How often do you agree to something because you’d feel selfish if you didn’t?

Would you like to have more options? If so, this article is for you. It’s taken from my book, The Insider’s Guide to Better Boundaries, which is about the beliefs and emotional patterns that keep us from setting better boundaries.

If you were raised to put others first – or even if it’s just what you’ve always done – taking your own needs into account can be uncomfortable. You can feel selfish, even when you know that what you’re doing is right. We humans are naturally afraid of change. Rather than facing our fears and getting on with the business of growing, we label what we’re afraid of as “bad” and run away from it. That’s often why putting ourselves first feels wrong. The mere thought of it triggers fear, and we label it as “selfish” (in other words, “bad”). This keeps us in our comfort zones, doing what everyone else wants us to do instead of creating a fulfilling life.

It’s important to realize that you don’t feel uncomfortable because you’re wrong. You feel uncomfortable because something is wrong. That something may be someone else’s excessive demands, or it may be your fear of putting your own needs first. Often people who ask for your help will understand if you decline; it turns out that the pressure is coming from you.

Of course, that’s not always the case. Sometimes people let you know subtly that your agreement is expected. They may do this by looking at you a certain way if you don’t agree immediately. Or they may use any combination of words, tone of voice and facial expression to express their expectations:

  • “You’ll help me, won’t you?” (spoken in a tone of desperation)
  • “Is that a problem?” (accompanied by a disapproving look)
  • “Do I need to ask someone else?” (in an almost horrified tone with a look to match)

The words, the voice and the expression all let you know that your agreement is expected – and someone’s approval is clearly at stake. You may feel selfish – or simply not good enough – if you don’t do as expected. If you’re not sure what to do, then take the time to decide what’s right for you. If you’re certain that you don’t want to go along, ignore the disapproving tone and look. State your decision firmly and stick with it:

“You’ll help me, won’t you?”

No, I won’t be able to help this time. You’ll need to ask someone else.

“Is that a problem?”

Actually, it is. John and I don’t get along, so I’m not I’m not going to ask him to help us.

“Do I need to ask someone else?”

Yes, you do. I’m not available on Saturday.

You’ll notice that these responses aren’t overly polite – but they’re not rude, either. Only one of them offers any real explanation for your decision. That’s because I don’t believe in giving too much information to people who use guilt trips to get what they want. They tend to use it against you.

Don’t let someone else control you by making you feel selfish or inadequate. If you’re sure that your decision is the right one, then recognize your discomfort for what it is: a sign that something is wrong. Stop assuming that you’re the only problem – or the only solution.

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