I find myself saying yes to everyone/everything over the holidays. How can I draw boundaries and do what is best for me, without feeling really guilty about it?
Signed Guilt Sucks
Dear Guilt Sucks,
You are not alone! The holiday season tends to cause overwhelm and an overextension of time and energy for many of us. It can be hard to know how to say no (nicely) to the excessive obligations that we feel, without suffering a huge amount of guilt.
If you are the kind of person who finds themselves saying yes to everyone’s requests, you might be struggling with some people-pleasing characteristics. Most of us are taught to be thoughtful and considerate of others, as children. But some of us take this life lesson a little too far. We lose sight of our own needs and wants in the process. And we end up exhausted and unhappy.
We cannot please all of the people, all of the time (as the saying goes). We will disappoint others from time to time, and we need to find a way to come to terms with this. We are the secondary characters in someone else’s life story (and the primary character in our own). We are not responsible for another person’s feelings or the outcome of their day – they are. But we ARE 100% responsible for our own happiness and energy levels. And we need to be sure we focus on taking care of our own main character so he/she is ready for the next adventure or plot twist in life.
By doing your best to honour your own main character (yourself) in healthy ways, the feelings of guilt lessen. By allowing others to find their own way through their feelings and adventures, you are actually being the better friend/support. You are showing that you believe in the other person’s ability to manage their own needs/feelings without you always needing to save them.
Here are some strategies to help you make your own needs your priority.
- If you would rather feel terrible/create issues in your life rather than manage the feeling of disappointing another person, you may find it helpful to talk to someone (a therapist) about how this pattern of people-pleasing or approval-seeking has developed. There are a great many techniques that your therapist can share with you to assist you in overcoming this excessive focus on others to the detriment of your own healthy well-being.
- Remember that a pattern of people-pleasing behaviours actually causes problems in relationships. It causes an imbalance between yourself and the other person. You are no longer equals, deserving of mutual respect. You cannot be your genuine self with that person. And you imply that the other person needs you to parent them more than just be their friend. Think of how the other person might feel if they knew you only said yes because you didn’t think they could handle hearing a “no thanks” – or that you thought they would fall apart if you didn’t agree? It’s a bit insulting. And eventually, this pattern of trying to handle someone else’s feelings for them (while not being honest about your own) will drive a wedge between you both.
- For every choice we make, something else gets sacrificed, so focus on what you are giving up when you agree to take on too much. Instead of making someone else’s feelings your focus, re-prioritize who or what you are saying no to, in your own life. Be honest with yourself about the disappointment you will create (for yourself or others, when you are exhausted or sick) with whatever time and energy you give to someone else.
- Take some time to respond. Use a 2-day rule, and don’t commit to anything until you have had time to step back from the situation a bit, and refocus on your own needs and wants as part of the process. And for heaven’s sake, be careful of volunteering your time and energy before you are even asked! Wait for the request to be made before you start the countdown for your 2-day window.
- Validate the feelings that the other person may be expressing when they invite you to join them. If they truly feel that you understand how important it is, or how much they want you there, they will feel respected and valued through the communication process, even if you still say no at the end.
- Explain, don’t apologize. This is one time when our polite Canadian manners need to be halted. When we say no and then apologize for it, we are creating a sense of blame within our own minds. We are acting in a way that tells our brain to think we did something wrong. Find a different way to say no – like perhaps saying “Oh I really wish I could, but I just can’t this time. Thanks for thinking of me though.”
- Organize your time and energy appropriately for the holiday season. Make sure you are adding in enough down time, pause and refill breaks and regular life moments to help you see clearly how much room you still have for extras. Don’t overwhelm yourself with your planned out schedule, or real life will feel even worse.
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