So let’s examine these three steps in a little more detail. What do I mean by identifying your triggers? Well, ask yourself this: Who is the person you can’t say no to? Is it your child(ren)? Your spouse? Your boss? Your mother? Maybe there are several people? Under what circumstances do you immediately give into or say yes to whatever the other person wants? The can’t-say-no yes response is usually followed by remorse, guilt, shame, regret, resentment and/or justification. For some people these are consciously experienced, for others, they are deeply buried reactions that aren’t allowed to surface into consciousness.
If you can recognize the people or circumstances that cause you to acquiesce when you really don’t want to, then congratulations! Whether you can catch it immediately as it is happening or even if you identify it hours or days later, that is progress! It means you can move on to the next step.
Take a deep breath…pause…whenever you are in one of your can’t-say-no trigger situations, you don’t have to answer immediately! Really! It’s okay. The world will not blow up if you don’t answer right away. (It took me a lot of years to figure this one out.) Pausing gives you that precious time to re-center yourself, separate yourself from everyone else’s influence, and check-in with your authentic answer. It is perfectly acceptable to say something like:
- I need some time to think about this, when do you need an answer?
- I’d like to consult my calendar first before I answer you.
- I’m feeling overwhelmed right now, let me get back to you when my head is clear.
If you already said yes and didn’t catch yourself until days later, I’ll tell you a secret…you can say no after you say yes! Of course, it comes with a tiny bit of crow-eating, but it can absolutely be done (as an adult too, without regressing into childlike behavior). Saying no after you say yes might sound like:
- I need to apologize to you; I said yes to your request, but as I thought about it, I realize I can’t do a good job (or) I don’t have the time (or) I felt how much you wanted me to do this and I didn’t want to disappoint you.
- I can give you two hours to _____, but I don’t have the time to do all of what you asked.
- I looked at my calendar and realized I am completely overbooked. Can we reschedule for ____?
By the way, if you find these examples of what to say helpful, I cover this subject in great detail in my book The Evolutionary Empath.
Finally, once you recognize the triggering situation and take a pause to determine your true answer, all that remains is to speak it. For some, this can be terrifying. If your fight, flight or freeze response gets turned up to arctic, then I recommend you start practicing with rather innocuous statements that won’t ruffle too many feathers. Things that don’t have much consequence if you don’t agree. For example, do you want another helping? “No, thank you. I’m full.” Do you want to watch XYZ show on TV? “No, but I don’t mind if you do. I’ll read my book.” Or, do you want to go with us after work to get some drinks? “I appreciate you asking and would love to hang out, but I need some downtime tonight.”
In all of this, remember, it is a process. In learning to draw boundaries, you are most likely undoing decades worth of hard-wired patterns. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to experiment, to make mistakes, and to (gasp!) even risk someone else not being pleased with you. Boundaries, at their essence, are an act of radical self-care. Most of all, don’t forget to apply your compassion superpower to yourself!