Please come in, we don't have anything worth stealing anyway
November 22, 2012 6:33 AM Subscribe
I find it very hard to say no to people. I try to please everybody, especially people I don't know well. I worry a lot about offending, committing social faux-pas or hurting people's feelings. The idea that somebody wouldn't like me makes me anxious. What can I do about it? And how do I learn to NOTICE when my boundaries are being crossed?
(I have an appointment with a therapist and will bring this up with them, just to head you guys off at the pass. Meanwhile, I would appreciate your thoughts and tips.)
Example #1: Two strangers show up at my door wearing workers' overalls. They say they're chimney sweepers and would like to make me an offer if they can take a look at the fireplace. They invite themselves in and... I don't know how to refuse. Seriously, I'm a small woman alone in the house with my young child, and I just let these guys walk right in. So now I've got two strange men in my living room, trying to convince me to accept a deal I'm not sure is very good, and I have no idea if they're legit at all. I have to fake phoning my boyfriend and having him refuse the deal, because I cannot bring myself to saying no to these really quite suspicious dudes.
Example #2: I'm on my way to a self improvement course (Improve Your Self Confidence!). The organization offers treatment for people with varying degrees of psychological and/or psychiatric issues. Outside the building I'm approached by a guy who clearly has some serious mental health problems. He starts asking me intrusive personal questions (why I'm there, what my problems are), and I feel so sorry for him that I answer candidly even though I really do not want to talk about my mental health or relationships with this stranger. Also, he sits way too close to me, but I don't move away because I don't want to offend.
Example #3: An acquaintance of mine gets drunk during a night out and starts making remarks about my clothing, my body, my accent etc. Not downright insulting - some are sort of backhanded compliments, others I guess just pretty classic negging, perhaps mixed with a bit of bullying. He's also being a bit too handsy. I'm uncomfortable but just laugh it all off. It's only weeks (!!) later that it SLOWLY dawns on me this was actually inappropriate and something most people I know would never do. And that's after putting an awful lot of thought into it, trying to imagine myself (or my boyfriend, or my brother) behaving like that towards anyone, etc... Until then, I could literally not see what was wrong or why I felt so icky about it.
Example #4: (Not sure this one really counts as boundary crossing, but maybe related anyway.) I'm a foreign student, and I receive the highest score of our entire year for an observational assessment test. The professors give me very positive feedback and a detailed list of everything I did right. Afterwards a couple of fellow students (who were not present during my assessment) tell me the professors were probably just biased and cut me some slack because I'm a foreigner. I say "yeah, probably", even though I have the score card right there in my hands and know I got the points because I performed really well. I just don't want them to feel bad about their own results, even though I think it's kind of shitty to tell me that I probably hadn't earned mine.
There are more (oh so many more) examples going right back to my childhood, but I'm sure you get the idea already. My questions:
1) A huge problem is that I don't realize a boundary's being crossed or that I'm unhappy with the way things are going until it's too late. How do I learn to NOTICE on time that I'm not comfortable with something?
2) How do I learn to be more comfortable with occasionally disappointing people, disagreeing with them, or with people being annoyed with me?
3) I was raised in a culture where conflict-avoidance and avoiding embarrassing or inconveniencing others were the norm. I now live in a country where people tend to be quite opinionated, pushy and open with their criticism. I know that "sorry, it just isn't possible" etc. is the right way to go, but how do I modify my knee-jerk reaction of being as accommodating as possible? How to balance kindness to others with standing up for myself?
The cognitive approach (being aware of & modifying my thoughts) hasn't worked too well for me in the past, at least w/r/t depression. Visualization and mindfulness (and healthy living) have helped much more, but I'm not sure how to apply that for something like this.