It’s surprising how difficult it can be, to utter the word”no”. Such a little syllable can cause so much inner turmoil! I speak again and again in therapy about setting boundaries, and yet even I struggle sometimes to refuse people things. But it’s so important.
The purpose of having good boundaries is to protect your own wellbeing. And you can’t protect yourself if you are desperately trying to keep everyone happy. It’s a fool’s game, because it’s not possible to create happiness in others, and yet we often feel pressured to do exactly that. The inability to say no often represents a fear of disappointing the other, and perhaps a fear of being rejected and abandoned as a result. We are all taught that it is better to give than to receive, and yet if we give away our everything, without replenishing our stores, there comes a point where we have nothing left to give. It’s always a useful journey to explore why it’s so difficult to say no, and why we fear letting people down so much that we will often sacrifice our own needs for theirs.
In the mean time, here are two useful tricks to help you begin to put some boundaries in place:
Step 1: Say “I’ll get back to you”. If your knee-jerk response to every request is “yes”, then you will do yourself a favour by buying a little time. Even if you have to make up an excuse, remove yourself from the situation and give yourself time to think. Ask yourself the question: can I do this comfortably? Or is it going to intrude on other important things? If it’s at work, ask yourself if it’s about your own KPAs or whether you will be spending excessive time helping someone else meet theirs. Work out how important the task is to YOU: is this a reciprocal thing, or do you feel taken advantage of? Would this person drop everything for YOU if the situation were reversed? Give yourself enough time to process before responding. Check your schedule; do you have the time available to complete the favour?
Step 2: If you agree to take on the task, do it on YOUR terms. Say things like “I can’t help today, but I’m available next week”. This way, you feel like you’ve got some control over your time and you’re avoiding the anxiety of saying “no” straight out. You’re offering a compromise. And you’re avoiding the trap of overpromising and under delivering, especially when it comes to work. I’ve seen the hardest workers set themselves up for failure by simply taking on too much.
Practice makes perfect when it comes to protecting your own needs. At first, it feels like a terrible risk to refuse people what they want. Over time it becomes easier, even liberating. And if someone rejects you outright because you wouldn’t drop everything and help them on their terms at your own expense, you may need to examine that relationship. Good relationships allow space for self-care, both at work and in your personal life. As always, your relationship with yourself is vital: it is very unkind to YOU to overpromise constantly. Kindly and gently, look after YOU.