We often hear the importance of setting boundaries, yet it may feel, at times, impossible to apply this skill. The inability and ability to say "no" is confined to our minds. At some point we were conditioned and shaped to believe saying "no" is a negative thing, and that it will lead to negative consequences. The word "no" as small as it is, may be one of the most difficult words to utter. But why is that? Why do we find it so hard to let someone know what it is we may or may not be able to do? Why would we rather appease another person, as though they have that much power over us?
To begin with, let's consider our childhoods and the way we were brought up. Think about times you said no, or may have expressed your thoughts and feelings. How were they received? Did the adults in our lives take our feelings into consideration? Did our voices matter? Were we taught that being a good kid meant we had to shut up, listen and do? After all, as children, we are powerless. We do not have the physical ability to do what we want, and for those children who do take things into their own hands, often times, their choices may lead to high risk situations and potentially lead them down a path where they will encounter hard lessons.
I write this, while wanting to also say that of course, as children, there is such a thing as discipline and order. We need someone who loves us and wants the best for us to set rules and limits. There also is a difference between setting boundaries and order, versus exercising power.
Yesterday I took my thirteen year old, Chloe, clothes shopping for school. As her mom, of course I have an image of how I think she should dress, and the music she listens to. We went to a second hand store she chose, although in my mind I thought she would have rather gone to the mall. But I get it. I used to love second hand stores because you always find items at a much lower cost than you would anywhere else, and sometimes you will find a gem or two that becomes a staple in your wardrobe. For me, in my day, it was a pair of combat boots and a military jacket I found at a local Goodwill store.
So there we are, shopping around, and my daughter is pulling out items I have to admit, made me cringe just a little. What do you think I started to do?
"Hey, how about these jeans here? You need to get jeans for school...."
"I don't want to get jeans. I like sweats."
"I don't think that will fit...here how about these..."
"I don't like that..."
"Just try it on. This is a great deal! I think it would look nice..."
"I don't like it..."
"You can't wear sweats every day....okay how about this shirt? Oh my god, look at this shirt?"
Eye roll. Silence. After a few minutes I realized she was holding a pile of clothes I had picked out for her. She was no longer speaking or commenting. I paused. Crap. I messed up, didn't I?
"Uh, Chloe...eh heh...uh...why aren't you shopping for anything?"
(Duh, I thought...why should she? Apparently I was shopping for her...)
"Do you want to try that stuff on?"
"Okay, fine. I get it. Look, how about you try those on, maybe you'll be shocked and like something. And if not, that's cool, too. You don't have to get any of those things."
She seemed to brighten up a bit, still not speaking, but she nodded her head and darted to the men's section. She picked out a few oversized flannel shirts, some t-shirts, and some hoodies. She found some jeans she liked, and then she went off to the fitting room to try things on.
The energy changed after that. I had decided to let go. I mean, it's not like she was looking to wear a mini skirt and platform heels to school. The girl wanted to be comfortable. She wanted to wear what resonated with her.
When she first opened the fitting room door, she was beaming. She was wearing an oversized red and black flannel shirt, with a black tee, and a pair of baggy jeans. "See, I want to wear roomy pants, not the fitted kind...so when I'm skateboarding I can feel comfortable."
"You look great," I told her, genuinely surprised at how cute she looked in her outfit. It made complete sense. She tried on the rest of the clothes, returned the items she didn't like-mostly the items I had picked-but whatever...she left the store smiling. As her momma, it felt like a win.
On the drive home, she asked if she could play her music and I agreed. I was fine with it up until she started waving what I thought appeared to be gang symbols. "Chloe! Stop doing that!"
"What? It's sign language!"
"No, Chloe...and even if it is, it looks like gang signs...anyone who sees you will get the wrong impression, and it may even be disrespectful to someone who may be in a gang. People take that serious."
"Ma," she laughed, "I'm just dancing..."
Uh, no. I get it. But I had to draw the line somewhere. For her safety. Perhaps it wouldn't be a big deal, but I wouldn't want her waving these hand gestures ignorantly, and for someone to get the wrong idea. I respect everyone, including gang members. If you are not affiliated, and if you don't know what you are doing...just don't. She continued to laugh, and I flared my nostrils, shook my head, and switched on some Barbra Streisand. When she groaned, and we both were able to laugh again, we compromised and played the track to Hamilton.
I share this because it brought me back to my upbringing. I met much more resistance in my day. My mom wanted to see me dressed up in the way she thought was fitting for a young woman. For the bulk of my childhood I had no choice really. I had my own self-esteem issues at the time, and as much as I wanted to look like the other girls I saw on TV, I knew I had no choice, so why bother? Instead, I would go along with whatever it was my mom thought I should wear. But then, my adolescence arrived. It was the era of alternative music, grunge and goth. I was fourteen and was seeing what my older brother was wearing. Suddenly, I discovered the Beastie Boys, Nirvana, and Marilyn Manson. I started to use my brother's skateboard, and would listen to Alanis Morissette and Lenny Kravitz. My world was expanding, and for the first time, I started to get a glimpse of what it meant to have a personal identity. I started to wear oversized jeans my brother had "misplaced", and I would sneak on some of his long sleeve tees. When I was able to go to the mall with a friend (which wasn't often) I bought a chained wallet and a silver beaded necklace. My dad even agreed to buy me a pair of platform converse sneakers for my birthday. I felt so cool. It wasn't so bad, until I was about sixteen....and allowed to wear makeup. Suddenly, I was wearing black eyeliner that would tend to sweat and gave me raccoon eyes. I didn't want to smile in pictures anymore because I thought smiling made me look goofy. At halloween I bought fishnets which I transformed into a shirt, and wore those under my Marilyn Manson tees. My mother-let's just say long story short-when she finally "had it up to here" with my newfound form of expression, my mother tore down all of the posters I had up in my room, and overpowered me the old fashioned way.
I still rebelled, and even through my adulthood, my mom has continued to criticize my choices, although I am no longer wearing fishnets as shirts. But I also remember telling myself I didn't want to be like that with my kids. I wanted my kids to be free to choose the music they wanted to hear, to choose the clothes they wanted to wear. So when did I become my mother?
I was reminded that there is a balance, and although I believe I know what is best for my child, she has the right to explore what she likes within reasonable limits. I can understand now, that my mother wanted what she thought was best for me, although her approach made me rebel even more. Perhaps if we had actually sat down and had a conversation, I would have understood her concerns, and she could have also learned why it was so important for me to dress a certain way. More important, I would have learned that it was okay to express myself by using words, instead of finding a silent form of communication through my way of dress.
I believe this played a role in my adulthood. I have always been overly aware of how others view me. Concerned of whether they will approve of me or not. I have made choices which have not necessarily been mine, but like my daughter, I remained silent and went along with whatever other people imposed on me because I figured, "I have no choice, so why bother?" Or, there was the other thought, "If I don't, they may not love me anymore...or want me...or like me...they may think I don't care...what about their feelings?" The thing is, looking back at it now, I realize the people in my life who had this much power, were people who didn't really love me, and people who were only out to get their needs met, or to offset their insecurities by using their influence to shape me into who they needed me to be. This manifested as abuse in some cases, and I was forced at several points to decided, "Where do I draw the line?"
This is a very powerful question, when you sit down and really think about it. Forget about the word "no" for a moment. Forget about what the other person is going to think, or whether they will leave you or whether you will hurt their feelings in the process. Instead, ask yourself, "Where do I draw the line, here? At what point do I decide that this is just too much? How hurt do I have to be, how much pain do I have to endure, to finally acknowledge to myself that I am not happy?"
After you consider these questions, ask yourself, "When did the happiness and needs of others supersede my own?" When we speak of assertiveness, and being assertive, the operative definition of being assertive is acknowledging equally your own needs and the needs of the other person. It does not mean you acknowledge the other person's needs and toss yours to the side. You compromise. You negotiate. And when you both realize there is absolutely no way to compromise, then you have to ask the question, "What are we doing here, then? Perhaps we are so far off on each side of the spectrum, that it doesn't make sense to force something that won't make either one of us happy."
Saying "no" is the short version of the last two paragraphs. Saying no is your way of saying, "I have to draw the line here....I understand that you have needs, however I am not able to get you what you want, or to do what you need me to do, because it will then compromise my needs...and my happiness matters too." The more you practice saying no, the more empowered you will become, because you will begin to realize you do have a choice, and knowing you have a choice, can be mind-blowing.
Oh my dear Walmart, how you test me. But it's okay. I think I passed yesterday.
As an overall day, yesterday felt like a visit to the twilight zone. It started out fine, until I decided to run off to Walmart to purchase some things my daughter, Chloe, needed for a little business she is trying to get started. While I was at Walmart, I decided to grab some things I needed for the office. I managed to collect these things in a matter of minutes. Then I made my way to the paint department to grab the last thing on my list. Krylon triple thick glaze. It comes in a spray can, which I discovered Walmart has locked behind a glass display.
I get it. I remember the days of seeing spray paint sprayed all over the aisle and shelves. I get it. People may want to steal a can or two, so a glass case makes sense. I have come across a Walgreens or two that keeps pregnancy tests behind a locked glass case....I'm guessing it has to do with loss prevention. "When would you have noticed that anyway, Maggie," you may be asking. TMI, folks. Now you're asking for way too much information. Let's get back to the story.
So, there I am. Me and the locked glass door. Cans of Krylon triple thick glaze lined up, teasing me. Oh, so close, but yet so far. I walk to the end of the aisle, where I see a Walmart employee speaking to a customer. They both look at me, and I wave my hand, lower my mask and say, "I need some help with the spray paint. It's locked." The employee points past me, and the customer he was speaking to gives me a crazed look and I hear him mumbling something but can't make out the words. When he hurries past me, I hear him say he is going through the same thing, but he has been told to go to a different department to ask someone to open the case. I watch as he walks towards the auto department and look back at the employee who now has returned to his post. I figure, "Okay, well, this other guy is going to get someone, I'll just wait here."
The customer returns, still with the crazed look of frustration. "I've walked all over the store and nobody has the key. What I need is right there. I remember when we could just come in and grab what we need and go. Why are they taking so long?"
Being the anger management "guru" I am (insert laugh here), I smile politely and agree. "Yeah, I guess they don't want people spraying things." I'm calm, no reason to be so upset. The customer and I engage in small talk and he continues.
"Oh, I know. It's so bad. That's what happens when people, they just open them up and spray everywhere." We wait for another several minutes, after which the customer walks to the end of the aisle and searches to see if someone is coming, and then goes on to pace up and down the neighboring aisles. By now I realize, "It is taking a while. Maybe I should call the front desk."
I pull out my phone, dial Walmart, and am greeted by an automated male voice, asking if I want to hear about Covid policies or if I want to reach the local Walmart. I press 2. I get another automated voice that goes into explaining something else and finally gives me the option to dial different departments. I dial 0. And that is when I feel something change in me. Frustration.
The phone rang for a long while before someone actually picked up. I ask the woman who answers if she could send someone to open the case, and she responds politely, "I'll page someone." I hang up, pleased with myself, until I hear the page above me.
"Someone to electronics for customer assistance, please."
Wait. What the f$%*! Ahem. Shake it off, Maggie. Remember. Use your tools, kid. It's not that serious. No reason to be upset, right?
Alright. Deep breath. Full exhale. Alright. Let's see if there is anyone nearby that can help. I walk around to the next aisle, and the next after that...and find no one. No one except the customer with the crazed expression, who is now speaking to his wife and explaining how he's waiting for someone to open the case. At this point I feel my frustration turn into slight panic. I mean, how long has he been waiting for? What if no one comes? Should I leave? I'm going to be late to work, I'm on my lunch break. This was only supposed to take a few minutes. I should be back on my way...but I'm already here. Chloe has been waiting for me to get this spray. She can't do anything without it. I need to get this so I can help her with her project. It shouldn't be that much longer, they already paged whoever they needed in the electronics department. Maybe they are connected somehow...I don't know...maybe they didn't hear what I said clearly? What if no one shows?
My slight panic begins to creep into my face, and I feel my eyebrows sink over the bridge of my nose. I'm feeling some moisture on my forehead, and my hair feels as though it's beginning to frizz. I see the customer walk away and realize he's given up. I can't give up. I'm not a quitter. I walk through the aisles now, determined, and the more I search, the angrier I become. I realize I'm mumbling to myself. "Oh my god," I say, "what's going on here?"
I finally see someone with the blue vest and I stop him. He looks at me, smiles, but I know the look in his eyes, for now I have become the customer with the crazed look. "Hi, please, help me..." I say pathetically, "the spray paint is locked away...I've been waiting for a long time. Nobody is helping. Can you open the door?" He is still smiling when he says, "No, but I can page someone-"
"No!" I say, and he frowns. "I"m sorry, I mean, they already paged someone in electronics...there's nobody here...could you page someone from this phone?" I point to the phone on the paint department counter. "No," he says, "I have to go to the fitting room to page someone."
"The fitting room?" I realize my voice has now risen to another pitch. "Okay, I guess." I watch him leave, in my heart knowing...he will be of no help.
By this point I'm about, oh, I would say a 6 on my anger meter. How do I know? Well, I'll admit it. I started to fantasize about how quickly staff would run to the paint department if I were to pick up a ladder or chair and smash the glass in. Oh, these mother!@$#%^&& would really come running then, but with my luck...none of them would have the freaking key! I did, however, take a deep breath, remembering, "Maggie, you teach anger management. What would you tell your clients? Are you being a big girl right now, or are you having a temper tantrum? You have a choice. Look for help, or leave."
The devil on my left shoulder suddenly appeared with. a smirk across his face and whispered, "Smash the glass door in, go ahead. It'll be fun," but I paid no mind to that little guy. I was still calm, now that my rational brain was back to work. In the meantime, I'm standing at my post again, when I see a man across the way, reaching for a plastic cup off the shelf. He's a tall man, so the way he is reaching for this one cup catches my attention, as I see him fumbling to get a specific cup, and in the process sends five other plastic cups crashing to the floor. My eyes widen when I see the man with the one prized cup in hand, looking side to side, searching for witnesses...and then walks away without picking up the plastic cups off the ground. "What the hell?" I stare, my jaw drops, and then I pinch myself. I start to wonder if I'm even alive anymore. "Did I just see that happen? Am I in the twilight zone? Am I...dead?" The idea that perhaps I was a ghost didn't seem so far fetched. After all, no one seemed to see me, no one was coming to help...maybe I was just floating around through the aisles of Walmart in my afterlife, witnessing the oddities of human nature. Perhaps this is what ghosts see day to day. If so, they must have plenty of their own stories to share.
I finally look at my phone to check the time, and realize if I don't find someone soon I will need to give up and go. I walk to the customer service section, where I ask for help, and eventually, ONE employee looks at me, and says, "Let's go. I'll get the key."
As I'm desperately grabbing cans and cans of Krylon triple thick glaze, I tell the employee, "Thank you so much. I'm just grabbing a few extra...hehehe...oh, maybe a couple more...hehehe....you know...hehehe...don't want to go through that again, right? Hahhaha...eheheh...eh..." She chuckles, and tells me I am welcome, and her chuckle shifted something in me, because now we are both chuckling. My 6 has now gone back down to a 3. By the time I checkout and leave, I take a deep breath and tell myself, "Well. That wasn't so bad. I didn't break any glass or shout at anyone....I think I did okay."
I drive back, get off the exit, and wait at the red light. Suddenly, a car comes zooming past me, through the red light, zooming around oncoming traffic and my jaw drops for the second time. "What the hell? Did I just see-what the hell is going on today? I must really be in the twilight zone. And where are the cops? If that had been me...not that I would ever do that...I would have a cop coming out of the bushes chasing me down....."
"Maggie," the little angel on my shoulder whispers, "you're safe. The car is gone. Just get back to work."
Moral of the story: As you can see, even someone who teaches Anger Management can get angry. It is, indeed, a normal emotion. l always say anger is secondary to other emotions, and the emotions I was experiencing at the moment were confusion, anxiety, helplessness...oh yeah, helplessness, that's a big one. After all, the Krylon triple glaze had been right there...right in view, and yet I had a locked glass door in my way. That's life folks. Sometimes there may be something we want and it's right in view, but you can't have it. At least not right then, when you want it. Impatience, that was another emotion. And I must add, my expectations also got in the way. Why would I expect any of the employees to rush and run around for little old me? They are people too, and sure it would have been nice for someone to have helped me sooner, but if it wasn't their department, why would they feel obligated to leave their post to cover someone else who wasn't available at the moment? I was the one who made a choice. I could have just left. But I chose to stay. So, I had to work through that decision or if I wasn't happy with it...at any point, I could have walked away. When we realize that the situation we are in is because of our own doing, our own decision making, then the only person we can be mad at is ourselves. I should have been more upset at myself for deciding to stay, but in the end, someone took the time to help me, and that was valuable. And I was grateful. Grateful that someone cared, that someone had shared a laugh with me...and grateful that I made it back to work in one piece.