Do you struggle with boundaries? Setting boundaries is about more than just personal and emotional space. Many people struggle with boundaries, but it isn’t as obvious as you might think. A boundary struggle can manifest as a difficulty saying no or as social anxiety. You might feel guilty about speaking your mind if it upsets someone. Because of this, you might put the needs of others before your own. People who struggle with boundaries tend to also face challenges with anxiety and intimacy as well as, in extreme cases, feel deep disappointment in their lives. Read on to learn how to set boundaries and build confidence in your life.
How Not Setting Boundaries can Hurt Us
The inability to set healthy, consistent boundaries for yourself can be really harmful. Here are some of the things that can happen.
Taking on too much
Have you ever heard the term Yes Man? Typically, Yes Man is used to describe a person in the workplace that just can’t say no. They do everything the boss asks of them. That said, this personality trait can be harmful in all aspects of life. Saying yes to everything can lead to taking on too much. In doing so, you miss out on free time, or enough time to do it all. You can become stressed and exhaustion, which can lead to burnout and depression.
Have you ever felt like you’ve done something just because the other person wants you to do it? Saying no to peer pressure isn’t just about drugs and alcohol. It can be anything—maybe you don’t want to go to a certain restaurant or maybe you don’t want to let your friend cut your hair. But you do these things anyway because you want to make your friends happy.
Constantly doing what other people want us to whilst ignoring our own wants and needs can be very hard on our sense of self worth.
Consenting to sex
People who struggle with setting boundaries can struggle with consent. It is a bit of an extreme form of peer pressure, but as an intimate activity, the inability to say no to sex can be deeply harmful. You might worry about upsetting your partner, or making a “good impression” for someone you’ve just started dating. By doing so, you suffer with feeling violated. You might stop enjoying sex or begin associating it with trauma. In extreme cases, you might lose your sense of bodily autonomy and your sense of self worth.
It is not uncommon for people who struggle with setting boundaries to have a history of unhealthy relationships. Without boundaries defined, it is hard to know the traits of healthy vs. unhealthy relationships. You might have been sensitive to how the other person felt and tried not to upset him or her. You might have thought things like “This is my fault” or “I shouldn’t have said that.” Without setting boundaries for yourself, it is easy to fall into patterns of shaming, gaslighting and even abuse in unhealthy relationships.
Overall, not setting healthy boundaries can lead to lower self confidence, loss of self worth, and even traumatic situations. It’s important to set boundaries because the long-term effects can be damaging on our relationships and lead to burnout, anxiety or depression.
Why is Setting Boundaries so Hard?
Setting boundaries is easier said than done. It can be challenging for many different reasons, or a combination of reasons. Here are some of them.
It’s hard to say no
If you struggle with saying no, or just worry about making sure everyone else around you is happy, then you risk compromising your personal space and integrity. In extreme cases, you might let people take advantage of you. However, the inability to say no isn’t just about intimacy and consent. It can be as simple as agreeing to take on more work just because your boss asks, even though you end up suffering the consequences of a late night.
You feel guilty
It can be hard to draw a line when considering how other people might feel. After all, you don’t like feeling angry or sad, so why would you want to upset someone else? This can prevent you from setting boundaries, or at the very least from being assertive. In reality, it is very hard to control other people’s feelings, so it is important to focus on how you feel in such situations. Not setting boundaries because you feel guilty makes it easy for others to push your boundaries while remaining unaware of what they are doing. As it continues on, it really takes a toll on your sense of self worth.
You fear intimacy
If you struggle with fear of intimacy, it’s likely you’re setting boundaries—but not the right ones. You’re keeping people out emotionally, which can be harmful to your relationships and lead to feelings of loneliness and frustration. People who struggle with intimacy can feel high levels of stress and anxiety from putting up a ‘facade’ to keep others away. In doing so, they can feel their relationships are fake as well as a deep sense of unfulfillment.
Past traumas can have a great influence on your ability to set boundaries. Maybe you are afraid to talk to someone because they remind you of a traumatic experience. Maybe you suffered years of bullying or shame, which has deluded your sense of self worth. Traumatic experiences can impact our confidence, and in doing so, our ability to set and keep boundaries.
9 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries—and Keep Them!
Setting boundaries gives you control over your life. Here’s how you can get started.
1. Start small
The best way to start setting boundaries is by starting small. Starting small prevents you from becoming overwhelmed, and in doing so, gives you the practice you need to set higher-stakes boundaries. You can start with something small, like when someone knocks on your door and tries to sell you something, or if you husband wants you to watch a scary movie with him.
Take the example of a salesperson at your door: have you ever felt like someone knocking on your door to sell you a service has been overly pushy? You can set a boundary here. This can either be flat-out “no” or a goal to just take their business card. Practice saying no, or declining to schedule a follow up appointment. This gives you control over the business transaction, and in doing so, ensures that you don’t feel as though your boundaries have been crossed.
2. Practice mindfulness
Before you can set boundaries, you need to identify where they should be. You may feel badly, anxious or violated, but you may not know exactly where or when a boundary was crossed. You can get a better idea by focusing on how you feel in any given situation. You may feel a lot of different feelings, or feel conflicted. One way to hone in on your emotions is by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a tool you can use to recognize how you feel and react in any given situation. It can help you identify patterns, and in doing so, where to set boundaries. Read more about how to practice mindfulness.
3. Don’t be a people-pleaser
To get in the habit of setting boundaries, start by not worrying about what other people think. This does not mean disregarding others, but rather focusing on yourself first. If someone wants you to do something, think about how that makes you feel. Are they asking you to do something you don’t feel comfortable about? Are they asking you to meet an impossible deadline, that might make you feel overly stressed? You might feel like you “have to” do something, or… You might get in trouble. You might disappoint them. You might hurt their feelings. But it’s important to focus on how this makes you feel, and how that affects you. If you are feeling negative, badly, or stressed about something that another person has asked of you, then you may need to set boundaries.
You can start setting boundaries by opening up a dialogue. For example, say “This makes me feel badly. Can we try it another way?” “I am stressed, can I have more time?” “I understand you may feel badly, I this is what I need to do.” …and so on.
4. Be direct and assertive
When you aren’t direct with your boundaries, people won’t know what they are. They’ll have to guess, and may get it wrong. Or, even worse, they may have an idea, but since you weren’t direct, they might take advantage of this.
It’s important to be clear and direct. Say what you mean. Repeat it if you need to. Clarify your meaning if they ask. Ask them, “I need space in XYZ situation. Do you understand?” Getting into the habit of doing this can be very empowering, and help get you into the habit of setting boundaries.
5. Give yourself permission to say no
It’s okay to say no. Really, it is. Often times we are hesitant to say no out of fear of disappointing someone, fear of intimacy or avoiding hard conversations. But learning to say no is a really powerful thing. It clearly defines your boundaries to other people, and in doing so, protects you in vulnerable situations. Saying “no” can also help you overcome a fear of intimacy by giving you the power and confidence over your own self in intimate situations. Saying no gives you control.
6. Practice self-care
Setting boundaries in an of itself is a way of practicing self-care. Therefore, getting in the habit of practicing self-care in general can really help strengthen your boundaries. Do something for yourself every day: It doesn’t have to be something big, but anything can help. You can take the time something you love, like singing along to your favorite song on the radio, in less than 5 minutes. You can do something good for your health like take a shower or practice mindfulness in just a few minutes. Getting into the habit of prioritizing yourself will help you set (and keep) boundaries.
7. Own your actions—including the mistakes
Boundaries aren’t just about other people. Blaming others for your actions or mistakes lets people in on your boundaries, even if they don’t realize it. So does giving other people credit for your success. Saying things like “Well I only did this because she said so” or “I had to stop because of him” gives other people unnecessary power over your life. It belittles your ownership in situations and in life. In excess, this can cause resentment and strain on relationships.
If you make a mistake, own it. If you do something great, take credit for it. Don’t diminish your success nor your mistakes; state what you have learned from a situation, and how you’ll do better next time.
8. Recognize who does / does not respect your boundaries
Sometimes, no matter how many boundaries you set or how many times you repeat yourself, certain people just don’t get it. This type of relationship is toxic. It doesn’t mean you have to necessarily dump the relationship, but it should be changed in one way or another. Maybe these are boundaries you set for yourself, such as, you only see so-and-so in group settings. Or you limit your time with a certain family member, maybe just on holidays. Or you limit the amount of information you say to them because maybe they keep sharing your secrets with others. A personal life coach can help you identify toxic relationships where people don’t respect your boundaries, and how to set boundaries for yourself in these situations.
9. Find support
It can be hard to set boundaries and even harder to identify where you need to set them. Setting up a support system of people to help you set, and keep, boundaries is really beneficial. Your support system can consist of one or several people. It could include a close friend or partner rooting for you, or an acquaintance willing to stand up for you and your boundaries. A mentor or life coach can help identify your needs for boundaries because they can look at a situation from another point of view.