Setting Boundaries

 In Communication, Relationships

A couple of weeks ago my client, Chris, was talking about how overwhelmed she feels.  She said she has too much to do at work, and in her “free” time, she is busy every minute. 

When I asked her to elaborate, she explained that during the workday several co-workers complain about all they have to do, and ask her for help.  Since she wants to be a good employee and team player, she always steps up and says yes.  Then she ends up doing their work as well as her own, and she’s swamped.  She’s also surprised that her colleagues are angry with him because she doesn’t have the time to do a good job on the projects she’s taken over for them.

Chris explained that in her “free” time she is on the Boards of Directors for three non-profit organizations, teaches bible study, and coaches her daughter’s soccer team.  Her husband is angry with her for not spending time with him or doing things around the house, her golf group has given up on her because she always says no when invited to play, and her children never see her anymore.

Because Chris sees herself as helpful and cooperative, it’s difficult for her to set boundaries.  When she’s helping others, she feels good about herself, and when she’s not, she feels guilty.  As a result, she never says no.

Chris hadn’t realized that by meeting everyone’s needs, she was ignoring her own, and treating herself disrespectfully.  She decided it was time to balance her needs with those of others, which meant she needed to learn to set boundaries and say no.

  • With that in mind, Chris decided to: Give herself permission to take care of herself by saying no.  She remembered that even on the airlines they say to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help others, since if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone.
  • Look at all the commitments in her life and prioritize them, remembering that whatever she agrees to do will limit her time and ability to do other things, and ensuring that she includes family and personal time at the top of her list.
  • Delegate to others the things that are not near the top of her list.
  • Weigh her current commitments and be realistic about how much time she has or wants to give to each.
  • Practice assertively saying no.  Using the phrase, “I’m sorry but that doesn’t work for me” is a polite, firm and respectful way to refuse a request.
  • Stop giving apologies and detailed explanations about why she can’t do something.  Chris realized that the more she explains, the more ammunition she gives the other person to argue and tell her why her reasons aren’t valid.  A simple, firm, “No, I’m sorry” is much harder for others to argue with.
  • Refuse to take responsibility for the feelings or reactions of other people. When she politely declines a request, it’s not her fault if someone gets upset.  That is their choice, not hers.

 Since our conversation Chris has been prioritizing what’s most important to her, and saying, “No, I’m sorry but that doesn’t work for me” to her co-workers and others who make requests that she’d rather not fulfill.  She’s surprised at how much time she now has for her family and herself, and is delighted that she is able do the things she wants to do rather than things she’s committed to do for others.

Like Chris, you may want to ask yourself if your time is filled with things that work for you or for others, and then do something about it.
It’s something to think about.

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