What do boundaries, healthy boundaries, have to do with our relationships?
Why is learning to say “no” important and why is it so hard? Because if you continue to do things you don’t want to do, you eventually become, angry, resentful and bitter.
If like me you choose to be a martyr and say “yes” when you really want to say “no,” you will become what some describe as a “bitter martyr.”
But as one psychologist puts it, “it’s not too late to turn the ship around.”
To remove the bitterness, we must become better at telling the truth to ourselves and others because saying “yes” when you want to say “no” is being dishonest.
Why do we struggle with this?
It’s the little girl in us acting out our childhood training to be nice.
According to psychologist, Terri Cole, growing up with a mother who was a people-pleaser makes it difficult for a person to say “no” when it is the last thing we want to do.
If you lived in a home where there was addiction and “loose boundaries,” a child quickly learned that “no” just got you in trouble and kept you in “yes” mode and 30 years later you are still doing it.
We also fear rejection because we want to make people happy no matter the cost to ourselves. Even if we feel that we are being taken advantage of or it’s inconvenient we say “yes” for fear that the person won’t like us anymore.
Now there are times we have to do things we don’t want to do, but if we are doing this all the time it can cause problems. Excessive self-denial can lead us to a joyless guilt-ridden life. We become overwhelmed by the demands of others and our identity is lost in putting others before ourselves.
For many years, it was an instant yes for me whether I wanted to or not and I believed that it was what God wanted me to do all the time. I thought I was taking up my cross and denying myself every time someone asked me to do something.
Because nice Christians always say yes.
But it showed up in other ways as well. There were times when I went for a haircut and did not like the way things were going with the style. Instead of telling the stylist it wasn’t what I wanted, I pretended to be happy when I was really upset.
According to author Geri Scazzero, “Lying is closely related to our self-esteem. The more people feel their self-esteem is threatened, the more they lie. People become increasingly engaged in managing how others perceived them.”
Once we stop being superficial and “nice” we will begin to set ourselves free from dishonesty and become liberated in our interactions with others.
But it is not going to be easy to make a change. Author Sandra Wilson says, “The truth sets us free but first it makes us miserable.”
It is only through dying to our fear of rejection and fear of disappointing others that we can truly live. When we quit lying to ourselves, to others and to God a great awakening begins and our relationships grow more authentic.
Even Jesus was overwhelmed by the constant demands from the crowds wanting healing and deliverance. Luke writes that the Lord frequently slipped away for some alone time, even when people needed Him:
15 But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. (Luke 5: 15-16 NASV)
So don’t feel guilty when sometimes you have to say no.
So how do you make the change?
I did it by choosing not to make a decision right away when people approached me. Saying “maybe, I will get back to you or I’m afraid I can’t”, gives you the space you need to make a decision.
I need to buy myself myself time so I can decide whether it is right for me in light of everything going on in my life, work, family responsibilities or much needed time to rest and recuperate from everyday busyness.
Once I have a chance to think about it, I can decide if this is what I want to do away from the pressure of the moment.
You will falter and fail at times but keep working on this very important principle in your life. It will ignite your spirituality and an awakening to who you really are begins.