Q: I realized that I have a hard time saying “no” to people. I feel like I am always bending backwards to help everyone else, and it is exhausting me! How can I learn to set better boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the limits and rules that we set on our relationships. It sounds like you are having trouble enforcing those limits when people in your life ask for your help. Spending too much of our own time and energy trying to please other people at the expense of ourselves is not healthy. It is time to reflect on your own needs and implement some changes in your relationships.
Polakow explained in her talk that even identifying what you want and need from your boundaries can be challenging. Especially if you are not used to managing boundaries, the first step will be understanding what they look like for you. An exercise to help you in this process is to complete the following sentences: 1. I have the right to ask for… 2. To protect my time and energy it is okay to… By filling in the blanks of these sentences you can start to better understand what is important and necessary for you personally.
For example, you may say to yourself that I have the right to ask people to respect my boundaries. I have the right to ask people for support. To protect my time and energy it is okay to say no. To protect my time and energy it is okay to turn the ringer off on my phone for quiet time. By filling in these sentences for yourself, you are helping to understand what is most important to you.
You have already recognized that you are exhausted by not having healthy boundaries in your relationships. Now it is time to do something about this and take care of your own energy.
Start by taking away the fear of saying no to people. Often, the word “no” can have a harsh connotation. You may worry that saying no to a friend will lead to rejection or judgement. You can take back control of the word no and turn it into an empowering statement. It is an act of kindness to yourself. By saying no, you are standing up for yourself, protecting your boundaries, and thus protecting your relationship. Otherwise if you continue to exhaust yourself doing for others it will lead you to have feelings of resentment towards your friends.
By saying no, you may also be a model to other people in your life. You may be surprised that they respect and appreciate your response. It may in turn help them to be better friends.
You can view Polakow’s full talk, along with the entire recorded Caregiver Recognition Day Event, at https://www.seniorconcerns.org/caregiver-recognition-day/
Ultimately, you are only responsible for your own responses. Any reaction from the people who you set boundaries with is not your responsibility. It may be difficult at first for you to implement these boundaries, but with practice it will get easier. Remind yourself that you are allowed to take care of yourself, your time, and your energy.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org