Asking For What You Need
Boundaries are not all about saying no to what we don’t want, equally important can be asking for the things we do, but that doesn’t always feel comfortable or easy.
So how to do it? The answer is straightforward, you just have to practice, and it will feel unnatural to start with because you may have spent most of your life doing the exact opposite. Spend some time digging deeper because if you can uncover the reasons for an established behaviour this can be a great catalyst to support change.
If you grew up in a family with strong opinions, or strong opinions on particular topics, then a sensible coping mechanism for managing the dynamic would be to take yourself out of the equation. Your own desires are something you have some control over, so by discounting your own opinion there is one less person in the mix, making family life easier to negotiate. Added bonus – if you don’t speak out, you save yourself the disappointment of being overruled!
Time To Move On
That’s all well and good as you start out in life, families can be tough for the gentle soul, but as a grown up these behaviours are not always the most useful. They can land us in difficulties as we try to negotiate adult relationships including the relationship we have with ourselves. That inner voice can be crying out to be heard but we’ve learnt to stop listening.
After years of not expressing our needs we can simply lose the ability to discern what we actually want. We create so many stories around why we don’t enjoy something, or have no interest in it.
Then with things we hold precious, the non-negotiables, we can become quite inflexible. Because, if you haven’t learnt how to defend your corner it can be safer to withdraw or be fiercely independent or unusually stubborn on certain subjects.
If the only way you know to compromise is to give way completely then there is work needed around negotiating skills.
Holidays and Mugs
Let me give you an example; my husband and holidays. Holidays are really important to his parents, there were a lot of strong opinions so he took himself out of the conversation. Fast forward 15 years and I would be trying to get some input on planning a trip and I would hit an unexpected lack of interest. ‘I’m not really bothered’ or ‘you decide’ were really frustrating when I wanted the excitement of planning an adventure together. He had convinced himself he didn’t really find holidays much fun.
We shut down so many of our interests and needs and then forget that we have done it. We can make our lack of engagement seem to be about something else; the heat, the food, the environment but if you are involved in the decisions then all these factors can all be dealt with.
And I have many examples of my own. As two people pleasers it can be exhausting each trying to guess what the other wants and ignoring our own needs, then occasionally hitting a wall on a few things that are too important to give way on. Like mugs.
I know it’s crazy but in my house of non-deciders we have had rubbish mugs for 25 years simply because we can’t negotiate. When it comes to important matters, like what we drink our tea out of, it was something too fundamental for us to compromise on. So we still have a set of hodge podge non matching mugs alongside a favourite mug each which are the only two we actually use.
How to Unlearn Learnt Behaviour
Negotiating and making decisions are skills that need to be practiced. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable as you start, that’s normal, keep practicing. Start with the little decisions. If a friend says ‘where do you want to go tonight’ give a preference. If your partner asks, what do you want for dinner – suggest something. Not ‘I don’t know’, or ‘whatever you want’, give an answer – even if it’s not what you actually want! You make countless little decisions every day. Start being conscious of them, notice what you give way on, what you don’t even think about.
Practice compromise. If your partner responds with ‘I’d rather X for dinner’. Use this as an opportunity to negotiate. Try, ‘ok but let’s have Y tomorrow’, or ‘we did X last week, I really want Y this week’. Who knows, maybe there is a Z you both agree on.
Spend some time working out what you do want, your preferences. Give yourself a moment to consider before answering with an automatic ‘I don’t mind’. Ask yourself, what would I like right now… what would I do if nothing else was stopping me if there was no one else to take into consideration. Try listening to your body and that inner voice.
This self-awareness helps make the unconscious conscious, helping to spot supressed needs. Watch for when something makes you feel unreasonably prickly and ask yourself why; am I avoiding something here, why is this pushing my buttons? If you feel resentful of how easily someone assumes a right to something, consider is that something you want too but are not voicing?
And lastly, we often have very different behaviours in different arenas of our lives. We might be firm and decisive at work but not at home, or opinionated with partners but not with friends. Think about the skills you use in these other settings and appreciate that you have areas in life where you do know what you want and will ask for it.
And, did I say this already? Keep practising.
Read more about Tracy Bevan and her other articles HERE
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