Have you ever bent over backwards for someone and then felt like they did not do the same when you needed them? How did you feel about that? I bet you felt pissed off. There’s an unspoken code of conduct that basically states, “if I go above and beyond for you, you need to do the same.” Well guess what? Sometimes people do not follow that rule and there are a variety of reasons to explain why.
First, you have your trashbag people who simply do not care about your efforts. They either didn’t ask for your bending and stretching, or, they don’t expect to have to return the favor in any way. They are comfortable just receiving all you have to give and then keeping it moving. Rid yourself of people like this QUICKLY! You’ll be better off for it.
Next you have those folx who keep score of everything done for them so they can return the favor or try and give back in the same or similar way. Sometimes this keeping score is a conscious effort to balance the scales and has a lot to do with their ideas about fairness. Other times, they are not necessarily paying that much attention but when something is asked of them, they feel obligated or led to show up/meet the need because “somebody did ‘x’ for me…”
Last, you have the people who don’t keep scores in their heads or hearts, and simply give of themselves when they have the bandwidth to do so. When they do not, they don’t. It’s that simple. No personal sense of obligation, no fear or worry about balance, and most importantly, no malice or ignoring of the feelings of others. These people simply know their limits, and they actively practice enough self-care to know when engaging in something (a task, activity, request, etc.) would not be in line with that self-care practice. The act of setting boundaries with both yourself and others, is a radical act of self-care!
Let’s get really honest about setting boundaries. Specifically, let’s talk about the ways in which we DON’T set boundaries, then get mad at others when they do. I’ve been reflecting on how often people are trained and molded into compromising themselves as an act of love and devotion when really, it’s a veil for breeding codependency (among other toxic dynamics). These destructive-ass relational patterns help to keep people stuck in relationships with others that do not serve them. This also applies to the relationship you have with yourself.
Seriously take a minute to think about the ways in which you compromise yourself for the benefit of others, particularly when it does you a disservice. Have you had a project you needed to complete that you keep putting off because of requests from a friend? Have you ignored your own fatigue because you told someone you would help with something when you knew good & well you don’t really have time? Have you went along with something that didn’t feel right in your spirit just so you didn’t rock the metaphorical boat? I’d bet money your answer to at least one of these questions is “yes”. I’d also bet money that in some of these instances, you’ve felt annoyed about being in that situation or held some feeling of regret.
Now you’re thoroughly pissed off and you want someone to blame, but realize… all roads lead back to you.
So maybe you say to yourself, “I’m not overextending anymore” and maybe you’re semi-successful. There’s also a part of you that feels like a good person because you put someone else’s needs above your own (oh hello altruism!).
Fast forward and now you need someone to do something for you. You ask, and they say, “nah, I can’t.”
What blasphemy is this?! What do they mean, they “can’t”?! Your brain at this point is about to short-circuit because what is happening simply does not compute. There have been many, MANY times when you felt like you couldn’t do something but you pushed through… even to your own detriment. So why tf would so-and-so say they “can’t” like that’s a valid response?! You’re seething now and usually do one of two things:
- Say “ok”, leave/exit convo and vow to never ask them for anything again. You may even complain to your friends or partner.
- Bring up all the things you “couldn’t” do, but did, for them so they know it’s possible. This likely gets you in an argument and either you guilt them into doing what you asked or they call your tit-for-tat-scorekeeping-behind out on what you’re doing.
Either way, there’s a lesson in this for you about boundary setting, as well as agency and autonomy. In a nutshell, YOU have the power to set boundaries for yourself and your time, no explanations needed. You have both the capacity to and are the deciding force behind your actions.
The part that makes this so important is that you have to BELIEVE you have the power to do this.
A lot of folx don’t believe they can say “no” largely because some people are taught that we need to constantly be in service of others in order to be “good” people (the foundation of this thinking lies in many religions as a core tenet).
Don’t get me wrong, being in service, can be a great thing AND you can also be in service of yourself. Getting out of the habit of overextending ourselves and then blaming (overtly or covertly) others for negative feels that arise as a result, is BIG work! It’s crucial to your growth and happiness to unlearn this relationally destructive pattern.
Next time you get mad at someone for setting a boundary with you about their time, their capability, their investment, etc., remember that you too, can prevent forest fires (ha! I’m kidding but that’s true too) – can set these boundaries. Instead of getting angry and internally vowing to never ask them for shit again, reframe that as a teachable moment in boundary setting. Then apply that to yourself and get to setting!