Our Blog

By Lauren Thomas, MA

Do you have difficulty setting boundaries around your time and energy? You are not alone. Many of us are exhausted because we carry too many physical, mental, and emotional burdens that we are not meant to carry. If you find yourself taking better care of others than you do yourself, today’s blog is for you.

Let me start by saying that helping others is a good thing (we all need help sometimes!), but when we say “yes” when we want to say “no,” that is a red flag that we are motivated more by guilt, obligation, or anxiety than a true desire to help. In short, we are people-pleasing.

We’ve all been there: A friend calls you right in the middle of a task and instead of ignoring the call or telling her you’ll call back later, you answer, and a few minutes turns into an hour or more. Perhaps you are asked to serve on a committee at work or church; your time is limited but you do not want to disappoint someone, so you say yes. Yet another example is when we take on projects or positions that are not necessarily in our skill set, but we’d rather muddle through than admit it’s not a good fit. It may be particularly hard to decline an invitation from a loved one, or properly manage our time with a needy friend or family member.

Why is it so difficult to say no?

Those of us who can’t say no often let our “what ifs” get in the way of our good judgment: What if the other person responds negatively to our boundary? What if I appear selfish? What if I am perceived as not a team player? What if the other person fails because I was not there to guide them? What if I get overlooked for a position/promotion? What if this opportunity never comes my way again?

The truth is, we cannot control other people’s thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors; we are only in charge of our own. Trying to manage another person’s emotions or reactions, or attempting to shield them from potentially negative outcomes, is a losing battle.

Three Benefits to Letting Go of the Illusion of Control

  1. Less Stress. Trying to make or keep people happy is a stressful endeavor. No matter how much we acquiesce or accommodate, sometimes people will simply not be happy. This is not our fault. We are not responsible for other people’s emotions. When we act as if we are responsible, this leads to anxiety and even bitterness and resentment. When we finally realize that the other person is in charge of their own feelings and responses to situations, a weight is lifted off our shoulders.
  2. More Margin in Our Lives for What Matters Most to Us. When we give up people-pleasing, we have more freedom to focus on our own goals and interests. Do you find yourself spending more time making sure the people around you are comfortable rather than investing in your own health, hobbies, or aspirations? Again, supporting others is valuable, but there must be a balance. If we are so wrapped up in someone else’s life that we neglect our own, that is not healthy. Making sure we have time each day for the people and things that bring us joy is essential!
  3. Others Learn to Manage their Own Problems. Being overly involved in others’ lives and not setting appropriate boundaries stunts others’ growth. Think about it: if we make ourselves constantly available and do for others what they can absolutely do for themselves, they do not have the chance to figure out solutions on their own. We inhibit them from learning from their own mistakes through trial and error. We may even prevent them from seeking professional help, i.e., anxiety counseling or addictions therapy, because they have come to rely on us. Some of us are natural-born “fixers,” we don’t like to see the ones we love experience negative emotions. But remember, it is not your job to make problems disappear; challenges are a normal part of life and help us to grow.

Where do we go from here?

Setting boundaries takes practice. If we are used to saying “yes” all the time, saying “no” may feel uncomfortable at first. Remember, boundaries are a loving action. Your “yes” and your time matter! It is more loving to give someone the best version of yourself rather than spreading yourself so thin that you aren’t as helpful as you could be. Furthermore, saying “no” may empower the other person to take responsibility for their own choices, or allow someone else to use their gifts to fill a role or need instead. The world will not stop spinning if you take a step back, I promise!

Sometimes when we are developing new patterns of behavior, we need professional wisdom and support. Whether you are desiring to grow in boundary-setting in relationships with your spouse, children, parents, or co-workers, our team of trained therapists would love to work with you. If people-pleasing has led to low self-esteem, depression, or anxiety, the counselors at Lime Tree Counseling can help you learn new ways of thinking and behaving that will maximize your mental and emotional health. We offer online counseling in Pennsylvania, online counseling in Colorado and trauma counseling in Ambler Pennsylvania (find out more about all of our services here). Request an appointment today!