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Do You Like Me? Setting Limits

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

LimitsAre you one of those people who finds it difficult to say no? Do you end up feeling angry and depressed after you have agreed to do something that you did not want to do? Do you fear that people will not like you if you say no? do people describe you as a nice guy? You are not alone. Alex Lickerman, M.D., wrote a short article about himself in Psychology Today Magazine. It can be found in the March April issue of 2010 page 41. Dr. Lickerman describes his struggles with saying no to people.

In many ways the inability to say the word no is a boundary issue. It is as though you are convinced that you do not have the right to set limits between yourself and other people. Under the mistaken belief that you will be rejected it becomes necessary to agree to every demand another person makes on your time, resources, and friendship.

Healthy functioning and healthy relationships mean that it is necessary to be assertive and to refuse when necessary. In point of fact there is no person who can be a nice guy all the time. Self-preservation and self dignity demand that we set limits with other people. The price paid by always being a nice guy is to feel taken advantage of, abused,week and helpless.

As Dr. Lickerman points out, "getting rid of the good guy contracts has brought me tremendous benefits. I don't need to try to influence others to like me which has freed up an unbelievable amount of my time."

The error in thinking that the nice guy constantly makes is the only way to be liked is to say yes. Too many of us are raised with the belief that it is necessary to please others rather than ourselves.

Not everyone who needs to be a nice guy suffers from low self-esteem, but that's certainly contributes to the problem of setting boundaries who have low self esteem. Of course, low self-esteem carries with it depressed feelings and the expectations of rejection. Dr. Lickerman does not appear to suffer from either low self-esteem or depression. I have little doubt that people who are depressed and, therefore, expect to be rejected, would benefit from learning to say the word no. This is where cognitive behavioral psychotherapy comes in because of its ability to train people to think for themselves.

It is important to clarify one point. One does not say no just to practice setting limits with others. Rather, it is important to learn to say no when there are things you do not wish to do.

As Dr. Lickerman call correctally points out, the danger of always say yes is that small frustrations and anger that you experience from always sagying yes is that they build up until you finally explode at the wrong person, especially at your own self in the form of self hatred.

Please remember, saying no and setting boundaries does not mean you will be disliked. Instead, it can lead to people having greater respect for you as a person.

As Hillel, the Jewish scholar from the middle ages points out, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And, if not now, when?" This is a helpful quote to remember in learning to establish healthy boundaries between your needs vs. the demands that loved ones place on you.

As always, your experiences, opinions, and comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD