We Canadians are known for being nice. One of my life coaching clients found herself in a situation where her usual way of being nice and doing things she thought were expected of her left her with a bitter taste of resentment. To her, being a good friend, colleague and relative meant being nice and doing what was expected of her at all times.
However, it dawned on her that her need to be nice got in the way of recognizing and attending to her own needs. She was so focused on pleasing those around her that she had lost touch with the things that mattered most to her. With each life coaching session, she gained more clarity on her own priorities and goals. She knew she couldn’t continue putting everyone else’s needs and requests above her own. She needed to learn how to set healthy boundaries.
As a first step in learning how to set healthy boundaries, I encouraged her to pay attention to her feelings before she responded to someone’s request. Did she feel excited, joyful or happy about giving her time, resources and energy? Or did she feel feel torn? Once she had acknowledged her feelings about the request, she responded accordingly.
Each time she felt great about doing the person a favour, she said yes and went ahead and did it. However, each time she felt unsure, she allowed herself a bit of time and told the person she would get back to them later. As she learned how to set healthy boundaries, saying no became easier for her. Knowing that she was doing both herself and the other person a favour helped immensely.
She recognized that whenever she had done something for someone in the past, due to her sense of obligation, she felt resentful towards this person afterwards. Silently she had expected something in return and grew even more resentful, when the other person didn’t reciprocate. Now, when she agrees to help someone, she really wants to. She feels great and doesn’t expect anything in return. My life coaching client feels much better about her choices and has freed up a lot of time and energy to pursue her goals and attend to her needs.
My life coaching client is not the only one feeling challenged by how to set healthy boundaries. We live in a culture where self-sacrifice and politeness are highly overrated. This comes at a high cost. If you don’t learn how to set healthy boundaries, you end up feeling bitter and may even grow an ulcer.
I encourage you to learn how to set healthy boundaries one step at a time. Begin by taking a moment to check in with yourself before you respond to a request. Saying “Let me get back to you” is a nice way to create time for you to check in with yourself. Just like my life coaching client, you will begin to feel a whole lot better about your decisions and will have a lot more time and energy to recognize and attend to your own priorities!
If you are tormented by the fear that some people may not like your new way of responding to their requests, please consider the wise words of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
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