When the topic of “boundaries” was introduced in my very first coaching training (with Debbie Ford and The Ford Institute in 2004), I was dumbfounded. It’s not that I had never heard of boundaries, I just didn’t understand how boundaries operated in my life. As I researched and examined my own relationships, I was horrified, but not surprised, to admit that I was a chronic people-pleaser. I was desperately seeking approval because of a deep desire to belong and feel important. The “good” part of people pleasing is that I really DID genuinely want to help others, but the “bad” part was that it almost always came with a need for something in return — to be liked, wanted and indispensable.
I began to realize that the “gift” I gave by pleasing others was no gift at all. As I began to learn more about my nature, my authentic feelings and my true self, I came to understand that I needed to please myself first. I began to check in by asking myself questions: “Do I REALLY want to do this or am I just trying to be liked?” “Do I REALLY want to say YES when I know I’ll be resentful and angry at myself later?”
I’ve blogged before about the difference between NICE and KIND. Kindness truly does mean being honest and practicing healthy boundaries, even though there is a risk of hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, delivering a NO is kinder than the nicety of a phony YES. No follow up, no call back, hurts way more than that first, difficult, NO.
Fast forward a dozen years or so, I’m a certified Daring Way™ Facilitator (based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown). My boundary lessons continue. Saying NO is not natural to me even now. Not only a chronic people-pleaser but a people-appeaser. (Think: Avoid conflict at all cost! I’ll deal with it later!) Now I practice Brené’s definition of boundaries like a mantra: Boundaries –what’s OK and what’s not OK. I affirm to myself that boundaries are a form of self-love and self-respect. Above all else, I wish to practice healthy boundaries, to walk my talk.
And yet I am struck again and again that social “niceties” suggest that it’s just not polite to utter that one word, NO, especially to an invitation. I’ve practiced excuses and reasons ad nauseam and, yes, they make me sick!
I write about this topic today because I met an acquaintance for lunch recently. We’ve seen each other only a couple times in three years or more, our paths and interests crossing infrequently. At the end of lunch she suggested that “the four of us” (meaning with husbands) meet for dinner. This seems to be a common “nicety” to extend a pleasant event. It can be interpreted two ways: a polite way to end lunch (like our mom’s raised us) or an effort to forge connection (because we truly want to cultivate the relationship). When I think it’s the polite form of ending, not truly meant, my usual response is: “Oh yes, that would be great. We’re all so very busy, but do, let’s, keep in touch.” Ouch. Phony times two. How often do I say what I don’t mean?
Deep breath. I risked hurting my companions feelings for her polite invitation and said, “No”. I quickly added, “I hope you’re not offended.” As we left I expressed what was truly in my heart: “It was good to see you. I’m so happy for you. I wish you the very best. Take good care.”
Debbie Ford, Why Good People Do Bad Things: How to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy
Brené Brown: Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution