I love to say “yes!” Enthusiastically. And often.
Need help with a project? Sure! Going on an adventure? Yes, please! Need an extra hand? Happy to help! Reading an interesting book in book club? Count me in!
Nothing makes me happier than saying “yes” – there are so many interesting opportunities out there! I am a connector by nature: I feel good when I am helping others. I love feeling like I’m giving back and sharing the abundance of enthusiasm and curiosity life has blessed me with.
However, I’ve found that the more things I say yes to, the more likely I am to feel overwhelmed. I end up perpetually running late and feeling guilty. Eventually, I find myself tired, cranky, and exhausted. This occasionally results in a tearful breakdown; canceling plans; catching that cold that’s going around; or worse (for me) getting irritable and inpatient with those I love. One of the worst symptoms of burnout is losing touch with your empathy and no longer caring about the people and things that were once important to you.
And I know I’m not the only one. Much of my work as a psychologist in San Luis Obispo has been with clients, especially women, discovering boundaries for the first time. I have seen women go on dates, and continue sexual relationships because:
“I can’t let him down.”
“I don’t want to hurt him.”
“I’m not really sure what I do want.”
I have seen women (and men) take on extraordinary workloads in the office saying:
“I can’t disappoint anyone.”
“I don’t want to seem like I’m not pulling my weight.”
“I can’t let my team down – they are counting on me.”
So many individuals are exhausting themselves, wearing themselves thin, and at times, putting themselves in uncomfortable situations because they do not feel comfortable saying “no.” Our culture has not only glorified “being busy” but it has created generations of women that feel they can’t express themselves, can’t be honest about their feelings or their energy level, and most certainly, can not say “no.” This creates codependent relationships, burnout on the job, and overall soul fatigue.
“Setting boundaries is challenging for most people. It’s especially challenging for holistically inclined women, because we tend to want to merge and connect – with everything. For some of us, learning to set healthy boundaries will be the undertaking of our lifetime, the ultimate work of self-reverence” ~Danielle LaPorte, White Hot Truth
In Need of Better Boundaries
What I continue to work on, with my clients in therapy and also within my own internal dialogue, is continuous gentle reminders that boundaries are good. Boundaries are protective, they are healthy, and ultimately, maintaining boundaries is the respectful and kind thing to do.
If you let your supervisor know that you are overwhelmed on project A and really need to give it a good solid week of undivided attention before you move on to project B, they will appreciate your clarity and focus. If you tell your book club you can’t make it, as you were so looking forward to that yoga workshop Friday, but you’ll happily host next month, they’ll be looking forward to that. And if you tell Mr. super sweet, but not right for you that you don’t really see where things are going and you’re not interested in dragging things out, he gets to move on and find someone who is actually a better fit sooner.
Boundaries are good for me and they are good for the people I interact and communicate with. If I care about something, I want to be able to give it 100% of my attention. And while there is always so much to enjoy in life, I’ll never get through all of it, so I’d rather focus with clarity on the top choices.
Three Ways to Set Clear Boundaries:
- Set a schedule and stick to it. Bonus step: Let those around you know about your new and improved schedule and that you will be following it with no exceptions. Then no one is surprised when you hold your boundary. As I was actively working to change my relationship to my work and to set clear boundaries around my time, I began to share my process with my colleagues, who then became my cheerleaders.
- Remember that when you say no to one thing, you are saying yes to something else! Each time you say “no” aloud, gently whisper to yourself what this no allows you to say “yes” to. Make a list in your planner each week of what your priorities are and hold those things sacred. Putting your yeses first allows you to be clear about what might need a boundary.
- Most of us have a hard time using negative language. And many people have negative reactions to negative language. Instead of “no”, you could try using positive language instead. Try something like “here’s what I can do…” Be clear in your communication.
Often, setting boundaries takes multiple attempts, especially if there are people in your life that do not respect healthy boundaries. If this is something you’ve been struggling with, know that therapy can be a great place to safety practice boundaries. You can try on different ways of saying things, explore the areas that feel in need of boundaries, and even develop your list of priorities. This is an area where most of us need support! Is there a strategy that has been particularly helpful for you? We’d love to hear it! Please share your ideas in the comments below!