By Defne Dinler
Do you tend to be a polite person living in constant state of anxiety or stress and tension?
I catch myself in this place more often than I would like. My shell of politeness was so chronic that I used to get cramps in my cheeks from smiling at events and gatherings. Even in situations where I might have liked to tell someone off or just walk away, I smiled. My cheeks hurt even more. I was being the ‘good girl’ I was supposed to be all the while hating the fact that I could not have boundaries. I felt like I didn’t deserve boundaries, that letting my truth show disrupted others’ well-being—I was supposed to be polite and proper and keep the peace. I numbed out enough to not feel how painful it was and in response my jaw started clicking from the tension. I lived with constant stress and anxiety making sure I didn’t offend anyone. A young pained part of me desperately worked to fit in, to be accepted, to be loved so that I was okay in this life. No matter how hard I tried or for matter no matter how many compliments I got on my manners, it was never enough to quell my anxiety. Looking for acceptance and love outside did not fulfill the inside—my heart.
Through my own personal growth, I’ve seen how much I have lived and continue to live with my attention on others as opposed to myself. It is a painful and a never-ending cycle that I just cannot win. I was surprised when I realized how polite I was even to total strangers who were not nice to me; I did it so automatically. I had no idea why people were plowing through my ‘felt’ boundaries when I felt I had done nothing to them. I say felt boundaries because I never set them with people to be polite, to not hurt their feelings, but I could feel the place of no. There’s a great boundary exercise I like to work with, with clients and in my workshops, where one person stands on one end of the room and another walks towards them. The person standing is supposed to feel into their boundaries and notice when they want the walker to stop. The “felt” boundary of a said distance with that person is felt and in healthy boundaries, we say stop. Most people, to be polite to the walker, will let them come closer than they want, closer than their felt boundaries. This is when we can get overwhelmed, anxious, agitated, numbed out…etc. When we cannot keep our boundaries to the edges where we feel our sense of safety we lose ourselves. We self-sacrifice.
When something did not feel good or right, I did not say, “I’m not okay with this, stop” or “back off” or “no.” My feelings did not matter, my safety, wellbeing, comfort did not matter; rather, other people did. When challenged with the idea of saying “no” or “stop” to someone, I cringed. My body tensed up, I forgot to breathe. So much fear. I wondered what would happen if I did speak up for me. Fear convinced me that I would be bad and abandoned, rejected because of what I was doing to the other.
My “no”, however, was not about what I was doing to another, it was what I was doing for myself. It took me a long time to understand that. It has taken many years and many risks for me to feel and know that “no” is my act of self-care, not of harm at another.
No, is not being rude, it is being true to yourself when something does not work for you. When we hold back on our true expression and accommodate, whether it is pretending to agree with someone’s opinion, or actions, or allowing our boundaries to be plowed through because we are not letting them be known, we are shutting down a big part of ourselves.
Shut downs do show up in our body. Mine showed up as a clicky jaw and a tense stomach. Other symptoms included migraines and constant headaches as well as digestive problems. I learned that the more I took care of myself, emotionally, using my no wisely and with compassion, the more I took care of my body and it was able to relax and feel safe in my care and in my world.
Similarly, today, when I notice that I am clenching my jaw or tensing my stomach, I know it is a great opportunity to be curious as to why. It alerts me to get information on what is truly going on in my body by slowing down and paying attention inward. Our bodies are a treasure trove of information when we choose to listen.
I have clients working with their boundaries and forced acts of politeness who have chronic pain, chronic digestive issues, chronic sex problems, chronic exhaustion . . . why wouldn’t they? Our nervous system and hormonal systems are running on empty while keeping the tension to survive our constant self-sacrifice with terror of not being loved. It is such a painful place to live from.
Consider this: Who is always going to be with you in your life until the moment you die? You. The only constant is you. So why not be nicer to you?
It may not be easy in the beginning. Most of us are not taught that we deserve respect, boundaries, a sense of safety. It helps to reach out for support, to find someone to help you gain the tools to move beyond the past patterns that may have kept you alive but are no longer supportive of you today.
It’s up to you to reach out to learn new skills that will support you for the rest of your life for a happier, healthier you. You’re the only one that can prove your self-worth to yourself. It is not rude to others to take care of yourself. It is rude to yourself, not to.
That being said, we are creatures of connection, community, relationship, so it slowly becomes a practice. Every interaction provides opportunity to notice boundaries and self-care. I notice my edge—the hardest times to maintain my practice—tends to be with those I love and am closest to. My wanting to take care of their feelings makes me want to hold back from saying “thank you and no,” using “and” rather than “but” because of the underlying connotations perceived within each word itself. I offer a simple exercise: see what happens in your body and in your thoughts when you hear someone say “yes, but” versus “yes, and.” The word “but” becomes a block, an obstacle, an indication that the yes does not really mean yes while the word “and” is inclusive, the yes is truly a yes, and there is space for the other as well.
We all have our edges, our drop-off where our practice wavers, where we balance holding onto feelings of love and hate. With time, we can learn to appreciate practicing and realize that the more we know when we self-sacrifice, the more we know when to be self-compassionate and caring. What a great gift to practice.
Defne Dinler is a licensed somatic counseling psychotherapist who uses action-oriented therapeutic modalities that lead to a deeper understanding and achievement of goals for teens and adults. She specializes in relationship challenges, depression, anxiety, and trauma. As a Body Psychotherapist her belief is that to heal the mind one needs to connect to their body first.
Images retrieved from:
Polite: Rude Author Stuart Miles
Woman holding head
I say No: SPT library
start being more polite to yourself