Are you having a hard time communicating your boundaries?
Sarah is known as a lovely, smiley and very helpful woman by her friends and colleagues. They think that the amazing thing about Sarah is that she has got boundless energy and she seems to have time for everyone - always. Sarah is married and has two active and adorable children. Her son likes to play football, which both Sarah and her husband encourage and support. They are equally supportive of their daughter, who is into Jiu-Jitsu and has dabbled with rugby – she is like Sarah, full of energy and joie de vivre.
Sarah works full time, takes care of the house and children’s activities together with her husband. She is very actively involved in her children’s sports and helps raise funds whenever needed. She goes to a yoga class on a Thursday evening and meets up with her girlfriends whenever she has time to do so (which quite frankly isn’t that often, but she manages to get away once in awhile). She would like to learn Spanish and thinks that spending more romantic time with her husband would be lovely – but there is no time for those things.
Sarah is also the go-to person at work when anything needs to be done that is not on anyone’s job description. Sarah always says yes with a smile and gets things done efficiently and on time.
While Sarah is smiling her friendly smile to everyone who approaches her with a request for her time, there are times she goes into the ladies at work and sobs quietly. There is a frustration beating hard at her chest from the inside and she wants to scream.
No, Sarah is not having a breakdown, nor is she losing the plot. Sarah is simply tired of always being the person who people come to in order to get things done. She wants to scream “I am tired; I do not want to organise the office Christmas party for the fifth year in a row. I don’t want to sell lottery tickets for the annual fundraiser at the football club, I don’t want to bake any more cookies for the school fair. I just want you all to stop asking me! Can’t you see that I cannot give anymore? I have nothing left to give.”
After a few minutes of imagined shouting at people who demand her attention and her unwavering kindness, Sarah dries her eyes and goes back to her seat in the open plan office and smiles at whoever passes her desk, blessedly unaware of Sarah’s inner turmoil.
Sometimes unexpectedly Sarah snaps at the ones she loves the most, for no apparent reason. All they see is Sarah furiously shouting at them and banging doors and occasionally throwing things. The frustration and feeling of helplessness wash over her and when she calms down she feels exhausted and very sad that she has offloaded her anger and frustration on the ones she loves.
Sarah, if you are reading this I want to say the following to you:
How would anyone around you have any idea that you do not have the energy to always be the one who helps out? If you do not tell them that you do not want to do what they request of you, that you do not have the time or the energy, they will not know - they are not mindreader.
Saying ‘no’ does not mean that you will not be liked or appreciated. Most people will understand. Some people will almost be relieved to know that you are also human and that you also need relaxation time. And yes – there might be a few who get disgruntled as they are so used to you saying yes to everything because it makes their life a bit tougher as they have to find someone else to help. It’s okay – that is their story, not yours.
Saying no to people can feel so scary when you are not used to doing it. You might even be feeling scared and lost when thinking about who you will be, without the constant yes saying – this has become so much a part of you. But you are suffering, Sarah, and it is time to lay down some boundaries.
How do you eat an elephant, Sarah?
In small chunks.
So that is where we start – with tiny baby steps.
Start by talking to a person whom you trust and who you know will want to help you. Tell them that you want them to ask you to do something for them so that you can practice saying no.
“No thank you, I don’t have the time to do that at the moment.”
“You know what, I have decided to focus more on my family this year, maybe you can ask someone else.”
Or why not even:
“Thank you for asking, but no, I really don’t want to.”
This way you can start tasting the word ‘no’ in a safe place. Then you can take things up up a level and start saying no to other people.
Laying down boundaries and saying no to things that you don’t want to do opens up time and space to say yes to the things that you want to do.
You will still be loved by those who matter.