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it's not just about using boundaries to communicate what's acceptable to us; we need boundaries to guide and direct ourselves so that we know our values and our line

Many of the struggles and questions that I’m asked by BR readers, revolve around the issue of how to know when to say no, especially when we have people-pleasing inclinations and wrestle with feeling bad if we’re not able to oblige everyone who asks or expects something of us no matter how unreasonable.

Really, when it all boils down to it, there are three key factors that should influence your answer when you’re faced with the task of potentially saying no (or yes) or when you’re feeling all guilty and ‘obligated’: Fairness, your motivations, and the consequences.

Fairness

If it’s implied or stated that you will experience negative consequences from the person if you don’t comply, that’s unfair never mind unreasonable. If you fear that you’re going to experience negative consequences, that’s also a code red alert because to say yes would involve you being unfair to you, especially if your issue is about your general lack of no as opposed to the situation and person at hand. Basically, consider it unfair and unreasonable if it affects your wellbeing and involves you giving your power away. Know your boundaries. Don’t make authorities out of people and put them on pedestals. Evaluate the situation in reality so that you don’t project or run solely on your feelings.

Remember, it’s not just about the request and ultimately what the person wants, needs, and expects is fair; it’s about whether in the process, you are treating you fairly.

Motivations

A great way to keep you out of trouble is to ensure that you don’t give or help with an agenda. Whatever you do, do so because it reflects who you are, not because you’re trying to generate an IOU.

Ask the question: If the outcome/reward that I’m predicting didn’t materialise, would I still want to be or do whatever I’m intending?

If the answer is no or a whole load of shoulds pop up such as, ‘Well if it were me, I would show my appreciation by….’ or ‘Well, surely they couldn’t expect that I would do that without me expecting….’ or assumptions like, ‘They obviously realise that in me doing this, this means that we’re back together / they understood my position…”, halt. If you’re motivated to do what you’re intending because you hope that by doing this and being ‘pleasing’ that you will be able to control that person’s feelings and behaviour, freeze. Back up. In fact, reverse, sit yourself down and plant your mind and feet firmly in reality.

You either need to voice your expectations with the person in question and gain clarity (and if you’re reluctant or in fact refuse to do so, you have your answer right there), or you need to step away from The Disappointment Cycle.

This is a good time to to point out that you have to own your own and let others own theirs. Even when we are the Absolutely Most Well Behaved and Pleasing Person That Ever Graced This Earth TM and we don’t make waves, we ‘fit in’, and basically put everyone’s needs, expectations, wants, feelings, and opinions before ours, we still cannot and never will be able to control a person’s feelings and behaviour (unless we try the aggressive, abusive route), so don’t waste your time trying to be or do Yet One More Thing to create a tipping point or to create a debt that you can ‘call in’ at a later date. That’s not authentic and it’s also exhausting.

Consequences

Is the benefit, whether it’s the short-term high from their reaction or from the sense of having pleased that person temporarily – you do know that people-pleasing only gives you temporary relief and then it’s back on the hamster wheel of pleasing aka The Disappointment Cycle, don’t you? – going to outweigh the consequences of what you will have to deal with?

If there’s no particular consequences other than potentially temporarily inconveniencing you in order to do whatever it is, but beyond this, your self-esteem and basically your life remain intact, knock yourself out (not literally obviously).

If you’re exchanging the temporary high(s) – very short-term and instant gratification – of being or doing something for more than that level of inconvenience and pain, halt. If you’re going to be plunged into a cycle of berating you, obsessing, blame, shame, regressing, and wondering why you doing X didn’t make a person do Y so that you could have Z outcome, halt. If what you do today (or whenever it is), is going to have a negative ripple effect for the next few weeks, months or even years and actually, you know this because it’s your pattern, you’re familiar with The Disappointment Cycle plus you’re engaging in relationship insanity (or any other insanity) of thinking and acting similarly yet expecting a different result, it’s just not bloody worth it.

It would be great to just do stuff on autopilot and not have to think about decisions, but actually, we know what kind of trouble that can get us into. Considering the fairness, motivations, and consequences of what we’re intending keeps us not only grounded in the present and self-aware, but it also limits the ‘reacting’ and chasing short-term thrills that snake their way through many a toxic pattern of unhealthy behaviour and thinking.

Ever since I learned to consider these factors, I don’t lose sleep over saying no nor do I have an overactive guilt thyroid. On occasions when saying yes doesn’t work out too well, holding the decision and outcome up against the fairness, motivations, and consequences benchmark provides invaluable insights for me to grow from. Ultimately, having no in your vocabulary is a fundamental part of treating you with love, care, trust, and respect and also communicating via actions and words what is and isn’t acceptable to you. Know your line, know yourself.

Your thoughts?

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