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  • Writer's pictureTehmina Meherali

Struggling with Boundaries?

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

Recently, I've been speaking with people who feel they are having difficulty setting boundaries. This includes the act of saying 'yes' when they really feel like saying 'no'.

Sound familiar?

We've all struggled with this issue. Some of us are definitely better at establishing boundaries and maintaining them than others.

It is helpful to unpack the reasons why it can be so difficult to say 'no', or to assert oneself in any given situation.

The list of reasons can be complicated:

  • You feel the person may not like you anymore

  • You feel you're letting someone down

  • You feel it makes you selfish

  • You feel it is rude, or will be perceived as rude

  • You feel it is easier to give in, so the person/situation can go away

  • You feel you don't know how to say 'no' in a way that is diplomatic

  • You feel like you owe the person something

This is not an exhaustive list but you get the idea.

Underlying all of these reasons is the 'G' word: Guilt.

Guilt can be a powerful motivator but ultimately, it does not serve us because when we do something out of a sense of guilt, we are left feeling inauthentic, used, and resentful.

Some of us tend to have a much nastier relationship with guilt due to our childhood messaging. Sometimes it is because we were rewarded for being 'nice', 'helpful', 'going that extra mile'. On the flip side, we may have been chastised for being unhelpful or wanting personal space and freedom. Still other times, we may have experienced outright rejection if we didn't give of ourselves in some way.

So what can we do about this now?

Recognize your motivation for being un-able to say 'no', and start with baby steps on your 'boundary-journey' :

  • Practice at a retail store when the clerk asks you for your email address to sign up for promos. Practice with a telemarketer. Practice with strangers.

  • Next, practice with someone you are very close to and with whom you feel emotionally safe. Tell them, you need their support in allowing you this freedom to say 'no'. Try it with small requests, and even a couple big requests. Write down how this interaction makes you feel. Ask your loved one how it made them feel. Did they respect you more? Did they think you sounded like a jerk for saying no?

  • Next, practice with co-workers. Same thing. Start with small requests. See how it makes you feel.

Perhaps you need to develop a few pre-scripted sentences when you're first starting out. Find the wording you're comfortable with.

  • And then the real biggie - practice with people with whom you have complicated relationships - partner, sibling(s), children, parents, certain friends.

Remember, it always comes back to how the situation makes you feel, not the person making the request.

Recently, I had to tell a dear friend that I could not help proof-read her unpublished book. Even though I have a little more available time these days, I had to decline the request. This is because I have started to delve into personal projects, which include doing my own writing. And at this time, it is important for me to stay focused on this. I strongly felt it would be difficult if I were to shift my attention and energies onto someone else's written work.

At first, I struggled with letting my friend know because I value our friendship and she has helped me so much personally and professionally. Yet, I had to ultimately listen to what felt authentic for me. After letting her know, I was concerned she might be upset, and I even felt a little selfish for putting my needs ahead of her request for help.

But in reflecting on this more, I realized that by establishing this boundary, I was able to truly clarify how determined I am at this stage of my life to devote to my own passions. And it is perfectly ok to put me first. This was a radical shift for me.

I am grateful that my friend was very understanding. But that may not always be the case with people in your life.

Remember, though, if your boundary is still ignored or violated, then it is more about the other person than you.

Rest assured, the more you practice setting boundaries by speaking your truth with compassion, conviction, and authenticity, the more you can learn to navigate the discomfort.

Eventually, practicing the 'art' of boundary-setting will help you feel more confident and assertive. After all, you deserve the choice to honor yourself, your time, and your energies.

Copyright Tehmina Meherali, March 2021

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