When I was in my late 20’s I had two small children, was pursuing a Master’s degree and was working part-time. My dad came to me and asked if I would hold a surprise party for my mom’s birthday. I got this sick feeling in my stomach and then I said, “of course, I’d love to do it.” The problem wasn’t that he had asked me, the problem was that I didn’t know how to say “no” and honor my boundaries based on how I was feeling at the time.
Although that was many years ago, I vividly remember the resentment that began to brew as I began to put all this energy into something when I was already feeling overwhelmed with life.
This was my first introduction to the importance of having boundaries in order to prevent feeling resentful.
I like many people, grew up in a family that didn’t have healthy boundaries in place and this created a lot of challenges for me emotionally in my adult years. I didn’t learn how to distinguish where someone ended and I started and this lack of awareness meant that I was overly influenced by other people and had a hard time saying “no” for fear of disappointing or not being liked. I was a total people pleaser! When others were happy I’d feel happy, when other’s were unhappy I’d feel unhappy.
I’ve found that when I don’t set healthy boundaries, I end up feeling angry and resentful. This anger and resentment then lead me to put my energy into forgiveness when I really need to set healthy boundaries so I don’t feel anger and resentment in the first place.
The best way to deal with anger and resentment is to prevent it from polluting our inner world in the first place.
I define boundaries as “what feels right and what doesn’t feel right”. Boundaries are not static things and it’s not about putting up a wall. Boundaries enable us to open our heart in an authentic and loving way. It’s ironic that having boundaries enables us to be more compassionate.
When we don’t set healthy boundaries we’re easily ticked off by other people’s requests and expectations. We don’t know how to say “no” and then we begin to feel resentment towards the other person and blame them for triggering the feelings in us. In actuality what we really need is to learn how to say “yes” when we want to say “yes” and “no” when we want to say “no”.
I use a 3 step process of Pause-Connect-Honor to help me be mindful and set healthy boundaries in my life:
This step gives us permission to not react immediately before checking in with ourselves. How many times have you said, “yes” to something and then a short time later regretted it?
I went through years of my life saying, “yes” to everything. Some of it I really wanted to say “yes” to and some of it I was afraid to say “no” so I would say “yes”. Needless to say by saying, “yes” to everyone and everything I got pretty exhausted and then began to feel resentful.
I was talking to one of my clients the other day and she described how she had agreed to do something with her friend that she didn’t really want to do and then felt resentful the whole time they were together.
When we take the time to pause we can take everything into consideration and make a more nourishing decision. Iyanla Vanzant reminds us:
“When you give to others to the degree that you sacrifice yourself, you make the other person a thief.”
This step is all about connecting with ourselves and tapping into how we’re feeling on a moment-to-moment basis. Whether we say “yes” or “no” is not a black or white thing. We need to explore how we’re feeling, what our energy is like and what other things are going on in our lives.
For example, at one point I had both my parents in different hospitals at the same time. Someone else asked me to help them with something and after connecting with how I was feeling I decided to say “no.” If that same request had come at a different time, I most likely would have felt differently. If I had gone ahead and helped out when I didn’t have the energy I would have felt resentful towards the other person.
During this step, it’s also important to connect with our underlying beliefs that prevent us from setting healthy boundaries. For example, if I believe it makes me a better person to put others ahead of myself, I will always say “yes” when I want to say “no.”
Many of us have the underlying belief that we’re not good enough. To build ourselves up we compromise our boundaries or have difficulty setting them in the first place. We believe that our worth as a person is measured by how much we give to others and always put other people’s needs ahead of our own.
I love Brene Brown’s mantra, which is “choose discomfort over resentment.”
There’s no question that we feel uncomfortable when we set boundaries and start to honor ourselves, but that feels a lot better than feeling resentful. Feeling uncomfortable is something that will pass while feeling resentment festers within us to the point that we don’t even like the person we have become.
Setting boundaries and learning to honor ourselves enables us to be more compassionate. Other people can feel when we’re doing something because we feel we have to as opposed to because we genuinely want to.
For many women I know, myself included, setting boundaries is about finding our own voice and then having the courage to use it. When we don’t have our own voice we tend to sway and be influenced by everyone else’s. We’re so busy trying to be all things to all people that we have no time or energy to connect with ourselves and what nourishes us.
Healthy, compassionate and giving people have healthy boundaries. If you find yourself feeling angry and resentful towards other people learn to pause, connect and honor yourself.