Warning: Reading this may cause feelings of discomfort which may lead to feeling like you’re being attacked. If so, please take a moment to check your ego.
We teach others how to treat us.
As adults, we are 100% responsible for how we are treated by others. Children, and all the way up to young adulthood are learning, and so this rule does not apply. This also should not apply to adults struggling with mental illness (more on this later).
As adults, we are 100% responsible for how we are treated by others.
This may sound incredibly harsh, but this is the realization you will make once you have decided to be completely responsible for how your actions and reactions determine the nature of your interactions with others. Those of you who have already come to this realization understand how much power you actually wield in terms of how you relate to others.
When we allow others to push our boundaries, and buttons we are essentially giving away our power and damaging ourselves in the process. This includes every relationship we have, friends, family, children, coworkers, etc… We must learn how to assert ourselves and clearly state what behaviors we are willing and not willing to tolerate from others. This is not as simple as demanding respect however, you must earn that respect by conducting yourself in a respectable manner. Part of being respectable is controlling your emotional response to people pushing your boundaries and testing your patience.
Your time is just as valuable as anyone else’s.
Your time and your energy is valuable. You must choose wisely how you expend your energy, and how you spend your time. We all have the same number of hours in a day. And it’s up to you to choose how you spend those hours.
Do not let anyone fool you into thinking that their requests for your time and energy holds more value. But what about work? My boss will fire me if I don’t do what I’m told. I’ll get to that in a minute…
We’ve all been there, facing demands or requests from our family, friends, boss, clients, all asking for more, MORE, MORE! And when we have not established boundaries for ourselves, or are unable to recognize when we are beginning to feel overstretched, we run the risk of compromising our own needs. Now usually people aren’t intentionally trying to take our time, attention or energy. But sometimes they are… you have to know how to tell the difference.
“Secure your oxygen mask before assisting others.”
Have you ever been on an airplane and actually listened to the pre-flight safety brief? As an overgiver, this seems counterintuitive. It seems like we should help everyone we can in this sort of situation. But what good will you be if you pass out while trying to help others? Now suddenly you’ve become their burden. The best thing you can do is become so self-aware of your needs and see to it that they’re being met consistently. So that when someone calls on you in time of emergency, you can show up for them. This applies to basic everyday routines as well though. If you’ve been cleaning all day, haven’t eaten, haven’t stopped to take a break, and feel exhausted and your child asks you to make him or her a snack (who is too young to make it themselves), right after you sat down… how will you respond? Well hopefully you don’t feel annoyed, or worse, let your annoyance show outwardly, because that can do some damage to a child’s psychological development and self esteem. I’ll write more on this in another article… But if you had been ensuring your needs were met throughout the day, you would likely have the capacity to respond lovingly.
When we don’t protect ourselves from being overworked, we are more likely to respond with annoyance and resentment.
Allowing yourself to be overstretched leads to resentment.
Do you ever find yourself feeling resentful after doing something that you didn’t really want to do? Did you oblige someone else’s request and miss out on an opportunity, or miss an important phone call because you were busy doing something for someone that you didn’t want to do in the first place?
Resenting or blaming others for your decisions is not okay.
Resentment towards those who are asking more of your time needs to be directed inward because ultimately you had a choice to say no. When you are resentful towards others, you are blaming others for your feelings of overwhelm and stress. The truth is that it was your choice in the first place. You knew it was the wrong choice, and really you should be angry with yourself for making the wrong choice against your better judgment.
How many times have you been invited to a work function that you didn’t want to go to, but went anyway because you felt obligated to, and then you had a horrible time because you didn’t want to be there? Or maybe you made the best of it, but still were wishing you were somewhere else…
Or how many times have you been talked into making an extra batch of cookies that everyone loves so much for that potluck, when you knew you were strapped for time and wound up forgetting something really important?
Now, I often hear people say things like, “Well, people would have judged me if I didn’t do it.” Or, “So and so would have gotten mad if I said no.” If this sounds familiar, more than likely you’re allowing the fear of shame and guilt to rule over your decisions. How good does that feel?
Don’t let fear of shame or guilt guide your decisions.
If you find yourself having poorly established boundaries because you want to make other people happy, you’ve got to stop! Take back your power! As long as you’re making choices that are for your greatest good, then you’re doing right by yourself and by others. Having good boundaries and having the ability to say no when necessary is imperative to healthy relationships.
If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.
We prioritize what is important to us based on our perceived value. If you truly value yourself, you will not allow people to push you around, or demand more of you than you want to give.
Prioritize yourself! You are the only person in the world who will take the best care of you. It is ABSOLUTELY NOT SELFISH to acknowledge that you have needs and work hard to recognize them and make sure they’re met first. Children are sort of the exception to this rule, but not entirely. They are wonderful teachers. I can’t tell you how many times, as a mother of a young toddler, I would have to lock myself in the bathroom for a quick time out. I would ensure that he couldn’t get into anything dangerous, and calmly tell him that, “Mommy needs privacy for a minute”, and then I’d proceed to do some deep breathing exercises and remind myself that it gets easier. Parenting can be maddening at times, but can be more manageable when we recognize our needs and take care of ourselves. If I hadn’t taken so many time-outs, I imagine I would have lost my cool, and that’s not cool. Whether you’re losing your cool with children, or adults, it’s just unacceptable. It happens however, and when it does we’ve got to apologize. But wouldn’t it be better if we were better at controlling our emotions and reactions?
How can I control my emotions and reactions better?
Becoming consciously aware of how our body physically reacts to emotional stimuli is the first step. Mindful Meditation can help us with getting closer in touch with our physical response. The truth is that our bodies react and respond to emotional stimuli, the exact same way as we do to actual physical danger. When someone says something that incites an anger response, our natural instinct is to go into fight-or-flight mode. The sympathetic nervous system is activated, and your “old brain” or brain stem takes over, rendering us less capable of making rational decisions and less capable of weighing consequences of our actions. Your conscious mind can prevent escalation of that response however, if you are able to notice the immediate physical response of increased heart rate, flushed face, sweaty palms etc… Once you are able to notice the immediate response, stop, close your eyes, take a few slow deep breaths, you will activate the diaphragm which will halt the sympathetic nervous system response, and reactivate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). When you are in this state of actively calming your physical response, you are better able to rationalize your perception to the external stimuli. Once you master this, you will have better (if not full) control over your emotions. And once you are in control of your emotions, you are better able to have level-headed discussions with people.
So how do I set boundaries?
- Become self aware. In the paragraph above, I explain in detail how our Autonomic Nervous System affects our ability to respond and react to stressors and stimuli. Understanding how physiological changes affect our brains, is crucial to understanding how to control our responses and reactions.
- Prioritize self care. Basic needs like eating, or using the bathroom can easily be overlooked or delayed when we are operating under high stress. Daily meditation, or other stress reducing practices (especially on the good days), helps us through periods of elevated stress. Remember, low grade everyday stress can have a major effect on activating the sympathetic nervous system, so practice self care frequently.
- Prioritize your values. You need to have a solid understanding of what you value. We make time for those things we value most. Family? Self Care? Friends? Work? It’s up to you, and these may shift as you go through changes in life.
- State your boundaries. If someone disrespects you, or intentionally pushes your buttons, it’s up to you to determine how you respond. I recommend taking a deep breath, removing yourself from the situation if necessary or possible to calm your emotions, and then using direct communication that you will not tolerate such behavior. Assert yourself and state clearly what behavior was unacceptable, how it made you feel, and how you would like to be spoken to instead. If you allow your anger to rise to the surface, then the person who was pushing/provoking you has gotten exactly what they wanted – control over your emotions.
- Learn how to say no. There’s no need to be rude about it. If your coworker is asking for help, but your plate is already full…just say so! “I’d love to help you out, but I’m swamped at the moment.” Or maybe you’re not swamped because you just got all caught up and you’re about to take a well deserved break, “Sorry, I can’t help you with that, have you asked so and so?” Or maybe you just don’t want to, “Maybe try so and so, I’m busy at the moment.” -It makes no difference whether you’re busy thinking about your grocery list, or planning to zone out/meditate for the next 5 minutes. If you don’t want to do something, you don’t have to and there’s no need to feel bad about that. Of course helping others makes us feel good, but until you can learn to say no, you’re likely to stay in a repetitive cycle of letting others take advantage of you, possibly to your detriment.
Back to your boss…
Let’s say your boss approaches you on Friday at 3:00 pm, hands you a three hour long assignment and says, “I’m sorry I didn’t give this to you earlier, but I need this back by 5 today. Thanks.”
You have a choice in how you respond to every situation presented to you.
Start with reframing your mind to a place of gratitude that you have a job.
Next, adjust your perspective. Is someone going to die, or will you get fired if you take a ten minute break first?
Can you say no to that unreasonable (for you) deadline and have a discussion as to why? Is this the third week in a row that they’ve pulled this maneuver? This is a good opportunity to explain how this is negatively impacting you and ask if there is some sort of compromise that works for both parties. Some bosses have little flexibility either because they have pressure from above them, or because they have control issues. If the issue is the latter, it’s probably time to find a new job. In the meantime, it’ll probably serve you well to take a deep breath, think of something great that you have to look forward to (like sinking into the couch later with a good book, a date with your partner etc…), remember that having steady income is a good thing (a daily gratitude practice comes in very handy in situations like this), and muster up the energy you need to power through whatever you need to get done.
Or you can say no. It’s totally up to you. You do have that choice, just remember to consider the possible consequences to your response.