When I was young, I sometimes felt like an observer in my home. I would watch the interaction between my older sister and my parents, often with a sense of unease. Some of the interactions were contentious, some loving and some downright codependent. Watching these family interactions, I sometimes felt confused and frustrated. I wanted us to be a happy family, every child’s fantasy. For me, happiness meant avoiding conflicts at all costs, and I eventually became very good at doing this and playing the diplomat.
Looking back, I realized my family was not so different from others, except there were no boundaries in my home. For example, at thirteen, my parents let me decide where I could go, who I could go out with, and what time I could come home. I could set my curfew. What parent does that with a 13-year old? I believe my parents’ intention was for me to self-teach responsibility.
I grew up with little to no guidance, boundaries, direction, or support. When I was fifteen, my mother and father went on a European vacation, leaving me home alone. While in Scotland, my mother suffered a heart attack and died in my father’s arms. I inadvertently assumed an adult role and similar responsibility at far too young an age. Any hope of parental guidance and support was all but gone. Never having been taught boundary-setting skills, it is unsurprising I didn’t fare much better with my daughter. Of course, like my parents, I did the best I knew how.
There are many people out there who share a version of my story. Being a people pleaser is a common condition. I used to brag that I was the diplomat. But more than diplomacy, this lack of boundaries became a self-sabotaging pattern; what I call the people pleaser’s “knee-jerk” response. This response appeared in many of my relationships. I frequently felt like a doormat with family members, friends, and often the boss. I did not have any understanding of how to say “no” for fear of reprisal or not wanting to disappoint anyone. If I managed to say “no,” I felt so guilty, I would go long periods before I would repeat such a brazenly selfish act.
Interestingly, the Universe has an ironic sense of humor. It seems that the more you avoid something, the more you are destined to bump up against it. When my life partner of ten years unexpectedly died, I confronted my most deep-rooted fears about my need to set appropriate boundaries. The grieving process is extremely energy-intensive. I had to learn how to confidently say “no” and not worry about what anyone else might say or, rather, my belief about what they might say. My survival depended on setting these boundaries. I do not say this lightly as there were many times during that first year of mourning that I did not want to live. Boundary-setting truly became a matter of survival for me.
After a couple of years of practice, I became very good at confidently saying “no” and realized how empowered I felt taking this action. I felt so strongly that countless others of people pleasers needed to learn this practice instead of avoiding it. I worked over the next couple of years to compile my insights and marry them with my skill as a coach and NLP trainer into a system that I taught to others. I named it The TAILOR System(tm) – an acronym for the six-step system to boundary-setting. I use this system as the foundation in my book, Say “No” Without Guilt, Six Achievable Steps to Confidently Set and Communicate Boundaries. I continue to teach my workshop because saying “no” to others is truly about saying “yes” to yourself, the most important and empowering act of self-love.