It’s nice to be nice. It’s nice to do nice things for others. However, when nicety is unreciprocated, taken for granted or turns into an excuse for others to be dismissive of you as a human being, then it becomes a problem.
It occurred to me a few years ago that I was held in a very different regard by others to what I had always assumed. Activities and meet-ups often involved multiple changes that would inevitably make it more inconvenient and expensive for me. I spent hours waiting for people to turn up. I was repeatedly interrupted. I was owed money. It wasn’t uncommon for me to receive messages or have conversations that began with a phrase that I have come to loathe:
Can I ask a favour?
The favour. The seemingly easy and straight-forward request that would always turn into a complicated mess and leave me feeling stressed and resentful, particularly when there was no acknowledgement or thanks afterwards. And yet, the one time I remember needing help which would have meant someone having to go out of their way, not a single person responded. Not one.
Of course, being kind, having empathy and sympathy for others and doing our bit to make someone else’s life should be a natural part of our existence. I like doing things for others to make them feel better. I like surprising those close to me to make them smile. Nevertheless, I’ve found that, for self-preservation and self-care purposes above all, clear boundaries have to be put in place for the more high-maintenance. This isn’t because they were bad people, they were simply used to Suzie: The Lapdog.
I decided to make some changes and use words that I had previously found difficult to use:
No, thank you.
I can’t I’m afraid, I’m busy today.
No thanks, it’s not really my thing, but thanks for the offer!
At first, it was really interesting. What I discovered was that my ‘no, thanks’ was not considered to be my final answer. It actually caught some people off-guard and surprised them. Often, a conversation would ensue as to why I wasn’t available or couldn’t do something, as if an explanation was required. I would be asked the same thing multiple times in the hope that I would change my mind, only for it then to be passed off as a joke if I made it clear that I wasn’t impressed.
However, over a period of time my consistency started to pay off and now I feel confident enough to understand and verbalise what I will and won’t accept, which is something I would never have done in my younger years.
Here are things you can do to make your life a little easier:
1. Learn the power of no and stick to it. Don’t permit yourself to become involved in what I refer to as a ‘bartering’ style discussion ie. ‘How about you do this and I’ll do this…’ or ‘What about if you do this instead?’ The answer is no. No no no. No. There’s isn’t any need for nastiness or negativity while you’re saying it, but stick to your guns. No.
2. Don’t be afraid of potential disagreement or verbalising your boundaries. It’s ok to tell someone that consistently showing up 45 minutes late is unacceptable, unless it’s an emergency. If plans are frequently changed, it’s ok to tell someone why it has become less convenient for you. Don’t negate your own feelings to accommodate those of others if it means you are left feeling upset afterwards.
3. Remove your expectations. The primary cause of my disappointment was that I had an expectation of how someone would feel and/or behave, or that they would be willing to help me out in the future in return. It was wrong of me to make those assumptions.
4. Avoid explaining yourself in too much detail, but remember that you don’t have to be nasty about it. An ‘I’m really sorry, but I’m busy I’m afraid’ should be more than enough.
5. Pick yourself up from the floor, stand up tall and realise your self-worth. You are a good person. You have your own life. You are entitled to an opinion. You deserve to be treated with the same respect and consideration that you show others. Start reminding yourself of this regularly.
6. Learn from your experiences and avoid repetition in the future. I don’t hold grudges, but I don’t forget, following the ‘fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me’ idea. It works.
7. Try to avoid feeling guilty. Guilt is the primary reason for many of the ‘favours’ I have done over the years, and became the aftermath after saying no. You’ve done nothing wrong, therefore have nothing to feel guilty about.
8. If necessary, distance yourself. Don’t make yourself as available.
9. Stop apologising or accepting blame! I’ve written a number of times about this. You are allowed to feel the way you feel about something.
10. If all else fails, get rid of those causing you distress. Harsh, but necessary in certain circumstances.
Remember: You are only treated in the way you allow yourself to be. There is a difference between being easy going and a doormat. Set your boundaries, remove your expectations, build your confidence and live life for your own happiness and not just the happiness of others.
And life will be much better for it!
What about you guys? Do you find your good nature being dismissed or taken advantage of?
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Great advice , I definitely need to say no a whole lot more.
I’m terrible at saying no, even after 8 sessions of counselling. I’m trying though, because feeling I need to contanstly explain myself is wearing thin.
I totally understand – it’s a real pain that people just won’t take no for an answer!
I absolutely love this. I have actually lost a few friendships because I finally grew a backbone after years of being their friend. Very well worth it!
It’s certainly been a learning curve, but you’re right – totally worth it!
This is so perfect for me to read now! Saying no is one of the hardest things for me….but otherwise I go crazy feeling overwhelmed….
Thanks Jodie! I still find it difficult at times too…
Fortunately, I learned to say “no” a long time ago. It’s very liberating.
It certainly is! I still falter on occasions but now I’m much better at it!
it was so hard, but so freeing, for me to learn that “No” is a perfectly acceptable answer! Great post!
Thanks Lee! It’s still difficult at times for me but I’m getting better at it!
The Canva for this made me chuckle because my first thought was “Is that modeling wearing a doormat???” It’s been a long day. Don’t judge.
I also find it very hard to say no. I have this instinct to always want to help those in need, and a lot of times, that comes back to bite me on the bum. I must heed your advice and learn to say no…
Hahaha! You’re not the first person to point this out!
You do need to say no – you’re a kind person and it makes it difficult to not help someone in need, but I’ve seen how you’ve been hurt over the years…
Yes, I’m kind to a fault…is that why it says “Welcome” across my back???
I need to work harder at setting boundaries. Every time I Think I am getting better, I take two steps back. Sigh.
In what way lovely?
Great advice. I’m working on balance in my life and saying ‘no’ to other peoples’ priorities is one of my top priorities. They are never going to do it for me, so it is up to me! Thanks for the validation that this is going to be worth it.
Thanks Molly! It’s so difficult to suddenly make yourself a priority if you’re used to doing it for other people!
Wow, my mantra! It’s nice to be nice 🙂 I use that so so often. It’s nice to be important, but it’s much more important to be nice, the ‘full version’ of it 🙂 This post is so my thing, why can’t we just treat each other nice and politely? It would make a huge difference for all of us, instead of being stressed out and aggressive.You just need to go out shopping, get in your car and enter the motorway and war already starts. I hate that so much, I always try to beat grumpy folks with extra politeness, it’s funny to see how they get confused, but it also tells you how we have lost respect for each other. I believe, we need to get to a certain age first, or a certain state of mind, to realize that we are putting ourselves second best. Yes, we got to love ourselves first sometimes and learn to say NO. I help and support everybody as good as I can, but hey … ME is also somebody who might need a break, or some TLC from others now and again. People nowadays are really egoists and always trying to get any advantages for themselves out of everything and everybody. And if you don’t wanna play THEIR game and you keep being nice and good, you’re considered stupid, isn’t it sad?!
I agree with everything you’ve said Klaudia… I get really annoyed when I’m out and I have to deal with selfish and rude people. As I write there is a car that has pulled up outside my house with their music blasting and they are screaming and shouting at someone on the phone. No consideration for the fact that people live here or anything…
Very good advice. I have tried hard to kick my doormat tendencies, and I have improved a lot. But the really bad thing is that people have never really stopped trying to make me feel guilty and unreasonable for sticking up for myself and not doing what they want (it may well be that people do this to everyone when they say no, but many people are less susceptible to caring about guilt trips than I am), and as a result I have ended up constantly feeling that I have become a less nice person than I once was. But it’s not really sustainable to spend your whole life trying to please everyone!
Absolutely! It’s always good to help others but not at the expense of our own well-being all the time!