My earliest recollection of this problem was when I was about 10 years old. We were at my gran and grandad’s house and there was a little fair being held in a nearby field.
I cannot recall if it was a school event or a charity event. Although I do recall the wine coloured velvety knicker-bocker trousers I was wearing. (Strange what the mind lets you remember!). It must have been fairly good weather to crack those bad boys out. Wow…and not in a good way!
There were stalls like the ones at the markets, with all manner of goodies to buy. From food to toys.
Whilst perusing the stalls I was approached by an old woman selling raffle tickets. I only had £1.00 for sweeties (that’s lollies if you are in NZ…I’m doing the Scottish version as there where I lived at time!). Now here is the thing…the purchase of sweeties is a guaranteed transaction. I give you my money, you give me the bag of sweeties. Unlike the £1.00 raffle ticket.
But this old lady, she looked at me straight in the eye and asked me to buy a ticket. At this point, I had two choices. One to look at her with that same confused/pissed off face teenagers are renowned for, whilst uttering “are you crazy old lady?, I want some sweeties”. The second choice was to take heed of the vision in my head. Of my elders jabbering on about respect and making good choices while actually saying “yes please”. I opted for the latter, despite it not being what I wanted. I won a prize.
“Aw that’s a nice story” I imagine you saying out loud at this point. Well, no. No, it wasn’t. My prize was a silver metal tin can. Of something. About the size of a can of baked beans. There was no label on it. It was smooth at the top, ridged in the middle and smooth at the bottom. And I was either too shocked, disappointed or mortified to ask them what was inside. I don’t recall which. I just left. With my tin can.
Who does that? Like seriously. Who raffles a tin can of something unknown? The SCOTTISH, that’s who!!! I bet I said “thank you” as well!!!
I walked back to my gran and grandad’s and somehow mustered up some optimism about what the contents might be. Maybe something utterly yummy. I remember I was optimistic, because I sure as shit remember the disappointment and confusion when I finally opened it. The contents slid out of the tin can in one big brown tin can shaped lump. I gave it good old sniff. And I couldn’t tell if it was dog food or mince. It certainly wasn’t a bag of sweeties.
This was the first time I have ever won anything!
But there is a good lesson to be learned here. I should have listened to my need, I should have set my boundary. I should have just said “no”.
Because poor boundary setting sucks. And poor boundary setting is a problem that seems to affect women in particular. A lot of women want to be more assertive but don’t know how.
Now, I have in the past, as an adult:
Signed up to pay various charity donations on direct debit I can’t afford;
Brought two lovely strangers into my home and engaged with them for a full 30 minutes, knowing full well I did not want to become a Jehovah’s witness;
Joined the Mark Wahlberg fan club;
Eaten chicken when I was going through my vegetarian stage, so as not offend my host;
Changed my electric provider to a more expensive one;
Simultaneously farted on a boss and puked on a colleague’s shoes. All because I couldn’t say “no” to pre-cocktail tequila slammers on a work night out.
There are lots of examples like these ones!! True, they don’t seem overly problematic. But the reality is that sometimes we put up with, or say yes to things that we just shouldn’t.
We give away our time, money and beliefs to something or someone that we don’t actually want to. And our time, money and beliefs are important to us.
This ‘conflict of interest’ can lead to negative consequences. It can make us feel emotionally and financially drained, inadequate, like life is chaotic. It can leave us over-promising and under-achieving. And that’s just naming a few. But you can guarantee they are all stressors.
So why do we keep saying “yes”? Well, it’s important to look at our narratives - the story we tell ourselves about the world around us, our expectations and what we perceive to be obligations. And we need to explore and accept our limitations.
Feeling guilty and selfish are two main factors in producing “yes-only” women. But once we learn to push past that guilt and selfish feeling and understand ourselves better, we can learn to set healthy boundaries. Understand when to give ourselves permission to say “no” or “enough” and when it’s beneficial to say “yes”, all in line with our core values.
And finally, boundaries can encompass a plethora of instances. Even down to greeting new people and how you wish to be greeted. Take my example of the time I met a friend’s mum. I’m a hugger. She does the kiss on each cheek. I didn’t realise the latter until afterwards. Imagine the confusion when I went in for a hug, she went to kiss my cheek. And we ended up connecting lips.
It was like one of those accidental 'potential hand-shakes around the male groin' moments. I’m hoping at this point I’m not the only one that has experienced these!.