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Tag: Guilt

Why I Love to Say “No” and Set My Boundaries

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.

When do you use the “D” word (Deserve) and the “G” (Guilty) word?

I was on my group mastermind Q&A call recently and one of the group members was in the Hot Seat receiving excellent coaching to her question. When the call was over I saw her post a comment in our Facebook group that she “felt bad” because she thought she’d taken up too much time during the call. While I appreciate her humility (because there are people who can self-servingly TAKE extra time) her well-intentioned comment struck me as a “knee-jerk” response. I know, because it’s a pattern and knee-jerk response for me.

Too often I hear women use responses like “I’m sorry” and “oh that’s OK” and “I feel bad” and do you know why? Because somewhere deep down we feel like we don’t deserve “it” or we feel guilty receiving it.

Sometimes we don’t even use these words to describe the knee-jerk feelings underneath because the pattern is so engrained in us as women. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has a motto: to Serve and Protect. Sometimes I think women have unconsciously adapted this motto to be: to Serve and Deny. As women we have grown up learning that we are “good” when we serve others and often learn to “deny” ourselves because otherwise we are selfish. If we do allow ourselves something, we often qualify it by saying ‘I deserve it’ as if we need to justify it to ourselves. I know you know what I’m talking about. These beliefs are powerful forces in our culture and believe me when I say it is a learned behavior.

Now, rather than ask ‘where or how did I learn it’ I like the question, “How do I un-learn it?” because feeling bad about things truly does NOT support you. It is interesting information in that it teaches you that having more resourceful thoughts, behaviors and actions does support you. Like anything you want to change, you must become aware that it is happening, when it is happening and how it impacts you.

How to Un-Learn:

  1. Paying Attention. Begin by becoming aware of when you have the self-deprecating thought, belief, action or behavior.
    1. What do you say in your head?
    2. Where do you feel it in your body?
    3. When does it show up, i.e., what trigger’s it?
    4. How does it impact you?
    5. How do you feel when you say/do it?
  2. One new different action. Once you discover the answers to the questions above, decide on ONE new action, thought or behavior you will take as soon as you notice yourself engaging in the old pattern.
    1. For example: If you notice yourself saying “I’m sorry” for no apparent (damn good) reason, a different action might be to ask yourself “what am I sorry about”? Or to even say “I take that back.” This will interrupt the unconscious pattern that continually plays out. There are tons of different things you can say and do to interrupt this pattern. Just find one that works for you and do it consistently.
  3. STOP beating yourself up! You didn’t learn this behavior overnight and you won’t unlearn overnight. Don’t even go there because it’s too BIG a gap to go from changing an engrained, unconscious pattern you’ve been using for years to not doing it all. There is an old joke: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time. Take one act, thought or feeling at a time.
  4. It’s OK if you slip up, just correct yourself and for goodness sake keep doing it! Falling down is expected.
  5. Take small, adaptable steps that continue to build.
  6. Be consistent. It’s KEY to your success!

Reflection: Taking charge of your life is a process. Applaud yourself on what a great human being you are and how you are striving to make your life better and better every day, it will begin to counteract the self-criticism. There is a fine line between humility and criticism.