Somehow along the way, I decided (subconsciously of course) that boundaries were for other people. That for me, I would adventure through life with a sign that announced, “I’m nice! “I’m flexible!” “I will say “yes” because it makes things easier for both of us!”.
I would see other people saying “No.” Without much explanation. Or, “I can’t.” These people were fascinating creatures to me…how did they do that… and be OKAY? Somehow another’s disappointment didn’t bother them enough to sugar coat.
And then, over time, I began to learn about myself, through a series of events and a women’s leadership class (that was mostly like therapy), and my own creating of chaos in my life and family because of my inability to say no….to anything….because I couldn’t handle the look in someone’s eyes when I disappointed them.
I was convicted at a deep level that my motivation for being nice was coming from an unhealthy place. I wanted to be liked, all the time, by everyone. I thought that being flexible and a team player was the highest good. Because Jesus was nice and liked by everyone, right?
Not even close.
But we will get to Jesus in a minute. I realized being nice wasn’t the highest good, being honest was. If I showed up my authentic self, I built trust with those around me, even if they didn’t love my truthfulness. For the first many times, I would cringe and tip-toe around what I wanted to say. It was SO uncomfortable. But I began to realize that the world wasn’t falling apart. People could actually handle my no or my boundary or my honesty. Most of the time.
JESUS KNEW HIS MISSION AND LIVED IT AUTHENTICALLY
Jesus had a mission in life. It was to please his Father in heaven through fulfilling his purpose:
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. Luke 19:10
All actions and words and thoughts flowed from that motivation. He didn’t compromise or water things down to keep the peace. He was honest. Even if it meant rocking the boat, causing division among the Jews and Gentiles, inciting angry mobs, and being persecuted unto death.
Jesus walked each day grounded in his Father’s love and acceptance of him. Did he feel emotional pain of rejection and conflict? Of course! But it didn’t deter him from living authentically in his purpose. Jesus was laser focused, but also fully human. I believe that is why he took time away to be by himself and pray. He took his pain to God and he found renewal and re-centering on his knees.
KINDNESS VS. NICENESS
Jesus was unflappable in his purpose. But he was kind.
Kindness is different than niceness. Kindness is a deep love for others that flows from the heart. It reveals itself in our tone, our correctly motivated actions, our compassion and mercy. Kindness often can mean saying “no” because it means being kind to ourselves, kind to our loved ones, and kind to the person asking because we are being honest with them. It is also being kind in how we say our no–with gentleness and respect.
One of my hardest “no’s” was to a pastor/friend of our church who asked me to join his staff. I knew in my gut it wasn’t right. I wrestled, struggled, but I had just come from a time of learning to set healthy boundaries with my life and I knew what I needed to do. My no was hard for him, but it opened the door for someone else to step in that needed a job and was much better suited for the position than me! How “unkind” it would have been for me to take that position out of wrong “pleasing” motivation, both to my friend and the person he eventually hired.
PEOPLE PLEASING IS NOT NICE, IT IS MANIPULATIVE
One of my biggest “ah ha” moments in this journey was realizing that I was being manipulative in my people-pleasing efforts. Being flexible and compatible and a “yes” person in order to prevent someone’s disappointment or even anger is the opposite of freedom–freedom for the other person to respond and feel however they need by our “no” and trusting they can handle it.
In attempt to avoid the pain of another’s disappointment in me, I would “preemptively” manipulate or control their feelings by not rocking the boat.
It is so much stronger and kinder to just speak truth:
“I am sorry, I would love to help you out, but I just don’t have the time right now.”
“Thank you for thinking of me but I have already committed to other things at this time.”
To our children:
“I am sticking to my “no” because I know what is best for you in this situation.” OR,
“I understand you are angry, and I will be happy to discuss this with you when you aren’t yelling.” (This could be for another adult too).
Ahhhhh……doesn’t that feel good?
“But”, you say, “Their anger or disappointment towards me doesn’t feel good.” Then, we take that pain to God. We pray for peace. We trust in our right motivation to be true and authentic which is pleasing to Him.
SETTING EMOTIONAL BOUNDARIES
We know that having boundaries are good. Your emotional boundaries are the property lines that separate your thoughts and feelings from those of other people.
People pleasing makes that line fuzzy and confused . Our feelings and thoughts get completely jumbled up with the thoughts and feelings of other people.
I often struggle at night when my work “needs” my help. I own a business and with that comes odd hours of responsibility. But I need to be clear in my boundaries. My responsibility is to my husband, my children, and my self (I need to rest after a long busy day). This may mean setting physical boundaries like turning off my phone (which is REALLY hard for me). It may mean a client or employee has to wait until the morning for a response (also REALLY hard for me). But if I don’t set boundaries to separate my personal and work life, it creates discord at home and burnout emotionally-which is not my mission and purpose in life!
Boundaries say, “I am trying to live authentically to my thoughts and feelings. So I will stay true to those, even if your thoughts and feelings want to influence my thoughts and feelings.”
Jesus did this. He authentically lived out his mission regardless of what others thought. Because he knew he was living kindly, truthfully, and purposefully.
Jesus is our example of how to live with boundaries and kindness.
His motivation always came from a place of love for others and for his Father. As Christians, and especially women, we get confused–isn’t it loving to say yes?
The next time you are tempted to say yes to something, pause and examine your motivation. If you have the margin, if it is coming from a place of a servant heart, or it is a timely opportunity, by all means say “Yes!”
But if it is to avoid pain, gain acceptance from another, or prevent disappointment, let that begin to be a red flag. That is not the example Jesus gave us.
This is a lifelong journey. Daily, I give up my desire to be accepted and liked at all times. But it good and God-honoring journey to walk.
And by the way….I now admire and respect those who have learned to say a healthy “No.”
PS: I have started a once a month newsletter with practical “best life” practices (like this blog today on boundaries), design inspiration, faith and more! Subscribe here: http://www.amyleehayes.com/connect