When is the last time someone trod on your toes and you decided to let it go?
When is the last time someone really hurt your feelings, you desperately wanted to hit back, dreamed up all kinds of witty retorts to put them in their place, and … ended up not saying anything?
When is the last time your boss came in with urgent work, you gave up your lazy weekend with a book you had been wanting to read for ages, found out the next week that he’d known about it for at least two weeks, the client didn’t need it for another two weeks, and you gritted your teeth and kept your mouth shut?
What is it with advice about your struggles with other people, on the internet, from colleagues, friends or family, that it always requires you to be the “responsible one”? To be the understanding one. To be the wiser one.
There where times I disliked it so much that I stopped seeking advice. I didn’t want to be the wise one, the responsible one, the one that shrugged her shoulders and moved on.
When you are struggling with someone’s behavior, when someone has hurt you(r feelings), when you are angry, the last thing you want to do is be the wiser person. It may make you feel superior, but it does exactly zilch for your urge to get retribution. It simply doesn’t feel fair to “let them off the hook”. You have been hurt, misled, taken advantage off, and they get to “walk free”.
Does. Not. Feel. Good. Does. Not. Feel. Right.
It feels so … lopsided.
Yes, I know, the only one I can actually control, is me.
The only one you can actually control, is you.
Trying to get someone else to change their behavior, admit they were wrong, make amends, stop taking advantage of their position, or whatever, makes your own well being dependent on someone you can’t control.
I get that.
Doesn’t mean I have to like it. Not one little bit.
I am only human. I want to hit back sometimes. That it won’t improve the situation may stop me from actually doing it, but it still feels like I am giving other people a “home free” card.
When I was doing the “Living Brave Semester” with Brené Brown, I finally got the missing piece of this puzzle.
Telling people what is okay and what is not okay.
I rebelled at people acting inconsiderate, and me being expected to be generous (in spirit), appreciative, non-judgmental, because I avoided difficult conversations.
But most of all because I sucked at setting boundaries.
As Brené Brown puts it: “You can’t be generous or stay within your integrity, without setting boundaries.” I’d add: “and guarding them.”
How are you at setting and guarding your boundaries?
Telling people what’s okay and what is not, includes saying “No” to requests or invitations that collide with what you already agreed to do. Especially those with yourself.
It’s another of those things that are simple but not easy. It can feel downright scary. Will people think you unkind when you tell them “No”? Will your boss think you are not up to your job when you say “No” to a request?
I don’t know. They might.
But I doubt it. People are far more inclined to accept a “No” than you think.
Should it stop you from going into that difficult conversation about what’s okay and what is not?
Because if anything, setting boundaries will give you more room. More breathing room. More headspace. And it will make you feel better about yourself simply because you are taking care of you.
Plus it’s more likely that anyone you tell “No” will find you more reliable.
Telling someone “No, sorry, can’t come to your party. That weekend I planned to relax and read a book I have been wanting to read for ages.” may disappoint them. But it’s far better than cancelling at the last minute or turning up all flustered or in a bad mood, because you really wanted to be lying on your couch with that book.
Telling someone “No, sorry, I can’t do that for you.” or “Sorry, no, not this week. How about next week?” is more reliable than telling them “Yes” and doing “No” or being late. People will appreciate it much more to hear “no” than to hear “yes” and then have to chase you.
More importantly, you become more reliable to yourself.
Setting boundaries frees you to be generous in spirit, to be non-judgmental, to be appreciative.
Setting boundaries makes you more reliable.
Realizing this, felt enormously liberating to me. I no longer had to feel bad about saying “No”, or about telling someone that how they acted towards me made me feel bad.
I found the “permission” I needed in realizing that setting boundaries made me more trustworthy.
Not just to others.
Most importantly, to myself.
Setting boundaries increases your own self-trust and self-confidence.
I have become much better at setting boundaries. And as a result, I am now totally fine with being the responsible one, being the wiser, being generous in spirit and staying out of judgment.
I hope reading this story will do the same for you.