“Julie! I’m so glad I reached you. About the cupcakes: I need enough for 180 people and I need them to be vegan.”
Though dumbfounded by the nerve of Barbara to make such a demand, Julie took pride in her considerable ability to solve problems and come through for a friend in need. Though her gut told her that this was above and beyond a reasonable request, she called every bakery within a 20-mile radius and finally found one that could fill the last-minute order.
Fast-forward to two years later. Barbara is now engaged to be married and has asked Julie to be in the bridal party…and to do all of the floral arrangements. Could Julie do it all? Could she plan a shower, a bachelorette party, and coordinate the flowers? Of course she could! She is capable, organized, and naturally prone to saying yes when friends ask for help. This time, however, Julie stopped to listen to that nagging feeling that this was just too much. She took a beat, reflected on her resentment over the cupcake crisis, and remembered to listen to what she wanted. In a nutshell, Julie decided to take what felt like a risk, and put her own needs above those of Barbara. She uttered the magic word: “no.”
It was a qualified “no.” Julie realized that because she loves working with flowers, she would be genuinely happy to take on the role of florist for her friend’s celebration. But she was able to muster her courage, take a chance that Barbara would be hurt or angry, and say that she would not be able to take over the party-coordinating duties expected of a maid-of-honor.
If Barbara was upset, she did not show it. Julie felt relieved and deservedly proud of herself for identifying and prioritizing her own comfort zone. Ultimately, Julie’s choice to set boundaries resulted in a closer bond between the two women. Julie’s resentment dissipated and her own feelings of self-esteem blossomed.
Does Julie’s story resonate with you? Have you ever found yourself blind-sided by a demanding friend, only to kick yourself later for having given in? Here are three things that you can do to become for comfortable with setting boundaries:
1. Slow down. In the rush to solve someone else’s problem, you might say yes to something you are truly not comfortable with. By not responding right away, you give yourself time to check in with your own feelings. If someone makes a request that doesn’t immediately sit right with you, honor your intuition by taking the time to mull it over. Consider saying something like “I’m not sure about that. Let me think about it and get back to you.”
2. Don’t beat yourself up. In life, we have many opportunities to learn new things about ourselves. Julie may have over-extended herself with the vegan cupcakes, but learned from the situation and altered her behavior when it came to Barbara’s wedding. There is always another chance to change how you respond to others.
3. Tolerate ambiguity and stick to your values. Saying “no” can feel risky. You may not be sure if you’ll lose a friend or upset an acquaintance. In the end, Barbara’s reaction was not in Julie’s control. Julie could only control her own choices and behavior. Julie’s growth came in recognizing and following her own inner guidance and remaining true to herself. And that tasted sweeter than any vegan cupcake ever could.
Marnee Reiley, Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern, works with clients in finding their authentic voice, setting comfortable boundaries, and enhancing self-esteem. Learn more at www.YourOCTherapist.com.