couldn’t really have a catch up, he was too busy running around after a 2 year old and I was running around after my puppy, Lilo, who was so excited to have someone her own size to play with. (How cute is she!!!)
Ninety minutes into this one hour ‘pop in for lunch’ visit, we finally sat down and had a sandwich. At this stage, my shoulders were tense and I had that tightness in my chest where I could feel the rage rising in me.
The mind monkey chatter in my head was yapping away, having a great debate saying things like ‘Tell him to get lost, he’s totally disrespecting your working day’ ‘It would so rude to ask them to leave’ ‘what would he think of you if you behaved that way?’. ‘He’ll think you are a right bitch if you say that’ etc etc.
So, what was going on here? I was getting annoyed with myself because I was allowing my friend to disrespect me and my time. Oh yes of course, I wanted to blame him for the fact that he was hampering my working day and putting me under pressure. But it wasn’t his fault at all! It was all me. I was the one offering more tea, I was the one who wouldn’t speak up, I was the one who wasn’t setting clear boundaries, I was the one assuming that he would know that I was very busy. On the outside, I was a hospitable hostess. On the inside, I was a raging, irritated crazy psycho bitch!
As I said, I’m normally much better at this which is why I think today made such an impact. Because I hadn’t seen this particular friend for a while, I simply fell back into an old pattern of behaviour. I hadn’t clearly established my new boundaries.
I know this isn’t just me! I’ve had so many emails and questions from other women in their 20s and 30s asking ‘How do I say no without feeling guilty? or ‘How do I set clear boundaries and stop letting people take advantage?’
So, why do we do this??
From the moment we are old enough to curl our hands and snatch toys from our fellow playschool companions, we are told not to be selfish. We’re told to ‘put others first and don’t be so greedy’ etc etc. It’s no wonder that we’re all so concerned about being perceived as selfish or mean; that we now feel terrible for ever having the audacity of putting ourselves first and saying no. We may win friends with our selflessness, but the damage this causes to our own self-respect is huge!
Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and a healthy life. Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill. Unfortunately, it’s a skill that many of us don’t learn! We might pick up pointers here and there from experience or through watching others. But for many of us, boundary-building is a relatively new concept and a challenging one.
Having healthy boundaries means ‘knowing, understanding and communicating what you will tolerate and what you will not.’ Here are a few tips on building better boundaries and maintaining them. (I’m reviewing my old lessons and journals to bring you these tips as I need them myself today!)
1. Tune into your feelings.
There are two key feelings that can be red flags that our boundaries are being crossed. They are: discomfort and resentment. If in any situation you are feeling strong feelings of resentment or discomfort, ask yourself ‘what is causing that feeling?’ ‘What is it about this situation or person that is bothering me?’
Resentment usually comes from being taken advantage of, disrespected or not appreciated. It’s often a sign that we’re pushing ourselves either beyond our own limits because we feel guilty or because someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values on us. Women in general tend to have weaker boundaries than men due to our upbringing because we’ve been raised to be ‘good girls’, polite, respectful etc!
2. Give yourself permission.
Fear, guilt and self-doubt are big potential pitfalls to setting boundaries. We might fear the other person’s response if we set and enforce our boundaries. We might feel guilty by speaking up or saying no to a family member or friend. Many women believe that they should be able to cope with a situation or say yes because they’re a ‘good/nice person’, even though they “feel drained or taken advantage of.” Boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationship; they’re a sign of self-respect. So give yourself the permission to set boundaries and work to preserve them.
3. Make self-care a priority.
You need to make self-care a priority – this involves giving yourself permission to put yourself first. When we do this, our need and motivation to set boundaries become stronger. Self-care also means recognising the importance of your feelings and honoring them. These feelings serve as important cues about our wellbeing and about what makes us happy and unhappy.
Putting yourself first also gives you the energy, peace of mind and positive outlook to be more present with others and be there for them.” And when we’re in a better place, we can be a better partner, friend and co-worker.
4. Seek support.
If you’re having a hard time with boundaries, seek some support! A great thing to do with friends or family is to make it a priority with each other to practice setting boundaries together and hold each other accountable.
Setting boundaries takes courage, practice and support. And remember that it’s a skill you can master.
I actually did decide to speak to my friend and explain how I had felt as a result of his visit. I took personal responsibility for my feelings and said that I hadn’t explained my boundaries to him but that it was really important to me that I honour my working day and structure even though I work from home. His response was
‘Awww, Paulie, I’m really sorry, I didn’t realise.
You should have just said!’