Boundaries. How to say "No" and not feel guilty about it

Boundaries. How to say "No" and not feel guilty about it

In order to be happy a human being needs to be fulfilled in three key areas: social (such as having family and friends), professional (be recognised and valued for the skills or knowledge) and have independency in their decisions.

Humans are social creatures and from our early childhood we are tough to be nice and respectful, helpful and polite. Those are important skills to develop in order to survive with in a social group (our family). Our survival depends on our ability to find compromises in day to day situations. But it happens often that people find themselves giving much more than they get in return, therefore they spend so much more energy and start feeling empty. And yet not being able to say "No".

Having a dominant suppressive or manipulative parent in the family often leads to developing a habit of agreeing to everything and not being able to stand your own ground. Children in such families either end up rebelling in their teenage years, separating and getting their own independency or living their whole live tending to the needs of their parents, partners, employers and other people around them. This pattern is difficult to brake and sometimes it take few years to change the way of thinking and acting.

So how can people help themselves?

Firstly acknowledging that this is a problem that needs solving.

Secondly learning how your body reacts to this type of situations. What feeling and emotions it evokes in you? Often this is a reaction inherited from our childhood and our mind recognises stressful situation from the first seconds and makes our body produces stress hormones. And even before we realise it - it is too late to stop it. Having better understanding of your own emotions and reactions help us get through them quicker and easier and not feel so overwhelmed.

Thirdly speaking out. Letting people know how their requests or actions make you feel can help in many situations. These people might not even realise that they are causing extra stress or creating a difficult situation for you. Those who have learned the valuable lesson of respect and collaboration will understand you, and will work with you in order to find a compromise and mutually beneficial solution.

There is a "but". What to do if this person is not willing even to listen? What is person is higher in power than me? How do I start a conversation? What do I say?

For work related relationships when you need to have a conversation with your employer or manager it could be effective to do this:

  • ask them to remind you what are you duties and responsibilities. If you are loaded with tasks and jobs which spread above and beyond - list them, ask for help, let them know you are not coping with amount of work you have been given. They might have forgotten what you initial duties used to be while you are still taking care of them.
  • remind them that work overload affects your productivity and quality of your work. If you are failing - they whole process is failing. Company is a system and you are part of it. So it is in the business's interest to help you do you work well.
  • ask for some time off if you are feeling really tired and stressed. If you need a brake - take it. Resting will help you restore some of your energy and feel physically better.
  • If all the mentioned above is not an option for you, if it is normal practice in your company to overwork the employees and squeeze the most out of them - you need to start looking for a different job, because it will not change. You will just work yourself out until you get ill and completely burned out. Find a workplace with healthier environment, where people feel appreciated and valued. It might take some time, but it is well worth it in the long run.

Now lets have a closer look at family and friends relationships. Similar rules apply here. Talking, explaining your feelings and emotions, asking for help solves a lot of trouble if your friends and relatives are willing to listen.

Here are few things you can do if the conversation is not going the easy way:

  • ask to take a break and avoid giving the answer straight away, especially if you get emotional very easy. Saying things like "I need to think about it", "I am not ready to talk about it", "I am feeling overwhelmed, we will continue the conversation when I calm down"
  • prepare your "fights". Every time you need to draw your boundaries and explain your decision - get prepared in advance. Maybe even rehearse in front of the mirror. Concentrate your attention on what YOU are going to say, not what the other person might reply with.
  • in cases where the communication has been broken for years, where the other person exhibits manipulative and toxic behaviour - it is the best to cut the communication or reduce it to as minimum as possible. The problems they are creating could be the projection of their own traumas they might have been carrying all their life. You are not responsible for their behaviour or their way of thinking, their way of communication.

There is one more thing absolutely worth mentioning: developing any skill is not one time event. It is a process. It is strongly recommended to find support, start therapy and self education (individual or in the group) in order to learn to recognise manipulative behaviour, develop confidence, learn to speak out.

Everyone has the right to live happy life, but no-one else can build it for you. Only you decide what "happy" means for you. Asking for help and seeking support is not sign off weakness. It simply means you need guidance and more resources to find the answers which you already have.

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