There is a certain trend that I am seeing in our generation: the need to develop our emotional intelligence, to be more self-aware.
These days, one of the most popular topics of conversation is the importance of maintaining boundaries. Now I am not the best at maintaining boundaries, but recent experiences have shown me the importance of doing so.
I have always struggled with telling people “N.O.”
I always felt like if I answered people negatively or denied helping them with something, then I was not the nice person I thought I was or portrayed myself to be. And there in that last statement lies the problem. My struggle with the word ‘No’ was not as a result of concern for my own wellbeing, rather it was as a result of more concern for what other people thought of me.
I am a recovering people pleaser. I have lived most of my life concerned about how my actions impacted others or came across (this sort of awareness is not always bad, but your intent and the outcome should always be examined). I wanted to be in everyone’s good books and I subconsciously thought the best way to do this was to agree to certain commitments I did not have the capacity to handle.
I always had good reasons to justify it too, “there must be a greater plan for them to have considered me”, “it’s an opportunity for me to learn something new, “I’m learning to serve or give more.” And all these reasons seemed so innocent, but as I mentioned earlier, it is important to check the intent behind these statements.
Why are you trying to justify something that you don’t feel comfortable doing?
Something happened recently that showed me why it’s so important to protect my boundaries. You should know, I have a non-existent sleep pattern. I sleep at random times of the day, and I’m just now trying to fix it, but it’s proving difficult.
One day I managed to get to sleep earlier. Thirty minutes into my sleep, my phone rang. It was the most aggressive, loud, and frustrating sound I have ever heard. I looked at the phone and I said “NO! I’m not answering it”. I put it on silent, but then Miss Guilt pulled up and began to assail my mind until I gave in. I called the person back and he had a request for me. The funny thing was that he kept asking, he never said “do it,” he asked. I whined a bit and gave in and did it, I finished the task in less than 3 minutes and let him know.
After all of this, guess who couldn't sleep?
I was cranky, irritated, and somewhat anxious. I tried to fall asleep again, and the initial alarm I set, rang, quite violently too (Apple’s ringtones could give you a heart attack, lol). I got up and I was unable to sleep till the morning of the next day.
You see all of this happened because I chose to respond to a 3-minute task. This entire situation revealed a lot to me, and I want to share these lessons with you.
- It is no one else’s responsibility but your own to institute your boundaries. I was sleeping and I could have easily ignored the call and chosen to call back the next day. I could get irritated and say “why would he call me when I’m sleeping?” But he did not know I was sleeping. And I was the one who returned the call. You cannot be upset that people are breaking your boundaries, when you have not established them.
- Know yourself and your capacity. If I was up watching a show and he called asking for help, the request would not be an issue because those 3 minutes would not hinder my relaxation time. If you have plans and commitments you have established for yourself, stick to them. If someone comes along seeking assistance, evaluate the “ask” and determine if it is within your capacity. If it is not, politely decline.
- Deal with the guilt. Guilt can help us recognize when we have done something wrong. But because of the conditioning we have received, we can end up feeling guilty for the wrong things. There was no need for me to feel guilty in that situation. I did nothing wrong to hurt this individual. So, guilt was not a useful emotion, and I should have discarded it immediately.
- You are not responsible for safeguarding people’s perceptions about you. As I mentioned earlier, I am a recovering people pleaser. I didn’t want the person who called me to think I was trying to be difficult or unhelpful. But these are bad reasons to do anything for anyone. There’s a saying we have in Nigeria, “you can cut your head and give some people and they will still hate you.” Meaning if people do not like you, they DO NOT like you, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Try to be the best person that you can be, and those who like you, will accept all of you, even when you do wrong.
Lastly, be a cheerful giver. If you must give or do something, let it come from a good place. There are times when I helped people, even though it was not convenient. However because it was my free choice, and not a pressured one, I still felt good after the action. I do not regret it or bicker about it. The opposite happens when I feel that invisible pressure to give or do something. So, whenever you are met with an “ask,” let your yes be given freely, and be happy doing so.
The journey to being a better person is long and tough, but it is also rewarding. So be patient with yourself and take your time to learn and unlearn the good and the bad.