Below is a simple step-by-step process you can follow to uncover your real truths once you are ready to exercise your right to create, enforce and maintain your personal boundaries. This is part one in a three-part series.
There’s been a lot written on the importance of saying no and specifics for how to say no, but before that information can be useful to us we must go back a step further. We must uncover our personal motivators that make saying yes so easy and saying no so hard. Once we’ve done this, then we can take the practical steps to creating healthy change.
So, let’s talk about the word no. As much we intellectually understand the value and power of this word, it is still really hard for most of us to put it to good use. Why? Seriously, why is it so freaking hard for us to say no? This is a question I’ve asked myself, and my girlfriends, many times. The conclusion I’ve come to is that saying no is so hard for us because it goes against the very core of our fundamental nature as women. I also believe as a collective group we’ve allowed our good intentions to be exploited. We ignore our inner wisdom, everything in our being that’s telling us to watch out, be careful, SAY NO for the immediate gratification that comes from saying yes (…and for all the reasons it’s scary to say no). We tell ourselves we’re saying yes because we’re being good corporate citizens or because it was an honor to be asked to work on this project in the first place. We tell ourselves it’s ok to say yes because it will put us in good graces with those who have the most influence on our ability to succeed. We tell ourselves we say yes because others would do the same for us. Sometimes these reasons make sense; often they do not.
What happens when we don’t learn to say no? We lose energy. We lose energy until there is none left to give. Without clear boundaries, we give to the point of depletion. When we realize we are doing this it’s time to ask why. What drives us to give to the point of depletion?
Several years ago, I went through a very dark period. I knew the way I was behaving, the choices I was making were damaging, but I couldn’t see a way out. I felt like I was drowning in this thick, confusing fog. I decided it was time to dig deep and find some clarity. I found myself asking, “Why was I willing to sacrifice so much of myself?”
For me the why that came back was not easy to face. You see my why is about self-worth. I am a people-pleaser. I feel safe and important when I feel needed and included. As much as it pains to me to admit it, I was defining my self-worth, my satisfaction with my life through the acceptance and the approval I received from others. With this belief system in place, saying no for me threatened how I defined my value in the world.
This was a most undesirable finding. My reaction was… no, this can’t be true… fuck… seriously… no, really, this simply cannot be my truth. Everything about this finding was repulsive and disgusting to me. I am better than this, stronger than this I told myself. Haven’t I proven that I have a tough skin, and that I don’t need the approval of others? Haven’t I made it clear that I really don’t care what others think of me?
Thankfully, a kind, gentle knowing reminded me that deep down I knew the truth and the truth was I did care, I do care, and that’s ok… to a point. The point that it becomes unacceptable is when behave in ways that are restrictive and depleting instead of expansive and energizing. I had finally reached my breaking point and it was time for change. It was time for recognizing, establishing and honoring my personal boundaries.
Below is the step-by-step process I went through to create healthy change. Maybe it will speak to you too.
Step 1: Pay attention to your inner guidance system. Our bodies, our minds and/ or our feelings will let us know immediately when a personal boundary is being violated. These red flags and signals of frustration are calling us to take appropriate action.
Step 2: Define your boundaries. Write out what is important to you. Decide what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are intolerable. This is a critical step because it brings real clarity, keeps you accountable and actually makes it easier to follow through on enforcing your new choices.
Step 3: Develop a plan. This is the tactical phase. Decide how you will enforce your boundaries. (If you are looking for some specific guidance here, checkout Womenomics, chapter four, by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay.)
Step 4: Gather reinforcements. Enlist the support and guidance of two or three women you trust personally and professionally. Allow this support system to help you stand strong.
Step 5: Be brave and take action. You know what’s important to you. You know what you will and what you won’t accept. You know how to respond. And, you can take solace in the comfort of your support system. Now, it is time to act.
Step 6 (optional, but highly recommended): Celebrate! Sure, establishing and enforcing your boundaries is important, but it’s certainly not easy. Take a moment to honor your courage.
Remember, when one of us stands strong in our rightful power, we all benefit.