A friend of mine is like me, a people pleaser. Nothing wrong with that as long as you don’t overdo it. She’s almost at the cusp of learning to care for herself first. I have been gently giving advice, to empower her, yet respecting her choices.
I wrote an earlier post on self care which goes over getting enough sleep, good nutrition, and examples of do’s and don’ts for saying no. This post is shorter and to the point for those who are almost but not quite there in terms of having good boundaries. Situations like the one with my friend help bring things into focus for me. I hope it gives you the knowledge and support you need to say ‘yes’ to yourself first. Everyone will be happier this way. The energy is better for everyone, especially you!
Cardinal Rule—The caregiver needs care first!
In order to care for others, you need to—you must—care for yourself first and foremost! No matter how tough, full, or frantic your schedule seems, you come first. It’s like when you are in the airplane and their safety speech includes “Put your oxygen mask on first, then assist your child.” You make a much better caretaker for others, if you are in tip-top shape. This is especially true of people who take care of others that are sick, elderly, or disabled. You need to be in good shape to properly care for them.
GETTING FEARS AND GUILT OUT OF THE WAY
Fear of Hurting Others
There is a saying: “Disappointing myself is easier than disappointing others.” That’s what an over-the-top people pleaser (who is a doormat) says to themselves. I lived much of my life that way so I’m not trying to shock or insult anyone. I was always seeking love, but like many, I was mistaking acceptance for love. They are not the same thing. Besides, love should come from you, not to you, in order to feel whole.
Urgency is Overrated
It is not an emergency. You do not need to give to every single person who needs a poster, a cake, fixed plumbing, or babysitting. I can assure you, the world will not end. I’m here to tell you whatever you are dealing with, it’s not an emergency. There are hospitals, police, urgent care places, professional plumbers and electricians out there for a true emergency. I find a lot of people who are running around frantically putting out fires—ignoring themselves and their home life—think everything on their list is an absolute emergency. This is not true. They give all kinds of ‘but, but…’ excuses. Take the but, but out of it. You are not the world’s savior. (Read on.)
You’re Not a Superhero
I’m pretty sure if you look behind you, you will not see a cape flying in the non-existent wind. So don’t feel you have to save the day. You cannot possibly save everyone on the planet, so don’t try. Prioritize. Delegate. Let go of the rest.
You’re Not a Doormat
Say no when you need to. Someone else’s lack of planning is not your emergency. Otherwise All those people that depend on you to help them in an emergency think, “Insert-Your-Name will do it!” Because the expectation is you are a pushover and you always say yes. That short and simply is lack of good boundaries on your part, and the other party as well.
You cannot help everyone in the world. It just isn’t possible. (See “You’re Not a Superhero”) So don’t feel guilty for not being able to help somebody. There are only 24 hours in a day, love, and you have to get at least eight hours of sleep, eat well, take care of your home and family life first.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
What’s Your Ripcord Phrase?
Find a phrase that works for you when you’ve had enough. My phrase is “I am on overload” for in-the-moment needs. State it clearly and then immediately take a break, or hang up, whatever the situation calls for. Get a cup of tea, get outside for five minutes. Or use it to tell someone you can’t help them. “No I can’t help you, I’m already on overload.” I find this works for times when I have had it, and I don’t mean when I’m mad. I sincerely mean, I am on overload! Too much going on, at the computer too long, too many fires to put out, brain fog, working on a problem too long, and needing a break. It works wonders!
Find wording that you are comfortable with. You can even say “I need a time out!” and put your hands out in that time out sign language “T” we all know from watching football. Yes, you can use this on co-workers and you should be comfortable enough to tell your boss this as well if you need to. Because, if you are on overload, you are not going to be a good worker, in a good mood, etc. Be kind to yourself and get a good ripcord saying and put it in your pocket for emergencies.
Know What Energizes You
For me it is not sipping a cup of tea. That’s for relaxing. I work from home so a quick break that is energizing is getting away from the computer and getting outside. I might walk the dogs around my property a few times. It only takes about 10 minutes to do that. Or I might kick the ball for them, or do a really quick chore like put away five of those patio bricks I have been meaning to move. If you are in an office, get outside and go around the block, or for a very short walk. You’ll wonder what took you so long to feel so good.
For me, physical exercise in the outdoors does wonders for a quick and refreshing break. I must be physically active and ideally outside. Find out what energizes you. For goodness sake, shut off that phone for five minutes! You will live! No one is going to perish if you don’t answer that chat, nudge, or call.
Your Day Off
Take one day or evening where everyone needs to steer clear of needing you. Spouse and kids included. Sunday 6pm is my time. When my divorce was over and I was building my life from the ground up, I took the entire day of Sunday as my day. I would say, I’d love to come over and do xyz, but it’s Church of Patty day. That phrase, Church of Patty, means they can’t bug me, or expect me to be out and about. I don’t use it as often these days, but it does come in handy. My friends started using this tool for their own self care routine.
Practice Saying No
When you can’t do something, or wish not to, you should be able to kindly but firmly say no. Say it with a big smile on your face and a huge dose of sunshine in your voice, knowing your refusal will be better received by the other party. I learned over the years how to say no. One way to think of it is that every time you say yes to someone else, you say no to yourself and your family. You will feel good about gently but firmly enforcing your boundaries.
Never Make Excuses—Ever
When saying no, don’t say, “Well I have to count the fleas on my dog” or “I have to sort out my socks at home, otherwise I’d love to help you.” Just say, “Gosh I would really love to help you but I do not have the time.” Period. End of sentence. Big smile on your face. Otherwise people will take your excuse and turn it around on you. “Well after you’re done sorting out your socks, I’ll come and pick you up.” They will squeeze their need into your schedule and you won’t even know what hit you.
Volunteering Your Time
Don’t let someone volunteer you because you have skills they need for their organization or hobby. As a graphic artist (or cake baker, or babysitter) people constantly are in need of (poster, cake, babysitter). And they have to have it because it’s an emergency! Refer back to “Urgency is Overrated”. If you are volunteering for something you enjoy like working on a newsletter for for a fun organization, be careful as others will volunteer your time. When people would find out I did graphic design, voila! I’d be volunteered to do acres of time-intensive newsletters, posters, flyers. Every single time.
I joined a weaver’s guild to have fun. I ended up writing stories, designing ads, and working on the entire newsletter, getting them printed, finding advertisers, communicating with the post office, and sorting bulk mailing. That was not what was supposed to happen! Each of those items should have been handled by us a group. Because I could not communicate how much time I wanted to serve, I was saddled with almost a full week of my time each month. I had a full time job on top of it. It was no longer fun. And those were the nicest folks you’d ever want to meet. It was not their fault. It was mine for not being proactive in my own needs and desires.
Think in Terms of Hours
After learning that hard lesson with the weaver’s guild, I got some good advice. Have a number of hours in mind per day/week/month to give back to the world. Communicate that clearly to your hobby organization and stick to it. If it’s something time sensitive like babysitting, or helping with a chore or an event, stick to days/times you are available. “I’d be thrilled to help set up and work at your incredibly huge rummage sale! I am available Saturday from noon to 4pm.” I found this tip to be the most helpful tool in my search for independence and regaining personal power.
Be Proactive—Don’t get boobytrapped!
What are you doing today? What are you doing this weekend? Hey what are you doing right now? Usually when people start out a sentence like that, I can see a request coming in hot and heavy on runway one! It’s a boobytrap. 😉 My mother taught me to say, “Why do you want to know?” Put an “I am busy” in front of that answer. “I have plans for this weekend. Why did you want to know?” Then they can tell you what they need. You have already asserted up front that you don’t have time. If it ends up you do want to help, tell them how long and when you are available. You are in charge of your schedule, not the other person. The scope and length of their event does not set the stage for how much time you offer up. Plus the person asking will have received clear communication from you. Otherwise they will assume you can help all day long with…whatever.
Say it With Sweetness
Any sort of ‘no’ said with a big smile on your face and sunshine in your voice usually goes over well with the other party. Say it with pure love in your heart. I don’t mean be sarcastic. Be truly sweet. Come from a place of love. Put honey on every word. 🙂 Otherwise believe me people will figure out that after you were done sorting out your socks at home you can come and help them set up tables for the cotillion ball that will only take you a few hours! You know that will turn into an all day event.
Choose a Role Model
Think of someone you know and admire, whether it’s a family member or a friend or someone in the public eye. Use them as a role model and ask yourself “What would that person say in this situation?” When I need strength, I think of Katherine Hepburn’s strength and confidence, with a bit of Julia Child thrown in for good humor. If it’s something straight forward, I might channel the cold but unarguable logic of Mr. Spock. “We are 2.5 light years away.” “I can help you for 2.5 hours this week.” Get it? Role models can inspire, and you can dial them up in a second.
Head and Heart Balance
Spend time in your heart, and try and get enough heart time in your day. This gets you out of your head and will be like a breath of fresh air in your day. It does wonders for dispelling exhaustion and brain fuzz. I have found sweeping the floor for a few minutes is relaxing and heart centered. The activity is calming, and it helps to have a neutral task that takes you out of your head and puts you in your heart. Washing a few items in the sink is also gently relaxing but good for that neutral heart space that helps you to switch tasks or focus. It’s time for a good brain break too and helps get rid of brain fog from being on overload. I find for me being non-verbal helps.
If you are at work, get up out of your chair, walk around, get a glass of water, cup of coffee, or empty the break room dishwasher. All by yourself without asking for credit. 😉 If you can get outside for even a few minutes to walk, or people watch, do it! You’ll feel so good about yourself, and it is a great way to be more heart centered and less in your head. Getting out of your head will lead to much more balanced days, less exhaustion, more energy, and better quality Spiritual juju.
The Advice Given Here
My advice is gained from years living on planet earth, trying to get it right. It is not to get you to say no to everything someone asks of you. It is to give you insights into behaviors you can change to better protect your time, and give you tools of empowerment. If you have that Ripcord phrase, are prepared to sweetly decline a request, watch for boobytraps, never use excuses, take some time for yourself, realize you can’t help everyone, know what energizes you, have heart centered time, all without guilt, you are on your way to being a healthy caregiver for yourself, and others. And this wisdom only took me 61 years to acquire! (insert belly laugh here.)
Comments are welcome. “Likes” tell me someone is listening. Love and Light, ❤ Patty