I really need some support with setting boundaries in relationships - professionally and personally. I was never taught how to set them, and I think I need to learn. I am tired of allowing others to tell me how to think, act, and feel. I also tend to spend my time and energy doing what others want me to do, which means I sacrifice what I want deep down. I feel frustrated and exasperated; why do I let this happen? I have started to notice that I focus on making everyone else happy and then feel secretly annoyed at other people for taking advantage of me. It is not helping me get anywhere. I would love to hear any tips you might have to get started with setting boundaries.
Thanks for writing in, Pat. Setting boundaries is a daily practice that never stops, we are always learning how to develop this skill throughout our lives. Merriam Webster defines boundary as this: something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent.
If we apply that definition to what most people are looking for in boundaries, we are looking for a language and behaviours to communicate what we need and want. This helps inform others of our needs and wants and helps us
So, what does that mean for you and setting boundaries? Take some time to explore the following questions:
1. Define: Note what you think boundaries are - this is often influenced by how we grew up. Many of us learned to stop saying no and accommodate others to keep the peace or make others more comfortable in the family. How were boundaries communicated in your home growing up? How would you describe boundaries to someone who doesn't know what they are?
2. Decide: What areas of your life do you want/need to set boundaries? Take a piece of paper. In the left-hand column, write down the most common relationships in your life. In the right-hand column, write down whether the boundaries in that relationship are porous, rigid, or healthy. To learn more about porous, rigid, and healthy boundaries, click here.
3. Start small: Start where you are, don't try to set boundaries in every area, with every person. Begin with something achievable. For example, if jumping into saying, “No” might be too much, too soon, and cause you to give up, you could start setting boundaries by using phrases like, “I will get back to you in __________” or “I’d like to think about it” or “Are there any other options?”
4. KISS: Keep it short and simple when starting to set boundaries. It will be easy for the default mode to kick in and before you know it, you will be saying, “Yes” or asking, “How can I help?” State what you need, want, or expect in a few short sentences.
5. Write it out first: It is helpful in the beginning, when you may feel more hesitant about asking for what you want/need/expect, to practice setting the boundary beforehand. You can write it out and practice saying it. This helps your brain become more familiar with the language and situation, which will make a difference for you in the moment. However, you can expect to feel uncomfortable, especially when you first start communicating boundaries, and know that it will feel less uncomfortable over time.
Try these out, or try one, and see what happens. Notice if there are any shifts in you or in your relationships.
To dive deeper, check out the blog articles on boundaries, or the course on assertive communication called, “Get What You Want”.
Got questions? Submit them on the Dear Rolynda blog page.