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Overwhelmed

Are You Threadbare? 3 Ways to Reclaim Your Personal Power and Set Healthy Boundaries (Part 3)

Ready for the big finish? Want to prepare yourself for the fall out that setting boundaries and reclaiming your personal power will likely cause? 

Then you will enjoy my story - and lesson learned. In fact, here's lesson #3: 

#3: People are going to dislike you for setting boundaries. Do it anyway. 

A few weeks ago, I followed a time management suggestion in Tim Ferris’s awesome book, “The 4-Hour Work Week,” and put an auto-responder on my personal e-mail account to set expectations on when I can respond to things. You see, I get a lot of e-mail each day, and I often have people get quite upset with me if I cannot get a  response to them until later in the day or (“Oh the humanity!”) the next morning. Worrying about this causes me to stop what I am doing just about every hour to check e-mails and respond, breaking my concentration for whatever project I am working on at the moment, often totally derailing my focus.

In reading this fantastic book, I realized that I had allowed this to get totally out of control and needed to set new expectations on how I was handling my time. So, copying Mr. Ferris’s autoresponder almost to the letter, I set up mine. Here it is: 

“Greetings, Friends! 

Due to an extremely high workload and immense amounts of e-mail, I am only checking my e-mails once a day at 4:00 pm EST. 

If you have an urgent issue that cannot wait until 4:00 pm, please contact me via phone at XXX-XXX-XXXX. You’re welcome to call me whenever to say hello.  

Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more without losing my mind in the bargain.  

I hope all is wonderful in your world today - 

 Tara”

As you can see, I offer people the option to contact me right away if there is a need so pressing that it cannot wait until I check my personal account at 4pm each day. 

Cue the ominous music; this is where it gets ugly.

Unfortunately, I set something wrong on my Mac mail and managed to send this autoresponder - often several times - to anyone who had ever e-mailed my personal account. I quickly realized my error, and sent out a very nice apology explaining what I was doing and why I was doing it. 

And the shock, awe, and truly unbelievable started.

Several people called me in a panic wondering what I was doing and letting me know that the stupid autoresponder had gone out a zillion times. Another person called me, totally freaking out, because “What would my business contacts think?” and telling me “You cannot do this with your business contacts - sometimes people need to get a hold of you right away.” 

I did mention that this was ONLY my personal account, right? And, do I really need to be at the beck and call of people 24 hours a day? Does anyone?

It gets worse.

Then, a person (who shall remain nameless) decided take my autoresponder and send it out to a whole list of people, some of whom are business contacts (and would not have seen this autoresponder) with the subject line, “Would you do work with someone who sent you this?” In the e-mail, this person decided to totally fabricate my intent, saying that I sent this to all my business contacts (I didn’t send it to one), that I was just trying to make myself look important (I could seriously care less about being “important”), and that I was even blocking my family from communicating with me more than once a day (I wouldn’t even dream of doing such a thing). 

In response to that e-mail, a couple of people called me names that I have never even thought about another human being, and certainly don't deserve. They had clearly been told that I had done and said things that I had never (and would not ever) do or say. These were, in fact, people that I thought liked me and who I had always treated with kindness. 

Wow. This was the reaction from me just trying to set a healthy boundary on my personal e-mail account - hysteria and slander. Unbelievable.

Be forewarned - if people have become accustomed to using you as a human doormat for a long time, they will be very angry when they no longer have anywhere to wipe their feet. They may lash out. They may try to make you feel bad. People who are jealous that you accomplish the things that they either can’t or won’t make the effort to do might even cite this as an example of you being a horrible, manipulative, self-centered person.

If you are not legitimately hurting someone, ignore them. I was not legitimately hurting anyone by saying that I would only check e-mails once a day and giving my cell phone for emergencies that could not wait. Seriously, I am not the President of the freaking United States (thank God); generally speaking, no one in my friends and family list really have anything that urgent to discuss, and if they do, they can call me - I’ve given them my personal cell number.

Geez. 

Set your personal boundaries, be damned the consequences. It is okay for you to take care of yourself and not be a doormat. It is okay for you to say “no.” 

You do have a right to make the choice to set forth the way that people are and are not allowed to treat you. It is really okay for you to release people from your life that drag you down, hurt you, or treat you in ways that are not the way you choose to be treated - and I don’t care who they are or how they might be related to you. You define who has the honor of being in your life and who gets the backside of the door. 

While we are at it, you do have the right to make yourself and your needs a priority, even if your priorities are not things that others consider important; they are important to YOU, so they are important. 

Take a moment to write down how you want to be treated. What relationships violate these qualities? Limit your time with those people or eliminate them from your life altogether.

Then, write down your priorities. What’s really important to you? Who is really important to you? How much time do you get to work on things that are important to you? How much time do you get to spend with those that matter to you? 

If, like me, you realize that the amount of time that you are spending on other people’s priorities and problems is way more than the amount of time you spend on the experiences and people that refresh, renew, and revitalize you, then it’s time to clearly define your boundaries and start cutting dead weight from your life.

Start by setting appointments in your calendar for the things that matter to you. Block out time to be with your spouse or partner. Block out time to do yoga. Block out time to work on that novel. Block out time for whatever is important to you; but seriously, schedule it in - if you don’t something or someone else will come along and will take that time. 

Refuse to compromise this sacred time to other people’s priorities. 

And, when someone tries to get you to give in to their demands, remember that “no” is a complete sentence. Keep repeating it.

Sure, they might have a fit, but at the end of the day, you get to have a life that is healthier, happier, and fulfilling to you.  

And you know what? That might just be the best goal of all. 

Have you ever felt pulled apart at the seams? What worked for you to rectify the situation? Have you had negative responses to setting healthy boundaries? I’d love to know your stories and tips for success!

Are You Threadbare? 3 Ways to Reclaim Your Personal Power and Set Healthy Boundaries (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about needing to make myself a first priority in order to regain some sense of personal power and not feel so threadbare (I'm hoping you've taken this message to heart, too!). Here’s the second lesson I have learned (and actions I am taking to change):

#2: No matter how much you want to help, ultimately, other people are responsible for themselves.

Someone comes to you and says she's hurting. Or stuck. Or in a bad situation and doesn’t know what to do. Or simply needs help. 

What do you do? If you are like me, you jump in with both feet, throw yourself into helping, and take on the whole issue as if it were your issue, often staying up late worrying and going to any length in the mission to fix the problem. 

And then it happens: You realize the person may say she wants help, but she doesn’t actually want to put in the time to help herself. Or, she might want you to just fix it all for her. Or, she might actually not really want to fix the situation - she likes the drama, sadness, chaos, or whatever. 

But, you said you would help (and you've now taken this on as your personal problem and responsibility), so you spend a lot of time either trying to convince her to take some positive action, or you get fed up and just fix the whole thing for her.

Either way, you’ve just wasted time and energy on solving her issues, but you are left with so much stress and exhaustion that you don’t have the energy to try to make your own life better or deal with things that are important to you. 

If this sounds like you, it’s time for a little tough love (and let me tell you, I kicked my own behind for this one, too!):

Solving other’s problems for them does not work. Helping someone who doesn’t help him or herself doesn’t work. Fixing issues that others’ don’t really want fixed doesn’t work. 

No matter how good your intentions are, it truly doesn’t end well for anyone.

Imagine this: Your friend (lover, boss, grown child, etc) is caught in an angry ocean without a boat. She can’t swim, so you throw a rope out. She ignores the rope. You bring out a helicopter. She waves it away. You call out the coast guard. She says that she’s afraid of boats and won’t get in. So, thinking you are helping (also known as the “last act of a kind but self-defeating person”), you jump in, grab your friend, and start swimming for shore. 

Instead of being grateful, your friend fights you every stroke of the way, kicking and flailing and working against you in the most disruptive, exhausting ways. Or, she simply refuses to even try to swim, telling you (tearfully) why she can’t or won’t try to help - that you need to do it for her.

What do you suppose would happen at this point? Is it possible that you somehow have enough strength to lug your seriously resistant friend and yourself to the shore? Sure, it’s possible, but not likely.

The much more likely scenario is that you become exhausted from all that effort, and you both drown. 

If you are trying to help people that will not help themselves or will not participate in solving their own problems, you are doing exactly this, and I am telling you (from experience), you will eventually sink under the weight of it.

Or - hey - I’m an optimist! Let’s look at the ridiculously positive view for a second. Let’s just say that you DO actually, somehow, against all odds, fix the problem and save her from herself. You know what you have actually succeeded in doing? You’ve successfully made her dependent on you, which means that the next time she's in a pickle, guess who she's calling? (And rest assured, there will be another, breath-takingly similar pickle.)

There’s a couple of problems here:  

  1. Your friend (lover, boss, grown child) doesn’t learn the lesson because he or she suffered no consequences, felt little pain, and made no effort. This pretty much guarantees he or she will repeat the experience (or upgrade to a worse one). And, if she actually kinda likes the experience (no matter how much she says she doesn't), she'll actively seek another one out.
  2. Your intentions might be great, but you’ve actually robbed her of the satisfaction of actually solving her own problem, unintentionally creating a sense of helplessness and a feeling of being incapable of effectively saving herself. Essentially, she's just learned that the best she can do is do the dead man’s float in life, rather than learn how to swim - because, after all, she's incapable of learning to swim and someone else will pick up her mess and drag her to shore anyway.

Sometimes you have to let people fall flat on their faces in order to learn a key lesson to create a better life or stop making bad choices. Sometimes, it’s got to get to the point that leaving the situation is less painful than staying for real change to happen. If people never feel pain, they don’t change - there’s no reason to. If you are always saving the day, never letting the person have to really feel the pain of the experience or his or her decisions, you are actually almost guaranteeing that he or she will stay stuck in the experience (which is kind of the opposite of what you intended to do!). 

Think about it this way: when you successfully face a difficulty, obstacle, or tough situation for yourself, summoning up the courage to deal with it and get through it, don’t you feel stronger and more capable?

You do. You know you do. It’s the same reason that cancer survivors wear ribbons and shirts and do 4-day walks and help those going through the disease. It’s the reason that you can sit with your child and tell him that you truly do understand how it feels to be bullied, teaching from the heart how to deal with it. It’s the reason that you can help someone get out of an abusive relationship, because you know what you needed to hear to finally leave. 

By participating actively in solving your own problems and issues - side by side with anyone helping you - you strengthen yourself in ways that allow you to be more resilient, capable, and self-confident. You’ve been there, done that and can help others get through, too. 

So, next time someone asks you to swoop in and solve their problems for them, remember this. Don’t you really want them to have that sense of satisfaction and strength? 

And, if someone won’t participate in their own solutions or healing, you must walk away. It’s not good for you to go down with the ship. It doesn’t prove anything at all that you have given until you fall over. It robs you of the life you are supposed to be leading and it’s time that you could use for someone or something else.

I know this is so hard. It’s a badge of honor when you miraculously fix the unfixable. It’s addictive to think that so many people need you. It feeds that place in you that longs to be loved and wanted and admired. 

I get it. I have the same hunger within me. 

It’s time to feed it something different. It’s time to feed your soul by releasing those that are sucking your energy dry. It’s time to focus on letting go of the notion that you somehow created everyone’s problems and are responsible for solving them. It’s time to use your energy to strengthen you and your life so that you can go on to make the difference in the world that you are intended to make.

So, repeat after me: “I did not create other’s problems. I cannot fix their problems for them. I can only be there to listen, to offer support, and to give only as much time and energy as they are putting in to helping themselves. It's okay for me to release those that drain my energy and refuse to help themselves.” 

Repeat that a lot. It helps. It really does. This should really be your new go-to affirmation.

Have you ever helped someone that didn’t want the help? Or solved everything for someone, over and over? Maybe you broke the over-helping habit? I’d love to hear your stories! 

Part 3 tomorrow - and it is a doozy (you will not believe what I just went through from setting one simple, seemingly innocent boundary)! 

 

Flow Method Actions to Implement:

Take a look at those that you are helping that continuously require that you save them or clean up their messes. Set a mental boundary right now that the next time they ask, you say “no.” Let them know that you will help them and support them, but you will not do it for them again. Hold fast and remember that it may be painful now, but you will feel better and so will they in the long run.

Repeat the affirmation above over and over. You won’t buy it at first, but eventually, you will start to feel stronger; at that point, things start to shift.


Are You Threadbare? 3 Ways to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Stop Being Overwhelmed, and Set Healthy Boundaries


I’ve been noticing a strange thing lately: many of my favorite pieces of clothing have strings coming loose. It’s not that it’s never happened - everyone’s had one or two errant strings dangling here or there - but rather the amount of loose strings. In fact, I can’t remember a time in my life when so many of my clothes are suddenly unraveling all at once. 

And then it dawned on me: Maybe this is a metaphor for my life. Maybe I am “coming apart at the seams” or feeling like my “stitches are coming undone.” 

Oddly, this is precisely what I have been feeling lately. From the pressures of helping to build a start-up company to keeping up with my own business to trying to be the best wife, daughter, sister, entrepreneur, employee, dog owner, friend, or human that anyone has ever seen, I am feeling very much like I’m fraying at the edges. 

And, just like a thread slowly pulling out stitch by stitch, my overwhelmed feelings didn’t come overnight. Rather, it’s little things - little snags - that have added up over time. 

A few stitches pulled out every time I said, “Sure! I can pull off another miracle for you!” 

Five or six came out each moment I ignored my own needs in order to put others’ needs first. 

A few more popped out when I knew I was seriously overworked and overwhelmed, but let myself get talked into doing even more, instead of less. 

More came undone in each of the 4 (!) moves we went through in the last year alone. I acted like I did okay with it, but the truth is it wore me out.

Half a sleeve’s worth ripped out living in a place where angry dogs chased us every time we walked out the door, and neighbors refused to speak to us (not exactly the “southern hospitality” that one might hope for).

And frankly, some people in my life always have a solid grip on a thread or two, just waiting to pull a few more out, simply because they can.

With all of this, I was becoming seriously threadbare. 

Worse, all this tugging and unraveling and not taking care of myself had been showing up in my body. First, there was an irregular heartbeat a few months back. More recently, I had several days of migraines with strange twitching all over my body. To top it off, I was tested for adrenal burnout, which showed that I now had the adrenal response of an 88 year old woman. Not good.

As I stared now at the thread dangling from the arm of my favorite green dress, I knew it was time to make a change (actually, it was well past time to make a change). So, in the interest of helping you if you are feeling like you are frayed and coming apart, here are 3 behaviors I am implementing immediately:

#1: Stop being everything to everyone, and be everything to yourself first.

My entire life I have focused on serving others to the exclusion of my own needs. I don’t make the income I should at the moment because I have constantly given away everything that I do, often helping others before I ever help myself. Somehow, I believed this was the right or good thing to do, when the truth is that a person who doesn’t accept energy back for their efforts - whether it is money, stuff, or whatever - cannot keep doing what they are doing. However, I didn’t know how to stop. I gave and gave and gave and gave. 

As more and more people had the end of a string that I was willingly giving them, I was wearing seriously thin.

It seems good and satisfying to be that kind of person, but at the end of the day, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won't be around to take care of others. It may not happen today, it may not happen tomorrow, but there will be a day when you will wake up and realize that you have nothing left to give. 

That’s a bad day for everyone.

I once had a coach friend of mine tell me, “I always tell leaders that it’s a crime if they do not take care of themselves. After all, if the leader breaks down, it is a total disservice to those that are following him or her - they are left without a guide, and that is irresponsible.” 

She was right. I don’t care who you are, you are leading someone. You may be a mom leading your family. You may be a dog owner leading your dog. You may be a coach or teacher leading a bunch of kids. You may be a manager or entrepreneur leading a team of people. You may be a speaker or writer with people that follow what you say. No matter what, there are people looking up to you.

What happens when, with all of your good intentions of helping people, you finally fall apart? What happens to all these people you care about so much? Who will help them? 

If you are not there to give, to help, to lead, then all those counting on you are suddenly on their own, fending for themselves. 

Wouldn’t it be better if you took care of yourself, doing what you HUMANLY can do for those you care about but setting realistic and healthy boundaries so that you can keep doing what you do best? 

It would. You know it would. Start making yourself a first priority right now.

Part 2 tomorrow! Until then, have you ever felt seriously threadbare? What did you do to help yourself? How did you reclaim your personal power?

 

Flow Method Action to Implement:

Say "no" to three things this week, and in the time that you would have used for doing those things, do things that are a priority for you or your business instead. Make a note to yourself of how you feel. Do you feel less ovewhelmed simply in the act of saying "no?" Is saying "no" overwhelming at first?