(A Warrant-of-Fitness is New Zealand’s version of car roadworthy inspection like the M.O.T in UK)
#3 People pleasing and Boundaries
Difficulty setting boundaries and saying “no” are common traits, particularly for adult children of alcoholics or those who’ve experienced abuse or neglect in childhood (neglect IS abuse by the way). We develop these traits for survival. What once served to protect us may now be our prison. The inability to say “no” or its challenges and always putting others before yourself are the hallmarks of people pleasing behaviour. Any of this sounding familiar? Read on.
Whilst people pleasing isn’t a mental illness, it can be a contributing factor to depression, anxiety and even addictions as we try and avoid the awful feelings that we anticipate. When we do things for others that they are capable of or need to learn to do for themselves we are rescuing them and depriving them of the lessons they need to learn. More on rescuing another time.
People pleasing means putting others needs before your own, often compulsively, to the detriment of oneself. When I was a kid, we learned the acronym J.O.Y. which stood for Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. This nearly killed me! We cannot ignore our own needs forever. Sooner or later your body will not let you! This self-martyring behaviour, the denying of oneself, which was highly acclaimed in the 80’s Christian culture I was immersed in at the time, is not the road to mental and emotional health. It is a recipe for burnout!
So, if people pleasing, self-martyring, taking too much responsibility, not saying “no” harms us, why do we still do it? Addicts suffer the same painful dilemma! Just deciding NOT to often leads to disheartening failure…we need support to change and the courage to look at our psychological baggage, which may include some trauma we think we’re over or hope to forget.
Susie is an empath with a huge heart that hates to see others hurting or in need. She genuinely feels for them and wants to alleviate their suffering. Whilst this is an admirable quality, she started to feel resentful that others were always asking things of her and rarely, if ever, did they reciprocate. In fact they seemed oblivious to the fact that she may have any needs at all, which, she told me, really hurt her. Susie would rearrange her whole busy schedule to accommodate others requests and wondered why she was avoiding certain people. Sadly, she had unwittingly trained people to take advantage of her by her generosity. It left her open to be taken advantage of and when she spoke to me she was resentful and hurt. Saying “no” to the people that came to her for help made her feel guilty. Not saying “no” made her feel resentful. Let me tell you, guilt has far lesser emotional strength than resentment and sometimes she just had to pick the lesser yucky feeling of the two. Over time and with support and practice she is learning where her boundaries and limits are and she has learned to deal with the uncomfortableness of this learning curve. She still feels the invitation to feel guilty but recognises it now and is able to tolerate it and clearly say “no thank you!”. Susie had some counselling with me and read these books:
“Boundaries. When to say Yes and when to say No to take control of your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend https://www.cloudtownsend.com/
“Better Boundaries – Owning and Treasuring Your Life” by Jan Black and Greg Enns
Both are available on Amazon and other retail outlets or the library.
You may or may not be aware of what keeps you from saying “no”/setting boundaries. I encourage you to listen to your thoughts, feel what your gut and bodily reactions are, notice what emotions come up for you when you contemplate this changes and get support to make them.
Below are some questions you may find helpful to get you started as you embark with this or any other behaviour change:
How did this behaviour help or protect you in the past?
What part of you is responding in this situation/saying “yes” when you really want to say “no”? Is it your Inner Child, still hungry for the approval you didn’t get as a child? Is it your Ego that doesn’t want to admit your limitations?
What is he worse thing that could happen if you say “no”?
Is this actually likely to happen? Will you survive?
Setting boundaries and learning to say “no” are not a one decision, over-night, quick-fix thing. But they are worth the effort to learn…YOU are worth the effort. There is nothing more worthwhile than investing in your own mental and emotional well-being, so that you can get your power back and live your best authentic life.
(c) Karen Lighthouse 2022
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Words by Karen Lighthouse.
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