Sometimes people pleasing tendencies come out in full-force, all at once. This is one of those times. I share a personal story of how I learnt to make strong boundaries and say no, so that you can too.
It started at work when my boss sprung on me she’d decided she wanted me to be available to work online in the evening while I’m at home. After I’ve already left work.
At first when she was talking about all this I was just taking notes, trying not to give in to any knee-jerk reactions. (Even though I could very strongly sense my husband Jeff’s reactions as if he was pinching me).
It wasn’t until all this faff about whether we’d start tonight or not, that I began to think this wasn’t fair. And of course, I felt guilty in thinking that.
But it wasn’t in our contract. And I really didn’t want to bring work home.
Skipping a load of he-said-she-saids, I left work late under the impression we weren’t doing it tonight and we’d discuss and coordinate about next week’s potential online thing.
So I get to the gym. I’m feeling stressed because my boundaries feel under pressure.
And then I see my phone.
My boss had messaged saying: “8.10 tonight, thanks”. That’s when the raging ocean began in my chest.
On one hand, I knew it wasn’t a huge task. But on the other, she had just said I didn’t have to do it tonight.
And that when I did have to do it in future, I’d be paid for my time. But tonight I wouldn’t be. This one was coined “a favour”.
I was standing in the gym going back and forth like a ping pong ball during match point.
Was I bad person if I said no? Should I do it just this once? But wouldn’t doing it hinder my boundary setting of messaging outside of work hours? Should I just not reply at all?
I didn’t know what to do.
I felt bad. Maybe we’d misunderstood each other. But I also felt kind of cheated. She told me all this 5 minutes before we had to leave.
I was in a rush and exhausted from a battering week. And then she’d messaged me out of work hours confusing the situation even further.
I knew it wasn’t a life-threatening decision. I knew there weren’t really any big stakes. But I still felt cornered. Like this decision had wayyyyy more weight than I first realised.
I felt physically incapable of saying no.
Because if I said no, I might actually burst into tears or vomit. At least, one of the two.
It was tearing me up inside because my people-pleasing tendencies were bubbling up to the surface.
I’ve always struggled with knowing when to say “no”. I even almost broke my ankle a couple of months ago because I hyped up in my head I was slightly inconveniencing my landlord.
So, what came of all this?
I realized, when you have a natural tendency to want to please everyone, it’s difficult to decipher whether you’re doing something for good reasons or out of obedience.
Feeling physically unable to say no doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That extreme feeling happens after the accumulation of little situations.
Which is exactly why my boundaries felt so tested then. Because up until then, little by little, I’d said “yes”, “sure”, “okay, no problem”, to things beyond my job description.
Requests beyond what we’d agreed.
And it’s a slippery fucking slope. You agree to one little thing. Then another. Then another. Before you know it, you’ve become the “yes girl”.
People then think they can ask anything extra of you and assume correctly, that you’ll do it.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong or bad to go the extra mile because you want to or because someone needs help. Of course not. I do that every day in my job already, and I’m okay with that.
I love to help people. Especially helping people to see and fulfill their potential.
But when you already go above and beyond because you care, only for people to stretch you even further, past where you are comfortable?
When someone clearly has zero respect and/or consideration for my boundaries — that, I’m not okay with.
Because it makes you feel used. Like you’re being taken advantage of because you’re a hard worker.
There needs to be a discussion. There needs to be consent.
They’ll be times where what you’re doing already isn’t what your boss/peers needs from you. And that’s fine, it can all be resolved in a simple conversation about how we can each serve one another better.
But asking for everything is too much. Plus, it’s a really good way to stifle productivity and solid decision making processes.
Feeling unable to say no is NOT healthy or fruitful for either side. It leaves both parties feeling unsatisfied, unheard, and their needs unmet.
How can you get past this shit-storm of people-pleasing, to be a functioning human-being able to create impactful change?
Figure out what your boundaries are.
How? By answering these 3 (sometimes painful) questions:
What do you need to have in order to thrive?
What is too far for you — what is a deal-breaker?
What can you (and choose to) put up with?
I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy unpacking those questions. I had to do it while sitting in the gym with no air-con, sweating, and against the clock. It was rough.
You really begin to evaluate yourself in a way that feels weirdly obtrusive. It might even feel like you’re a stranger in your own head, trying to look at things objectively.
Who knows? You might knock out three concrete answers in 3 minutes 57 seconds. It’ll be different for everyone and for every situation.
But once you have those answers, compare them to your reality.
Do they match up?
Yes? Great. Keep doing whatever the heck you’re doing because it’s working and you’re feeling safe with your boundaries, you zen-thing you.
No? Well, what needs to change?
What did I do in this case …
For me right now, being expected to be on-call outside of work hours (not even talking about this episode in particular, just in general) is too far for me.
In order to thrive, I need to have separation between work-time and home-time.
Because when it gets blurred by messages which expect instant responses, it brings too much work home and into my head. When instead I need to be resting. (Plus, I’m already married to a coworker!)
Buttttt, I can put up with being scheduled to be available in the evening at certain times. If we agree on all this together and openly.
So, with all that in mind I decided after ages of going back and forth thinking out loud to my husband and of course, seeking my Mum’s infinite wisdom, that I shouldn’t cave.
The conclusion? I should stand my ground. Apologize for any miscommunication from my side and politely say:
You’re joking right? I’m not available.
Sending that message was so.damn.hard. I wrote it, and rewrote 3 times.
Because it’s my responsibility to tell her my boundaries. This is where I started. With this one thing. I waited until Monday came around and explained to her what my boundaries were.
So, if you give this a try and answer these three questions, tell me what your first step in changing it was.
I want to know what action you took and what happened because of it … good or bad. (But it’s like almost 99.8% chance it’s good, even if it doesn’t look like it at first).