To Prevent Overwhelm-Set Boundaries
I realized what a fool I’d been as soon as my co-worker launched into a recruitment pitch for his political lobby group. We were all crowded into a conference room at the office, and more people kept coming in and trying to find seats. My co-worker – let’s call him Stan – smirked to himself as he surveyed the rows and rows of potential recruits.
“Thank you for attending my lectures on the history of money these past few weeks,” he began. “We are planning a number of petitions and demonstrations over the next few months, so I’ll be sending you the dates and times by email.”
I groaned inwardly. And all along I’d been going to these boring talks because I thought he was just enthusiastic about history. Stan wasn’t even a friend of mine. When he first told me he was planning a 10-part lecture series on capitalism – during my precious lunch break – I wanted to show up to a few just to be nice. The one time I didn’t attend, I caught him scowling at me in the office cafeteria. Naively, I’d had no idea he had a hidden agenda and that it was all just a self-serving political campaign.
As I listened to his used-car-salesman pitch, I came to a decision. I stood up and walked out.
Stan hasn’t spoken to me since.
Setting boundaries is one of the most important skills for introverts, especially busy working ones like me. If I had just said no to Stan at the very beginning, I would not have gotten dragged into a socially claustrophobic political rally. I would also have avoided feeling overwhelmed and stressed-out after losing my lunch breaks, which I usually spend alone, or quietly catching up with work.
So why is it so hard to say No?
So often, it’s hard not to feel like we’re letting someone down by saying no. Women especially feel expected to cater for other people’s needs ahead of their own – and saying no can lead to feelings of guilt and even failure. Saying no can also be hard because we lack assertiveness or dislike confrontation.
* Respect your needs.
As an introvert, I can only take so much social interaction before I start to feel overwhelmed. Life is much easier when I know ahead of time how long I need to be ‘sociable’ for and can set my own limits. Rather than get dragged into my co-worker’s talks, I should have given myself permission to empathize with my own needs over his. But I didn’t, and the result was: feeling drained, frazzled and resentful for the rest of the day.
* See the strings attached. When I attended Stan’s lunchtime talks, I naively failed to realize a key point: everyone has their own agenda. I was attending out of niceness; he just wanted new recruits. And I also realize that since they were so well-attended, Stan didn’t truly care whether I went to his talks or not. But ultimately, I put my discomfort at ‘letting him down’ below his need for me to attend.
In future, when someone is trying to rope me into a social event that I don’t really want to attend, I will do two things: 1) Ask myself: “How much do I really want to go, no matter how eager the other person seems to have me there? Do they have a hidden agenda?” and 2) Either say: “Can I get back to you on that?” or “Sorry, I won’t be able to make it.” That’s all. No need for guilt trips or second-guessing myself.
*Be more assertive. Now, I’m not suggesting that all introverts are unassertive. Nothing of the sort! But if there’s one thing that all introverts have in common, it’s that we recharge our energy by being alone, and can get pretty tired when forced to interact socially for too long.
But we all have different pain thresholds, and when it comes to dealing with people I don’t particularly like, my threshold is pretty low. But because I also knew Stan was the kind who didn’t like to take ‘no’ for an answer, I avoided that conversation and just went to his talks to avoid confrontation. But now I kick myself when I think of the hours I could have saved myself by being braver and just saying no right from the start.
In short, boundaries have become my best friend. It’s so much better to learn how to say no – and stick to it – than spend any more time annoyed at myself for getting sucked in yet again. Stan, meanwhile, has started speaking to me again – I suspect he’s got some new lectures planned.
Guest Author -
Sophie Taylor is a Focus Coach who helps busy, working women outsmart stress and create highly-effective action plans, so they can reach their big goals. Visit her website here at SanityHaven
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