Anyone here ever struggled with setting a boundary? Ever agonized over a decision that would be easily made by someone else? Yep, my hand is raised high on this one! Setting boundaries is hard. And, oh-so-necessary. And did I mention hard? For many of us HSPs, setting boundaries does NOT come naturally. We're so used to absorbing the energy and experience and environment around us that not doing this can fill freakin’ unnatural. We tend to care really deeply about other people, and sometimes--or often---setting boundaries means focusing on taking care of yourself and not putting someone else's needs before your own.
As a therapist, I also know boundaries are crucial. Boundaries are what allow us to maintain our own identity apart from other people without getting engulfed by them. Boundaries allow us to be separate people with separate identities and separate needs, thoughts, and feelings. The most healthy people are able to connect and engage with others in meaningful ways while still holding onto their own sense of separateness, including understanding of their own needs.
The whole idea of writing about boundaries came to me when I caught myself bragging to my husband, "I'm so proud! I set a good boundary today! " Our conversation then got me thinking about exactly how I set a boundary. Mind you, this was no earth-shattering, life-changing, mind-blowing boundary. Mine was just a simple every day win, small enough it could have gone unnoticed. But big enough that it mattered to me, and I was proud of myself. I said no. I said no, even though I felt guilty, and my inclination was to say yes. I wanted to say yes because I can be a people-pleaser. I wanted to say yes because it felt easier to go with the flow rather than push back. I wanted to say yes because it seemed like the "right" answer. I wanted to say yes because I wanted to be a team player. I wanted to say yes because saying yes felt way easier than saying no.
But, on a guttural level, I knew saying yes wasn't good for me. If I had said yes, I would've taken on more responsibility then I had time for. Then, I would've become stressed and overwhelmed, not to mention resentful. So how did I stop myself from diving into this familiar precipice?
1. I slowed down. I took a breath and didn't allow myself to react immediately.
2. I made a quick mental list of the impact on me of saying yes versus saying no. (Because, God forbid, I couldn’t just not think about it, right?)
3. I went over my mental list two, three, maybe eight times. I didn't like what my list told me.
4. I distracted myself for a while to let the emotion of my initial reaction to pass.
5. Then, I tried to listen to my gut. It was in knots when I thought of saying yes.
6. Naturally, I went back to my logical side and tried to convince myself that it was OK to say yes, but my gut kept saying no.
7. So, again I took a breath. (I find breathing to be essential in the more than it's-necessary-to-stay-alive kind of way, if you know what I mean.)
8. And . . . I said no. I was kind. I was respectful. I was compassionate, and I said no.
Wheeeeeeeww! Deep sigh of relief. I listened to my body. I didn't let my mind talk me out of what I knew I needed to do for myself. Victory!