I Said Boundaries, Not Walls

By: Erin Rose Hennessy

I’m a people-pleaser. For those of you like me, “people pleasing,” usually means you like to make people happy. Nothing wrong with that. The problem only comes when the happiness of other people is put before your own. 

Fred wants help cleaning out his garage? Not a problem! I’ll squeeze it in between lunch with Betty and the Shaeffer’s cocktail party. Grocery shopping can happen in the morning after my coffee with Hilary.

Got the wrong milk at the store? I don’t want to inconvenience anyone so I’ll just have to drink milk I don’t like.

One person doesn’t like that I clear my throat when I cough. I’ll just hold it in, even though because I have asthma, that’s not exactly healthy.

There’s a schedule change at work and this conflicts with plans I made with my family. I’ll just change the plans with my family, I guess, because I don’t want to make problems with work.

Wait, when is the time for myself? When is the time for making sure I am happy? When are my needs going to get met? When do I get to feel respected? This may sound selfish to those of who have spent our lives making others happy. “It’s good to do this. It’s called being a good friend/family member/neighbor. My needs can’t possibly be as important.”

I’ve learned that there is a flaw in this thinking – maybe you have too. Once things get piled on, human beings are stretched thin. We can become grumpy, anxious, and overwhelmed. We could become resentful and easily frustrated. We might build up walls to “protect” ourselves from the world’s onslaught. We want to snap at others for asking us to do something as simple as taking out the trash.

Establishing boundaries is an incredibly important thing and it’s something I’ve only recently started working on. Say “No.” Say “I’m sorry, but I just can’t make that work.” Say “I wanted to let you know that….” When we build healthy boundaries in our relationships and daily travels, we are basically saying “These are my rules. If you want to associate with me, you will follow them.” 

This week, I have been literally asking myself every time I felt uncomfortable in a social situation: “Was there a boundary broken there? What was it? What can I do to fix it?” Once, I just needed to gently mention that I was given the wrong milk and the store bent over backwards to help me (thank you, Tar*get!) Other times, I needed to just let it go. A small slight, such as a woman smirking at me when I wished her a good day – I reminded myself it wasn’t me. She was probably having a bad morning. Sure enough, she was all smiles when I next saw her and didn’t mention it at all.

Note: I said boundaries, not walls! Healthy boundaries are good. Walling yourself away from everyone is miserable. I speak from experience.

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