By Lori Hanson
Are you good at setting boundaries? With family, friends, coworkers, boyfriends, girlfriends or significant others? So many people have low self-esteem and many just haven’t learned communication skills that can help them set boundaries and communicate their feelings or desires to other people in their lives.
For adolescent girls this can be really difficult. Ever listen to a group of girls planning an outing? If there are five girls involved four of them respond to the question, “What do you want to do? with “I don’t care”, “Whatever”, “What do you want to do?” or “I dunno.” Sometimes the lack of self-esteem comes from being shut down in other areas of life when they feel they don’t ever get what they want and don’t ever get to do what they want to do. Everything they ask for results in a negative response and they give up. But often peer pressure is so strong for adolescents and making a suggestion or decision carries with it the fear that the other kids think it’s stupid, or their suggestion leads to a boring or bad time. And they don’t want to carry that label.
Being decisive and having an opinion is important to healthy self-esteem. It’s part of knowing who you are and what you want. Having an opinion and making decisions doesn’t make you obnoxious or selfish, it can make you a leader or a trusted resource.
If you aren’t used to expressing your opinion it might take some practice. Start by having a preference with little things. What’s your favorite color? If you had your choice, what kind of automobile would you drive? If you could own any pet what would it be? What restaurant would you like to visit, what movie would you really like to see? If your answer to these questions is “I don’t know” take out a notebook and write down the questions and spend some time in thought and answer them. First, think about things that are important to you and write about why. Write a story about a scenario where you express your opinion and make a decision about something at home, school or work. Feel what it feels like to express yourself and enjoy the feeling of self-expression and being decisive. Experience the increase in self-confidence you feel by speaking your mind.
Once you’ve practiced in your notebook and written about the scenario where you do it, it’s time to apply it in life. Again, you can start with small things. Make a suggestion about something you want to do (go see a particular movie this weekend), decline an invitation to do something you don’t really want to do. You don’t have to give an excuse, you can just politely decline. If the other person reacts by trying make you feel guilty and pressuring you, it’s okay. Stay firm in your preference, you don’t have to change your mind. You are allowed to make decisions that feel good to you and you don’t have to respond to pressure and guilt trips put on you by other people. Remember YOU are responsible for how you feel. Other people can’t make you feel things. You always have a choice how you respond to any situation.
Now that you’ve started to express yourself you can continue to improve your self-esteem and empower yourself by creating space in your life for YOU. Creating space includes taking time out to do something for yourself. Make sure all of your time isn’t consumed by nurturing and taking care of everyone else. Talk a 30 minute walk, browse through your favorite book store, eat your lunch at a park. Find something that feels really good to you where you aren’t feeling pressured by someone else. Create your space where you live in the moment and celebrate “you”. It goes hand-in-hand with getting in touch with what you want to do, having opinions and making decisions.
So, be decisive, set boundaries for what you do or don’t want to do and create space in your life for YOU. You are important and valuable simply because you are here! Get on the road to improving your self-esteem and improve your quality of life.