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Women What Whistle

This podcast is about not falling in line or fading away. Stories of bravery, accounts of resilience and even tales of sheer bloody-mindedness. It’s about finding our voice, and sometimes our brave, through the stories of other women who’ve had to find theirs.

Oct 8, 2020

In part 3 of our people pleasing series we discuss the importance of boundaries and saying no. Having solid boundaries is fundamental to not being a people pleaser and the cornerstone to good mental health. You don't need permission to like what you like neither do you need to justify yourself. Boundaries are the lines that define who we are and what matters to us and people will take what you give to them so be sure you're wanting to give what's being taken - if you're feeling burned out and running on empty, sure as eggs is your boundary lines need firming up!

So, with World Mental Health day in a couple of days time I thought today was the perfect time to share with you something that was the absolute turning point for me back in my 20s and became the key to growth, healing and most importantly finding and becoming myself – which is a vital starting point for positive mental health, starting with permission to say no!

In Part 1 of the series, we talked about getting to know yourself (episode 73) and in part 2, we talked about getting to like yourself (episode 74) so in this one, we talk about standing up for yourself and protecting your mental, emotional and physical space.

So why do we people please? 

  • we learned somewhere along the lines that we have to
  • our self worth is based in what we can do for others, rather than in who we are
  • we are uncomfortable with conflict and will do anything to avoid discomfort
  • we have not figured out our boundaries

How often do you find yourself run ragged because you’re doing so much for everyone else? Staying late at work when everyone else clocks off before you? Going the extra mile and wondering why others around you don’t and then expect you to keep giving and giving?

We all need healthy boundaries which essentially are the limits and rules that we set for ourselves that ringfence our wellbeing. They are the lines that say, I stop here, I need to say no, I don’t want that, thank you very much. They aren’t meant to be rigid or inflexible, they are meant to be there so that you can first and foremost always have enough to give, but also so that people know exactly where you stand and where you draw your line.

Once you start to get your head around healthy boundaries, you feel as though you have so much more control over your own life – now let’s face it, as we have really seen in 2020, in many ways, control is just an illusion but in those instances, where we don’t have control over what happens, we have complete control over how we respond and react to what happens next.

So, in a dating situation, having a healthy boundary can mean physical touch, saying no, giving consent, but also freedom to say I don’t like that movie – rather than just always going with the flow and being complacent, the same in friendships.

When we run parenting workshops, we talk about, boundaries being like a fence around a field. A child that has no fence around a field runs wild and has no ownership of their space because they can’t see where it starts and finishes, often they will feel lost and without a sense of self, but then a child with a very small sheep pen sized fence around them will feel hugely suffocated and restrained which will often cause them to need to break free and run in the wild spaces – but a field with a boundary line, a fence that says this is where we belong and a gate that says however we can come and go, be flexible at certain times, is always the healthiest way to raise a child. (episode 28 boundaries and parenting)

In the same vein, if we have tight rigid boundaries as adults, we say no to everything and go nowhere, we miss out on so much as we keep everyone and everything at a distance, but if we have no boundaries, we have difficulty saying no to people, we quickly feel abused, used, and as though no one cares for us – a good alarm bell of not having healthy boundaries is if you find yourself wondering why it’s always you putting in the effort, or doing the running around – you’re putting yourself in that position because you aren’t respecting your own boundaries (episode 13, uncluttered – boundaries within the home)

Another one to look out for is if we struggle making decisions without someone else’s agreement – needing a second opinion because you don’t trust your own – when we are dependent on other people’s opinions in order to make our own decisions, you can be pretty sure that it’s based in the arena of people pleasing – we have a need for permission from others because we haven’t defined our own likes and dislikes, yes’s and no’s.

It is so important to remember, it’s ok to say no!! – episode 36 is dedicated to that, sorry not sorry, saying no.

It might be that you fear being judged or rejected, or left out or left behind if you don’t comply with others – it could be opinion at work, in the book club – I remember when I first read A Passage To India nearly 30 years ago – I was mortified at the attitude of the British, wanting to make a British pathway around the world, I thought it was hugely arrogant and yet all the arguments at the time, were very pro colonialism still – these days  that has changed hugely – I’m glad to say – but to feel your own responses according to your values and then standing by those things, is crucial to knowing who you are and others knowing who you are too – we don’t need to agree, that’s not the point – we do all need to respect each other’s opinions though rather than just going along with the crowd – and even more importantly in this day and age – The Social Dilemma on Netflix showed how easy it is to be swept up with conspiracy theories and be manipulated with information so we really need to be responsible as to where we source our information from

Over giving, over sharing, over serving, over sacrificing is something, particularly as women who naturally fall into that nurture and protect mode, can be susceptible to. We put ourselves in danger of being used, unappreciated and run ragged – for example, rather than losing it with your partner or your children “I’m not running on batteries, I can’t do everything, why don’t you understand” which puts it all on THEM, set a boundary line “I won’t be able to do that AND that so you’ll need to choose one” or just say no - saying no does not make you a bad person!

Healthy boundaries means that there is a balance, we value our own opinions and aren’t phased by disagreeing with someone else, it’s not personal, we don’t judge, we respect their opinion as much as we respect our own. It works 2 ways, other people can like things that we don’t like, and that’s ok. We then become able to accept when someone else says no to us too, it’s a 2 way street.

When you value your own boundaries, you value everyone else’s too. It’s also having the ability to reach out and share when it is appropriate as opposed to just painting the walls with how you feel all the time no matter who is in the conversation – boundaries are there to protect us, at every level.

Setting boundaries will give you so much more freedom. When you know your boundaries, it is far less likely that you’ll do something you’re not comfortable with and at the same time you’re far more likely to do more of what you’re happy about! It’s all about knowing your needs and setting up life around you so that your needs are met – otherwise how are you ever going to feel ok?

Emotional boundaries – protecting your feelings and not wearing your heart on your sleeve for everyone to see.

Material boundaries – how you use your phone, how quickly you respond to emails and messages – phone etiquette can be immensely intrusive of personal space and you just need to dig your heels in and say no to those responses.

Time and energy boundaries – doing things for others, giving yourself permission to say no

Mental boundaries – freedom to have your own thoughts an opinions, your own beliefs, values – it’s ok to disagree

Physical boundaries – touch is obvious – please don’t touch me – or step back and make it clear  but also comments “I don’t find comments like that funny or appropriate” “I think you’ll find I’m far from stupid”

Sometimes setting a boundary can feel incredibly foreign when you’re used to being there for everyone all the time and sacrificing all your needs, so again, like getting to know yourself in part 1 and getting to like yourself in part 2, this takes time and practise – Brene Brown says “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others” – and that’s why having boundaries is fundamental to not being a people pleaser and a cornerstone to good mental health because you are ring fencing your needs and ensuring that you are equally respected, loved and looked after – you cannot expect anyone else to do it for you, if you don’t first do it for yourself.  People will take what you give them and if you give them a never ending source of yes I can do that or yes I will stay late or you choose I don’t mind, they will take that – so start giving yourself the permission to matter and you will find, particularly if you struggled with liking yourself in the last part of this, you will find that you start people pleasing less, giving yourself space to find your own definition of who you are and slowly you will feel that by taking control, you’ll start to have control

Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend – BOUNDARIES

  • Episode 32 How to love myself 
  • Episode 36 Sorry Not Sorry part 3

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