“Yes” – it’s one simple word, but it’s a word that holds amazing power in our life.
Yes to doing the extra work…even if it leads you closer to burnout.
Yes to hanging out with the friend who drains you…because you feel bad.
Yes to the one night stand…even though you said you wouldn’t cheat.
Yes. Of course. No problem. Sure thing. Whatever you need. I can do that. I’ll be there. No worries.
These words are far easier for me to say than “No”.
I have spent a good majority of my life as a chronic people pleaser and while I’m recovering from the “disease to please”, it’s far too easy to fall back into Yes’s. Before I was even aware that I had this incessant need to please, I simply chalked up my actions and all that I did for everyone else to being a kind, caring and compassionate person – the person that would do anything and everything for you. I wore that title like some sort of medal of honor, as if me putting other needs before my own somehow many me a “better” person. But the more I did, the more burnout I felt. The more I gave, the less I had to give. The more I said yes, the less I felt able to match other’s expectations and demands.
Who you are is not wrapped up in what you do for other people.
On some level we’re all wrapped up in this game of people pleasing. We say yes to have people like us or view us in a certain way. We say yes to not feel the guilt of letting someone else down. We say yes to avoid confrontation and difficult conversations. And when we say yes based on these terms, we avoid setting healthy limits.
This past weekend a situation happened that made me take a real hard look at what it is I’m saying yes to and how much of myself – my time, energy and attention – I am willing to sacrifice for others. I left this situation feeling drained, tired and on the verge of feeling like I was getting physically sick. In fact, the situation had me so wound up that I was starting my day with gripping anxiety and ending my day exhausted and overwhelmed. It would have been easy in this situation to blame everything I was feeling solely on the actions of someone else and the events that transpired. It’s easy in any situation where we don’t feel good – be it drained, tired, exhausted, angry, frustrated, whatever – to attribute that less than desirable feeling to the thing that actually happened or to what someone else said or did rather than take a close look at the pain itself.
Pain is life’s greatest teacher and it will ask you to wake the f*ck up.
What I’ve learned over the years, is that when I’m in a state of stress and feeling a great deal of discomfort or pain in some area of my life, there is something else at hand I need to more closely examine. Nearly every time, if not all the time, the reason I am feeling the way I’m feeling has less to do with the actions of someone else or the event itself and everything to do with what I am saying yes to and allowing into my life. And when I sat with this particular situation, I realized I was saying yes to a lot of things:
I said yes to doing more than was expected and putting others needs before my own.
I said yes to feeling bad and allowing someone else to have that power over me.
I said yes to my worry, spiraling a story that could potentially unravel, but one that I can’t entire control or know.
The reason I was suffering – regardless of the situation or how right or wrong it was – was because I was saying yes to the things that were not serving me and in saying yes, I couldn’t find the edges where I ended and others began.
Where I end and you begin…
Psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townshend, in their book, Boundaries, write: “Boundaries define what is me and what is not me…a boundary shows me where I end and you begin”.
For the chronic people pleasers among us, the ones who can’t say no, we’re not just saying yes to whatever it is the other person is asking of us. What we’re also saying yes to is a life without boundaries.
When we think about boundaries, we tend to think of restrictions and constraints – rules that we have to stick to that in someway limit us from total freedom. But, the reality is a life without boundaries is a life that keeps us a victim to our circumstances and other people, one that has us act from a place of fear or lack and one that leaves us feeling drained, overwhelmed, resentful and exhausted.
When we set healthy boundaries – when we make clear what is OK and what is not OK and why – we are able to live a life according to the values that are important to us, a life that is truer to who we are.
Just like a physical fence protects what’s inside and what’s outside, when we set healthy boundaries, we protect our own selves. Whether these boundaries are physically, emotional, spiritual or mental, our boundaries help us feel safe, give us a sense of control and protect the things that are most valuable to ourselves.
Signs You Need to Work on Setting Boundaries
You find yourself saying yes to things you’d rather not do, just to avoid upsetting or disappointing someone else.
You feel resentful of people asking too much of you and it seems to happen often.
You find yourself feeling that most of what you do is for other people – and they may not even appreciate it.
The stress you feel from disappointing someone is greater than the stress of doing the things that inconvenience or drain you.
Where You Begin and Others End
Get Clear on Your Limits
Think about all the times over the last month you said Yes when you didn’t want to. How did it leave you feeling? Angry, resentful, drained, exhausted? How did the situation affect you? Did it create more anxiety? Did it have you give up or miss out on otherwise important things in your life?
Getting clear on our limits requires us to tune into how we feel. Three key feelings that are often red flags that we need to set boundaries are discomfort, resentment and guilt. These feelings are much like a “check engine light” in your car for your personal boundary system. It’s a warning that your personal energy field has been breached and you’re letting stuff in that isn’t yours.
When our boundaries aren’t clear, we let in all sorts of stuff that isn’t ours and we give away our personal energy unconsciously.
Tell People Your Limits
An invisible fence only works with pets, so you have to voice your limits and what you will or won’t do – and yes this requires you to say, “No”.
Being straight forward and honest about what you can do or what you are willing to do gives you an exponential sense of freedom over your life because at the end of the day you are only going to do what it is you feel comfortable doing. Beyond that, telling people your limits will actually allow the people who matter to respect you more. It’s easy to let a sense of guilt, letting someone else down or fear of rejection pull us into saying yes to something we don’t want to do. But the more we do that, the more we send the message that the other person can take advantage of us and that our boundaries don’t matter (or we simply don’t have them).
Who you are is not wrapped up in what you do or don’t do for other people.
Respect the Limits You Set
Once you identify your boundaries, treat the boundaries you set as a nonnegotiable agreement. Think of them as a “No Trespassing” sign which sends a clear message that if you violate this boundary, there will be a consequence.
Respecting the limits you set isn’t just about saying “No” to the things you don’t want to do – it’s also remembering your boundaries are personal. You do not need to make excuses or justify them to anyone else. So often when we are learning to say no, we feel the need to follow it with a list of excuses to justify our decision. And the problem with making excuses rather than offering a firm and honest no, is that it opens up the possibility of negotiation with the other person, which only increases the likelihood that our inner pleaser will give in.
Practice learning to say No in a way that feels good to you, but also a way that is clear, strong and not up for debate. For example, I would love to help, but unfortunately I am taking time for me that day. Or, that sounds like a great opportunity, but I think someone else would be better placed to help.
Put your stake in the ground for how you want to feel and what it is you need and know that saying no to someone else is saying yes to yourself.