“Boundaries don’t mean you are mean.
Boundaries mean you are clear.”
I’m a therapist. And so my job is to care. But I also really do care, which is one of the big reasons I love my job so much. I get to earn a living doing something I genuinely love, and am so grateful for it every day.
Part of what I do as well is give some of my knowledge and expertise away for free. I write this blog, I have given pro bono talks around my community, I have a YouTube Channel, and I do live Periscope videos.
It may not come as a surprise to you then that since I give away some of my services for free, sometimes there are people who think I must give any of my services away for free. Which means I sometimes get emails or other direct messages asking for my professional help and advice without any mention of compensation.
Now, I do want to be clear. As I said, I love helping people and if I had unlimited income and much more time in my day I would be delighted to respond thoroughly and thoughtfully to each and every request I receive.
But because I have neither, I have needed to put in some boundaries around this. But to be honest, it’s not always easy. I hate the potential of hurting someone’s feelings, that’s the last thing I ever want to do. But I also hate it even more when I am totally worn out and exhausted and taking too much time away from my family in order to meet each request that comes to me.
So, in come the boundaries.
But the thing we have to remember about boundary setting is most people aren’t trying to be inconsiderate or insensitive when they ask us for our professional advice with no mention of paying us for it. How are they supposed to know that’s not what we do? Some may actually like giving all their services away for free to those who ask.
And we don’t need to get all touchy or taken aback when this happens. They are just asking. People can simply ask, there is really no harm in that. And we can simply say no, and there’s no harm in that either. It’s not other people’s job to know where our boundaries are.
So try not to be offended if someone asks for something you don’t offer.
And try this instead:
1. Learn to say No.
Be clear, but also be gracious and kind.
People are asking you because they think you have something valuable to offer. It’s actually kind of a compliment.
For example: “Thank you for reaching out. Unfortunately I don’t offer therapeutic feedback or advice over email in this way. If you would like to enter in to a formal client/therapist agreement with me I would be happy to offer you my services.” Easy enough!
In a nut shell: This is what I don’t do and this is what I do do.
2. Call it Out:
But in a loving and clear way.
For example, let’s say someone approaches you with something like this:
“I really admire what you do and would really like to someday do what you do. Given that, I’m wondering if you’d like to be my mentor?”
To which you can reply:
“To clarify, I’m wondering if you’re looking for a mentor or looking learn the ins and outs of what I do and have me help you do the same in more of a coaching type relationship – the 2 being very different things. If the latter is true, then YES! This is a service that I offer and I’m happy to send you my fee information in an email.”
It’s okay to clarify with the person what they are asking for. And if they are actually asking for your services and hoping to get them for free by having you be their mentor, it’s good to address that in a kind way.
3. If Necessary Know When and How to Get Firm:
And be okay with it. Sometimes it’s necessary. And that’s because some people may not like or respect our boundaries so they keep pushing and pushing in the hopes we will change our minds and give them what they want.
Luckily, people who do this are few and far between, but they do pop up. In situations like this, I like the 3 warnings, then bring down the hammer rule.
This means that after you’ve set a clear boundary with them regarding what you are or are not able to do for them and they keep asking, repeat yourself again. And if they try and push it a third time inform them you have told them twice already what your boundary is, and if they ask again, you will cut off communication (i.e. block them from your email, or any other messaging platform you’ve been using).
I know it might tempting to just cut someone off if they don’t seem to be listening to or respecting your boundaries, but don’t forget they are people too. Give a clear warning before you cut someone off. Even people with poor boundary respecting abilities have feelings that can get hurt.
The moral of the story. It’s good to have boundaries and it’s good to state them when necessary. It doesn’t mean you’re mean if you can’t do everything for everyone all the time and do it all for free.
And in all honesty, it’s actually serves all of our personal relationships as well when we can state our boundaries. If we can’t bring ourselves to express them when we need to we just end up getting burnt out, tired, and angry.
If you are always trying to be nice to everyone by never saying no, you will quickly find yourself (if you haven’t already) feeling bitter and resentful toward people for asking something of you and then not allowing yourself to say no if you need to. But no is always an option. It’s an acceptable answer. And it’s not a four letter word.
If it sounds like this all is going to be hard to do, that’s a good thing. It means you care. And it’s good to care. But care within a capacity YOU feel comfortable with and is sustainable over the long term.
If you enjoyed this, please do share it. And if you do, let me know so I can thank you!