As simple as this sounds, many people who struggle with mental illness also struggle with setting boundaries and saying no. This can be due to several different reasons, but the most common reason is because setting boundaries can be really quite terrifying when you’ve been unable to do so your whole life. We see this frequently with people who have been raised in a controlling, abusive household, or those who have experienced long term domestic abuse. When saying no wasn’t safe, you learn to always say yes. You learn to put your own needs aside, and you learn that your boundaries aren’t as important as other peoples.
From a child’s perspective, a lot of controlling parents do not give their children the space to say no or set boundaries. Children are often punished for saying no, for questioning authority, for “talking back”. Repeated exposure to this type of punishment leads people to be afraid to stay firm in their boundaries, even in adulthood.
So how does this affect us as adults? People who have trouble setting boundaries often find themselves in positions they are uncomfortable with. Do you have trouble turning down an invite for a party? Even when you’re exhausted and you know you’re not mentally prepared? Do you often find yourself in uncomfortable situations because you were paralyzed by the thought of confrontation and couldn’t speak up? You are not alone, and you’re not hopeless.
So why is setting healthy boundaries so important? Why shouldn’t we be completely selfless and put others needs before our own? It sounds great at first glance. Being selfless is a good trait, being kind and thoughtful are good traits. So why is it so bad to just suck it up and fulfill others needs?
Picture yourself as a car. Your selflessness is fuel. You can drive for quite awhile on a full tank, but eventually, you will run out, and if you’re not filling your tank, you will break down. You may even do some permanent damage to your engine. If you are constantly putting effort into other people, without putting effort into yourself as well, you will soon find yourself physically and emotionally drained. You will find yourself broken down on the side of the road, and if you’re constantly helping everyone else, who is there to help you?
This is why balance is SO important. This is why learning to say no is imperative to your well being and why, yes, saying no IS self care.
Next time someone invites you out and you’re not feeling it? Just. Say. No.
I promise it will not make or break the friendship, and if it does? That’s your sign that the friendship was one sided and the other person does not care about your needs like you care for theirs. Watch out for people who siphon your fuel. They will take and take and take with no regard to the damage they are doing.
So how do we learn to say no? How do we completely re-write years of conditioning? It won’t happen overnight, no matter how much we want it to. Start small. Say no to food you don’t like/want. Say no when a friend wants to hangout when you’re not feeling it. Say no when someone asks if they can vent to you when you don’t have the emotional space. Saying no to the little things will pave a road for you to say no to the bigger, more important things.
Conflict is not something one should frantically try to avoid. Conflict can be healthy. Growth comes from conflict. The best advice I can give someone who is afraid of conflict (and something I am still working on) is to learn how to navigate conflict without taking things personally. Try to learn how to take criticism as a learning experience, not a personal attack. Setting boundaries should not be seen as something that is inconveniencing the other person. Setting boundaries is simply laying out a set of rules you have for someone to be in your life. Reasonable, healthy boundaries should always be respected, and if someone challenges you on your boundaries, RUN.