Setting Healthy Boundaries After Weight Loss Surgery & An Action PlanJuly 17, 2017
One of my favorite sayings is "What you allow, is what will continue." This phrase is very poignant when it comes to setting healthy boundaries after weight loss surgery so you can have healthy relationships. You want something to change, but you don’t know how to change it. You fear standing up for yourself because you don’t know what the other side of that looks like. However, when you allow the behavior or situation to continue, it will.
Long before weight loss surgery, it is likely that you've been saying "yes" to people about things you had much rather have said "no" to. However, you didn't quite know how to say "no".
This is much more common than you may think.
The Truth Is, "No" Is A Complete Sentence
Many individuals have a subconscious need for approval because they feel bad that they are unable to do or manage things due to the excessive weight, or they are trying to overcompensate for other reasons.
I've seen this pattern frequently with my clients who feel bad that they can't spend time with friends and family like they wish they could because they just cannot get around due to obesity. So, they say "yes" to other things that they would otherwise say "no" to, just to avoid confrontation, arguments, or to gain approval, or to feel better when feeling bad that they are unable to commit in a more active way.
Therefore, saying "yes" is what they do out of convenience, to gain acceptance, out of obligation, or to avoid being called out on their excess weight. There is an underlying fear of being rejected due to a combination of obesity and low self-esteem. This often becomes a pattern or habit and even after weight loss, if nothing changes, the pattern can stay the same unless the individual decides to do something differently.
This can take shape in many forms:
- Taking on extra work at one's job to gain approval of the boss or manager.
- Always saying yes to your clients, rearranging your schedule, or running around to finish something
- Not standing up for oneself in an abusive relationship.
- Allowing people to treat you poorly even when you know it's not right, fearing they won't love you if you say something.
- Letting people walk all over you.
- Ignoring a cheating spouse out of fear he/she will leave you.
- Helping someone even to your own detriment (losing excessive amounts of money or time).
- Giving things to others to keep them around.
Setting boundaries is scary, especially when there is fear that you would lose your relationship, job, partner, friend, etc.
The truth is, setting boundaries and standing up for yourself helps you to gain the respect of those individuals and by standing up for yourself, they will respect you more. Will they like it at first? Probably not.
However, when you start to shift and set healthy boundaries regarding what you can do, are willing to do, you actually gain the respect of those individuals and they know where you stand.
Setting Boundaries After Weight Loss Surgery
A few months back, one of my clients came in with precisely this issue. She had recently had weight loss surgery and was used to overcompensating in her role for taking on a lot of work. She shared that she was exhausted but that she felt she had to take on the extra workload to prove her worth, and that she felt threatened because of her weight.
After she had surgery and at a point when she had lost about 60 pounds, she shared that she was ready to "do her best" in her role, but was not willing to take all of the extra work she had used to do because she felt taken advantage of. However, she feared she would be let go, seen as lazy, or that people would notice her doing less and would be "at risk" of losing her position as a result. She specifically feared to have a talk with her boss about doing a "normal" workload without all the extra hours.
She feared this because she was not used to setting boundaries and because although she was well on her way to losing weight, she still thought she wasn't worthy enough to set such boundaries. In her words, she asked me, "What if they think I'm just not good enough doing just my normal job?"
It took some time, but she finally spoke to her boss and told her boss she would be focusing on herself more and while she would complete all of her normal duties and that while she's "glad to help in a pinch", she wouldn't be regularly taking on extra workload like she had for the past several years. To her surprise, her boss replied, "Well, it's about time you focus on yourself, you deserve it!"
My client was dumbfounded and was also elated. Her fear was that she would be looked down upon and the truth is, the only person that was looking down on her, was herself.
Many individuals who have struggled with obesity see themselves as pariahs, as outcasts, and as a result, try to "do more" or "be more" to others almost apologetically for their weight.
This is how poor boundary setting becomes an issue and honestly, a really horrible habit. It's out of self-loathing that people try to gain love, acceptance, approval, and in the end, it just ends up hurting them more.
While I strongly believe this has got to stop, it starts by shifting the self-hatred to self-love. It also begins by setting better boundaries and believing you are worthy of healthy relationships/friendships, healthy work settings, healthy homes, etc.
It is also understood that people who set healthier boundaries live more fulfilling lives. Having good boundaries in relationships and at work is linked to lower stress levels, increased life, career, and family satisfaction.
Action Plan To Set Healthy Boundaries
1. Evaluate Your Current Situation
What area(s) of your life do you believe you have let boundaries slip? Is someone taking advantage of you consciously, or are you allowing yourself to be used, or utilized to your own detriment? Are you being pushed around or manipulated?
In what area or situation in your life would you like to say "no", yet time after time, keep saying "yes" to people, situations, or things that aren't serving you?
Write these down so you can look at them clearly. There may be more than one, and it's okay. You'll take each, one step at a time.
It's important to evaluate what you're saying "yes" to and what you're saying "no" to. Are these situations ones that you can change, or not? Would better boundary setting help your situation?
Being clear about this will help you in the next steps.
2. What Are Your Fears About Setting Boundaries In This Situation?
Write them out.
Writing out your fears helps to get them out of your head. Most people have fears that they never play out on paper and they seem worse than they are in reality. This is why this step is so important.
You may fear that the person or situation will spiral out of control. You may fear losing someone's love, attention, or affection. You may fear losing your job, shifts, respect, your clients, etc. You may fear that someone will get more manipulative and threaten you if you stand up for yourself. You may fear that by standing up for yourself, you'll lose more than you'll gain.
Write this all out, get all the stories out of your head to help you evaluate if there is any truth to this or just fears you've created in your mind.
3. What Small Steps Can You Take To Setting Healthy Boundaries?
Just as you looked at your fears above, by looking at the "small steps", you can begin to see that you'll do this over time and not all at once. Too much all at once is overwhelming, scary and likely to keep you stuck in your old ways. By setting boundaries one small step at a time, you'll begin to taste the victory, see the respect shifting, and will likely do it more and more.
However, another reason to shift slowly in setting boundaries is so that you don't upset the apple cart too much which could also harm relationships. If all of a sudden, you go from a "softy to rock hard" in your delivery. With this demeanor, the people who are used to thinking that you are a pushover will start to push back as well.
Let's say you're like my aforementioned client who took on too much work. Let's say she just said, "you know what, I'm not doing this anymore. I've done this for years, and no more!" The response would probably have been completely different. She still offered to help when the company needed her, but she set a boundary that she wouldn't be doing the extra work while sacrificing her own health, free time, etc.
It's important that the right communication is used and that small steps help ease others into the new boundary setting you, so that they don't think you are angry, resentful, or completely changing too quickly. If you change too fast, people can push back on your efforts and make you feel guilty for setting boundaries, to begin with.
Another client of mine had a husband who she caught cheating multiple times. Before she had weight loss surgery, she shared that she just "dealt with it" and frequently felt ashamed about it, but after surgery, she wanted to see something change. She started by having a conversation with him about their relationship and his behaviors and what she knew all along. As you can imagine, this wasn't an easy conversation, however, it was much easier than her yelling, screaming and/or giving him an ultimatum. In the end, she ended up seeking a divorce, however, he knew it was coming especially since she had set the boundary that she was no longer going to put up with a husband with a straying eye.
Looking at what small steps you can take, even if it is just a conversation are good things to think about so that you can start taking action sooner rather than later.
4. What Is Likely To Happen When You Start To Set These Healthy Boundaries?
Write it out.
As noted above, if you act too fast, people are not going to like it. They might accuse you of changing, thinking you are "too good" for them, or that you are "too good" to work hard, or even that they liked the "old you" better.
Most people don't like change, this is why acting slow and steady gets them used to the changes, and gets you used to make these changes.
Just like the old saying "Rome wasn't built in a day," neither are personal boundaries. It took you years to get to where you are, so why do you think you can flip a switch and change everyone's reactions to you?
This will take time, but stay the course and start back and step 1 when you get confused. What do you really want to change? Who keeps pushing your boundaries, and why does it make you uncomfortable? What would you like to see differently?
Know and be ready for someone to challenge your new boundaries. Be prepared to stand your ground, because if you don't hold your new boundaries, you've taken two steps back.
If you cave after they push back on your boundaries, then they really won't respect you and you'll be teaching them that they can push you around. Or, you'll be sending the message that you weren't really serious to begin with which will further hurt your future attempts at boundary setting because they will push back even harder. However, when you stand firm to your new boundary, people are more likely to respect you and honor your decisions, whatever they may be. They may not like it, but they WILL honor it.
It's time you start to ask for what you really want, recognizing that others may not at first like the "new" you, but they will respect you when you put yourself first, and when you honor your boundaries others will do.
5. Take Action. Set That Boundary!
It's action time. It's time to start setting your new boundaries no matter how scary it may seem. Change your mindset for the results you want, and start by taking action for yourself.
The more practice you get, the easier it will become and you'll wonder why you didn't do this sooner.
You may need a little more bravery to each step and that's okay. This is why you start small.
Taking action can be both exhilarating and scary at the same time. At first, you may experience fear not knowing what the reaction will be, but once you do, you'll start to set more boundaries after you see that people do respect you and the decisions you make for yourself in your life.
ABOUT THE AUTHORKristin Lloyd, MS, LPC/LMHC, PhD-Candidate is a licensed psychotherapist and certified transformational mindset mentor guiding individuals to embrace healthy habits, better relationships, and fuller richer lives after WLS. As a WLS surgery patient herself, Kristin understands the challenges experienced by the WLS/bariatric patient. She is the founder of Bariatric Mindset which aims to help individuals live a fuller richer life after WLS.