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I’m a people pleaser, like a lot of other women out there. Which is why I found a conversation with a friend so eye-opening when she began talking about boundaries.
Boundaries? I thought, What the hell does that even mean?
As she talked more about how she started setting more boundaries in her relationships, I began to realize how critical this was. And that I desperately needed to set some boundaries in my own relationships.
I was giving so much to others that I was depleting my energy and my happiness.
The problem was, though, that I hated saying no. Absolutely hated it. In fact, it was pretty much impossible for me to do. So how was I going to actually set boundaries with people?
If you’re like me, you know that you’d be much happier if you set boundaries in your relationships. But you’re not sure how to go about doing it.
This post will explain what boundaries are, why they’re important, and give you 4 simple steps to help you set boundaries for healthier relationships.
What Does Having Healthy Boundaries in Relationships Mean?
Boundaries simply mean that we recognize ourselves as an individual who is separate from the other person in the relationship. We understand that while some of our needs and wants are similar, there are also some that are different.
Having boundaries means that we are able to express what is important to us. This includes our goals, fears, dreams, values, and what makes us happy. We make it clear how we expect to be treated and what others can expect from us.
Jen Sincero, author of “You Are a Badass”, puts it best:
“People love to tell you what you should and shouldn’t want, regardless of how you feel about it. Even worse, we’re so malleable, if we listen to them long enough we’ll tell ourselves what we should and shouldn’t want, regardless of how we feel deep down. If we’re not careful, we can stay stuck for years, or even lifetimes, in situations that cause us pain because we’d rather defend these nontruths than upset or disappoint anybody, our own inner critics included. We’d rather do what’s expected of us than give ourselves permission to be, do, and have what feels good and right and awesome.”
What Unhealthy Boundaries Look Like
There are two ways to have unhealthy boundaries. One is by not having them at all. The second is by having boundaries that are too rigid.
Here are some examples of what not having boundaries might look like:
- Not asking a person on a train to move over so that you can sit too. You might feel bad asking them to do so, so you continue to stand when there is clearly room to sit if the other person moved over a bit. If you politely asked them to move, you would enforce your boundaries by letting others know how you want to be treated.
- You always agree to what the other person wants to do, even if deep down inside you don’t want to do it. You may do this because you are afraid of being rejected or letting the other person down. However, this can cause you to feel resentful and unhappy. On top of that, you may begin to feel like you’re losing yourself. The lines between what you do and don’t want become blurred.
Here are some examples of what having rigid boundaries might look like:
- Not letting people in. You don’t share your inner thoughts, emotions, and personal experiences with the people in your relationships. You’re closed off.
- Cutting someone completely off because you feel they violated your boundaries.
Why Setting Healthy Boundaries is Important
It’s super important to recognize what we want versus what others want from us. Why? Because if we don’t recognize this and make it clear to others then it’s easy to be taken advantage of.
This isn’t to say that the other person in your relationship will definitely take advantage of you. But it will start to feel that way to you if you’re constantly sacrificing your needs for the other person’s needs. This can lead to resentment, unhappiness, exhaustion, and depression.
On the flip side, if you’ve set boundaries that are too rigid then you may end up pushing the people that you care about away from you. Many times when someone has set rigid boundaries it’s because they’ve been mistreated, neglected, or hurt in the past.
If you’ve set very rigid boundaries that means that you’re focusing too strongly on your own needs and wants. You aren’t listening closely enough to what the other person’s needs and wants are.
Just to be clear – if you have rigid boundaries it does not mean that you’re a selfish person. It’s coming from a place of wanting to protect yourself.
Regardless, in both scenarios, this is a sure fire way to dampen any intimacy in the relationship.
Having strong boundaries in your relationships will not only lead to happier relationships, but it will also increase your self-esteem, relieve worry and stress, and give you more time to focus on yourself.
9 Steps to Setting Boundaries in Your Relationships
I’m not gonna lie – setting boundaries isn’t the easiest thing to do.
If you haven’t set boundaries before, I know there is fear of not being like or accepted if you say no to something. I know you’re worried about hurting the other person’s feelings or that they won’t feel loved by you.
If you you’ve set rather harsh boundaries, I know there is a fear of being hurt or being taken advantage of if you loosen them.
So here are 4 steps that will guide you in setting healthy boundaries in your relationships. It’s ok if you don’t get them perfect. Keep open communication with the people in your life and together over time you will find what works best!
1. Get to know yourself.
Take some time to get to know yourself. Think about what’s important to you, what your values and beliefs are, how you want to be treated, and how you want to treat others. Think about the type of relationship you want to have with that person.
You’ll begin to create the outline of your boundaries as you think through these things.
2. Check in with how you’re feeling and why.
How have you been feeling lately? Have you been feeling drained? Sad? Anxious?
Dig into why you’ve been feeling this way. Have you been participating in activities to make others happy even though you don’t enjoy them? Has your partner been speaking to you in a way that you feel is disrespectful?
Pinpoint your emotions and do some work to figure out what those emotions are stemming from. You’ll be able to identify where you need to set boundaries once you realize where the problems are.
3. Examine existing boundaries.
Examine the relationships that you currently have – romantic, friendships, family, etc. How are those relationships doing? Are they bringing value to your life? Or are they draining you?
If you decide that some of your relationships could use improvement, it’s likely that you need to set boundaries in them. It’s completely possible that you have healthy boundaries in set in certain relationships, and not others.
For instance, I never had a problem with setting boundaries with family members. But I really struggled with setting boundaries at work. Saying no to extra work and not allowing others to speak in a disrespectful way to me were things I was having trouble with.
4. Communicate your boundaries.
When you’ve figured out the boundaries that you need to set, you’ll need to make sure that the people in your relationships are aware of them. Communicate these boundaries to them in a loving way.
Rather than making the boundary about them (“You really need to stop calling me so much throughout the day”), make it about you (“I have a lot going on at work during the day and can’t really talk. I’ll call you after work.”).
It’s best to be concise when you communicate a boundary and then actually put it into practice. You don’t need to overexplain. We all have the right to decide what we do and don’t want to do.
For example, I had a friend recently ask me to go to happy hour. I should have said no because my husband and I just put ourselves on a strict budget. But I felt bad saying no – I was afraid she would think I didn’t like her! So I went.
What ensued were feelings of guilt for going against what my husband and I agreed to. And then an argument. It was not fun! It caused me a lot of stress and anxiety.
Next time a friend asks me to go to happy hour, I’ve decided to simply say, “I would so love to, but the hubs and I are really watching our spending right now. Maybe next time if our budget loosens up!”
5. Respect yourself.
Two things may happen when you begin setting boundaries in your relationships:
- The other person may become upset.
- You will feel bad.
In the happy hour example that I just gave, did I feel bad saying no even though I did it in a friendly way? You betcha.
If either or both of these two things happen, it will be easier to handle if you’ve developed a healthy respect for yourself.
Get your mindset right and remind yourself of these things:
- You have a right to feel the way that you feel.
- You also have the right to define how you want and expect to be treated by others.
- No one is allowed to control you.
- You, and only you, can define yourself.
- You are responsible for your own feelings, but not someone else’s. This includes how they react when you’ve set a boundary.
- Setting boundaries creates healthier relationships and a happier you.
- It’s ok to walk away if the other person is not respecting the fact that you are trying to set a boundary.
Related Post: 9 Signs You’re in a Toxic Friendship
6. Listen to your intuition.
Your intuition is never wrong. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s not. Listen to your gut and put boundaries into place when you need to. They don’t have to be big and dramatic. If someone asks you to do something and the thought of doing it just exhausts you, follow your instinct and say no.
7. Don’t Set Boundaries Out of Anger.
What tends to happen with people pleasers is that we say yes, yes, yes until we reach our breaking point. Then we lash out at our significant other when he innocently asks if we can pick up his dry cleaning on our way home from work… because that’s the perfect time to set up some boundaries, right?
Only if we’re looking to push that person away!
Be thoughtful and intentional when deciding what kind of boundaries to set and with whom.
8. Lean on your support system.
As I mentioned before, setting boundaries isn’t easy. Especially if you’ve never intentionally set them in a relationship before. You may feel nervous when you’re letting someone know about a boundary you’ve set. Or you may feel bad and worry that you hurt their feelings.
Odds are, that isn’t the case. But our minds can convince us otherwise. This is when you’ll need to lean on someone you trust and who will understand. Lean on them if you are struggling with setting boundaries.
9. Consistently follow through.
I completely feel like I’m putting my mom hat on when I say this, but set consequences for when someone oversteps your boundaries. To add to that, make sure you enforce those consequences consistently.
I’ll give you the example of the boundary I’m currently setting with my toddler (yes, we need boundaries with our kids too!). I started this bad habit of rocking my toddler to sleep and letting him into bed with me in the middle of the night when he cries.
It’s freaking exhausting. I never knew that a tiny person could take up 75% of a king-sized bed until I had kids. And when he’s not taking up all. the. space. He’s literally sleeping on top of my head. I knew it was time – I needed to sleep train him. That means no more rocking and no more sleeping in mama’s bed.
Now, imagine if I didn’t let him sleep in my bed on Monday and Tuesday. And then I let him sleep in my bed on Wednesday and Thursday because I felt bad. But then I realized that I really needed to break this habit so I didn’t let him sleep in my bed the next night.
He would be so confused! And he definitely wouldn’t take this boundary seriously.
Same thing with adults, guys!
Set your boundaries, make the consequences known, and enforce them consistently.
Keep Your Boundaries Flexible
In general, setting boundaries in your relationships is done by determining where they are needed, clearly communicating them, and sticking to them.
Once you’ve set your boundaries, remember that you, the people in your life, and your relationships will continue to grow and change. With that, your boundaries will change too.
The guiding principle to setting and maintaing healthy boundaries in your relationships is to make them clear and strong enough so that you feel safe, but flexible enough for a connection to be made between you and the other person.
Do you need to set healthy boundaries in your relationships? What has kept you from setting them? Comment below!