Do you struggle with feeling guilty for saying no to people? Deep down you’re maxed, but as hard as you try, the words, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ still come out of your mouth. I’m here to tell you that this habit of people pleasing and sacrificing your own needs, is a major roadblock to not only your wellbeing but also your ability to reach your goals, maintain healthy relationships and even your own self-respect.
When I started my career in the mental health field, I found myself feeling very drained and tired after my work days. Understandably so, as a new clinician I was still learning how to manage my own emotional wellbeing while also being of service to others. Friends would invite me out on weeknights and occasionally I would go for a dinner or even a casual home hang, only to find myself extra exhausted and depleted the next day.
I knew, I had to start saying no – which meant facing the fear of disappointing others.
Now, I’m not talking about polarizing into ‘selfishness’… I’m talking about chronic people pleasing, self-sacrifice and self-abandonment. This is a TOUGH one because not only are womxn more inclined to communal, relationship based actions, our society also reinforces this with conditioning that it is our role to support and prioritize others above ourselves (there’s some patriarchal, religious origins in this also).
Let’s back up for a second though and discuss the topic of ‘boundaries’. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy actually prefers the term ‘personal limits’ to ‘boundaries’ because the word ‘boundaries’ is vague and insinuates that there is one set of boundaries everyone should know and respect. The truth is, every single person has their own personal limits that may be very different from someone else’s. There are no ‘correct’ personal limits, you are entitled to your own!
So the first task here is for you to get very clear on what your personal limits are, and be SURE that they are your own and not someone else’s that were taught to you. What are your financial limits, emotional limits, time limits, personal space limits, physical limits, energy limits.
OK, I hear my manifestation community attacking this one, ‘There are no limits! You can do whatever you put your mind to!’ Yeah, yeah, yeah… true enough, but it’s not helpful to play infinite goddess here, because we are in fact also human. I saw a quote recently, ‘You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.’ If you don’t sleep, problems will start. If you don’t prioritize your health, rest etc. there will be problems. So in fact, we do each have HEALTHY limits that are important to prioritize, despite someone else’s emphatic push that you ‘should’ do something.
Before we can set or enforce our limits, it’s important to know what keeps us from doing that in the first place. Usually there are a few things to check for:
-Are emotions getting in the way? Fear, guilt, shame: strong emotions may cloud our ability to stick to our personal limits. Identify what’s prompting those emotions and check for ‘judgments’, ‘assumptions’ and unhelpful ‘interpretations’ that may be fueling them. Ask if it’s effective to act on those emotions, and if not act OPPOSITE to them and set your limits despite those emotions being present. Use some self-soothing strategies, take some deep breaths, move forward and distract from worries.
-Are myths or learned beliefs about relationships getting in the way? For example: ‘It’s selfish to set my limits.’ ‘I can’t stand if someone is upset with me.’ ‘I shouldn’t have to set my limits, people should already know them!’ ‘I must be weak if I set limits.’ Take some time to journal on this one and practice challenging those myths. Ask yourself where you developed those beliefs from.
-Are you forgetting your long term goals for short-term comfort? Sometimes we give in, or abandon our needs / limits because it’s easier to do NOW. We forget the long term consequences of it. Practice keeping both short-term and long-term awareness around where you need to set limits for yourself.
Let me give you another framework that is helpful at this point. With any interpersonal interaction we have to consider 3 Things (DBT, 1993):
These three priorities matter, and depending on the situation one may be more important than the other. Sometimes we have to compromise one of these areas in order to maintain one of the other areas.
When you need to set a personal limit around your priorities, you may have to accept someone being let down. There are also times where we may compromise our priorities in order to maintain a relationship, the key is to not ALWAYS do this. When you continually abandon your needs and priorities, what happens to Self-Respect? And when self-respect goes down, what happens to relationships?
See where I’m going here? When we continually self-abandon and prioritize others, it slowly erodes away at everything else.
Once I learned my personal limit around going out on weeknights, I set a rule for myself that I say ‘No’ to all week night activities. I made it known to others and let go of guilt. It was simply my policy for my own wellbeing, and eventually friends and family understood it and stopped asking or pushing.
Do I make rare exceptions, of course, but it’s always after a solid check-in with myself around the things mentioned above to make sure it’s aligned with my needs, values and long-term goals. So my task for you is to start by getting clear on your limits, so that you can move forward prioritizing what you need. It will ripple out into other areas, I promise.
What do you think?