You can imagine my big internal sigh of relief when every single one of my new neighbours all told me the same thing:
“We’re here if you need us, but no one here will be intrusive.”
Those words were like music to my ears!
I love people. I crave community. I am naturally open, smiling, generous. It’s not fake. I genuinely care. Yet I often find myself fearing situations like this one, like meeting my new neighbours, because I’m afraid that people will quickly want more of me than I’m able or willing to give. And when that happens, as I find it often does, I quickly move to overwhelm and withdrawal.
Not long after I moved in, I was out on a walk where I met a woman walking her dog. I said hello and we chatted for a few moments. But before I knew what was happening this woman had invited herself to walk with me, told me her entire life story, had asked me to look after her dog for a week whilst she was on holiday and had given me her phone number so that I could text her to meet up for future walks. As she got back into her car she shouted out, ‘Don’t forget to text me so I have your number!’
Forty five minutes after meeting her I wandered back up the lane to my house feeling drained, down and a little annoyed with myself.
To be clear, I’m not blaming this woman. She may have acted in a way I wouldn’t have acted myself, but it was my own handling of the situation that was the real issue for me. That said, I’m not blaming myself either. We all have our lessons to learn and one of of my big ones just happens to be expressing boundaries in situations just like this one.
Though I would have preferred to have had the courage to tell her directly in the moment that I was out for a quiet walk on my own and couldn’t walk with her and that I wouldn’t be able to dog-sit for her, or that it wasn’t necessary to give me her number, I did do a couple of things that were just a tiny bit different to what I might have done on another occasion.
First, when she asked if I could look after her dog, which actually wasn’t phrased as a request at all but as an offer, ‘You can look after my dog when I’m away!’, what I told her was that I could certainly consider it. Far from ideal, especially because I knew I wouldn’t look after her dog, it was better than saying yes knowing that I would later have to find a way to say no, which I’ve done a thousand times before. In saying I’d consider it, I created some space.
Second, when she asked to exchange numbers, I found a way to accept hers but not give her mine. Again, it’s far from ideal, but not giving out my number, which I really didn’t want to do, was actually a pretty big deal for me because I’m so used to taking the path of least resistance in these situations just to get through it and get out of there.
Once back at the house I had to face the internal battle of how mean of me it would be and how hurt she might feel if I didn’t text her. (Raise your hand if you’re constantly considering how every single person in a situation might be affected and then put their needs before your own.) But I didn’t. Instead, I started to practise what I would say to her if I ran into her again so that I could communicate my boundaries clearly and with kindness.
To someone who doesn’t have this struggle, practising what you would say to someone like this might sound ridiculous. But the pattern of people-pleasing and saying yes to things I want to say no to is so strongly rooted in me that practising is really helpful. If and when I see her again, I have no doubt that I won’t get it completely right and that afterwards I’ll spend some time feeling bad about whatever I say.
But whether it’s age and the increasing realisation of the limited time I have here on this planet, or finally having reached my limit of feeling like I need to give everyone whatever they want from me, I’m finally learning to be just a little less lovely.
It feels awkward, clumsy and scary but oh boy, does it also feel good!
Love and courage,
Progress! Your story and examples will help me in similar situations. Thank you!
Progress indeed! Glad it was helpful Roger. Thank you for reading!
Hi Leah! So happy to be receiving your genuine and heartfelt thoughts and writings in my inbox again. I’ve missed them so much. You have the perfect words that express so many of my thoughts and feelings, and you convey them with such authenticity, beauty and kindness. This one is another "on point" perspective for those of us very sensitive souls who absolutely NEED boundaries but struggle to find them and live by them. Work in progress here too, and I agree wholeheartedly that "practicing" what you might/should say can be very helpful. Although it rarely comes out just as practiced!! LOL We are all on this journey together and I am thrilled to have found this community again of similarly sensitive "lovelies" to wander it with. Much LOVE and COURAGE to you as well Leah.
Hi Nancy! Welcome back! Happy to have you here 🙂 Ha ha, so true, it rarely does come out as practiced! Onwards we go in our perfect imperfection. Sending lots of love xx
Hi Leah! I can so relate! Saying no with clarity and kindness makes all the difference. For me it’s about my internal dialog and feelings as I’m verbalizing what I want to say that comes across. If I’m clear and kind and unafraid to speak what I need to say I find that what I say is received in a clear and open way. I think it’s my energy more than my words that people respond to.
Hello Tara! Yes, I completely agree with you here! The inner feeling the outer action flows from makes all the difference. Beautiful. Thank you!
You have expressed your thoughts so well here. I certainly relate to it all. It is great to know others think this way and we are ok! Love and hugs.
Hi Bonnie, and thank you! Yes, yes, we are ok! So nice not to look upon these things as something ‘wrong’ with us. Love and hugs to you too. P.S. There is a rose about to bloom in the garden – so excited to share it with you! xx
Oh my gosh, I so understand this and am continuing working on it getting really tiny bits better that I kinda pat myself of the back for and kinda go, still at this, certainly didn’t handle that amazingly. Baby steps and gosh am I better than I was. Thank you for sharing.
I love this Zara! Love imagining you giving yourself a pat on the back and kind of joking with yourself saying ‘certainly didn’t handle that amazingly’. You seem to bring a light heartedness and joy to everything in life. Thanks for leaving this comment!
Greetings Leah,I didn’t have to try to hard to imagine that particular encounter, been there so many times.
I understand the predicament only too well.
It’s why I’ve ended up like this; exhausted, dispirited, relentless health issues. Because Elton John was wrong, sorry isn’t the hardest word, it’s no.
Just those two letters, how they stick in the throat.
For some of us anyway.
But the implications of quietly caving in, of doing your bit(a lot more than your bit invariably), whether it’s to please a person or a boss, such a kindly honest nature
can leave you with something akin to PTSD.
Whether it’s an overly-presumptuous stranger as you had the misfortune to run into,in what should be your own sacred private time,,or that calculating employer who sees you as a soft target for dumping extra duties on, just for now of course,as a favour.
Except yesterday’s favour is today’s new normal.
That’s why you definitely did the right thing in stalling that very forward lady.(She’s the weird one here, not you).
You don’t want to be looking after her dog or give her the smallest encouragement in any regard.
Otherwise she’ll soon be telling people about Leah,
her new 24/7 friend she met by chance one fine day.
That would be hell.
Greetings Geoff! I’m so sorry to hear of how you’re feeling and of your health issues. This is a tricky learning curve, for sure – learning to know it is absolutely ok to say no and to make sure you take care of yourself. When I do manage to do that, I notice how much more able I am to then be the person I want to be for others. Made me smile what you said about Elton John 🙂 You keep well too and thank you for reading and commenting.
So lovely to read this. Kudos to you for doing what is right for you in a difficult situation. Your growth is apparent, and hearing/reading about it also gives me hope and comfort for my own. Sending you so much love.
Thank you so much Jessica! We are learning and growing together. One awkward step at a time 🙂 Sending love to you too. Thank you so much for reading and commenting as always. xx