My sister and I recently met for a play-date and the converson turned to her increasing stress as she prepares for the birth of her second child, manages her clients (she’s an attorney) and attempts to be present and enjoy her family.
She talked about checking her email several times a day, taking business calls after office hours and taking on the responsibility for cooking, cleaning and hosting get-togethers with her husband’s family. “For some reason,” she said, “I feel like I have to be available to everyone all the time.”
She hit on a belief many of us hold without even being aware of it. Often, this unconscious belief goes even deeper. We believe being unavailable destroys relationships. We’re afraid the people we care about may feel disappointment, anger, or frustration if we aren’t available anytime they call on us. And it’s true, we can all recall times we felt those things when someone was unavailable to us. It can be difficult to tolerate. And yet, being unavailable, setting time aside to tend to yourself and your priorities, is critical.
If we are always available, we become exhausted, overwhelmed, resentful and scattered. And the effort is rarely sustainable. When we cannot say no, we squeeze ourselves out of the relationship by making less and less room for our own feelings and needs. We may reach a point where we become so resentful, we end the relationship ourselves, or avoid it altogether.
Always being available destroys healthy relationships.
If we strive for authentic, sustainable relationships with our families, friends, coworkers and clients, we must learn to tolerate others’ disappointment. We must recognize that being unavailable is necessary, even when others are resistant. That’s the nature of an authentic relationship. There must be room for both parties’ needs and feelings.
When we set limits on our availability, we are free to be more authentic, present and engaged with others.
So how do we become more comfortable with being unavailable?
- Think about your own situation, when do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or resentful? List the tasks that come up. Think about what it would be like to give some (or all) of them up.
- Think about your relationships, who do you really enjoy spending time with and why? Do you feel more of a give and take with this person? Is this person more accepting of your limits?
- Take action. Rehearse it in your head and when the opportunity appears, stand for yourself and say “no”.
- Watch out for boundary pushers. There are people who believe you should always be available, especially to them. Recognize this as their issue. Prepare for a backlash when you are unavailable to them.
As you practice being unavailable, keep your goal in mind. It may be uncomfortable at times. Being unavailable at times creates space for you in your relationsips