I hear over and over again, yea Jocelyn, setting boundaries is great and all but you don’t understand, if I set the boundary then all hell will break lose or I will lose my relationships. In all transparency, most of the fears I hear from clients are valid fears. There is a real possibility that a number of things can happen when you set a boundary but the real question is, what’s bigger? The possible fear coming true or the healing that happens for you when you set the boundary? Sometimes the fear wins and that is okay but let’s talk about them a little bit more.
The first common fear I hear is that I will upset someone. Guess what?! Odds are someone may get upset. However, you cannot control how other people perceive your boundary. All you can control is your side of the street and whether you communicate your boundary with love and respect and make sure you are coming from a place of owning your side of the street and not trying to control or manipulate anyone else. Let’s play this out. A friend asks you to go out with her tomorrow night after work but you have set some boundaries with yourself that you don’t go out on work nights. You know that this friend does not take no well and often gives you guilt trips and gets upset when you don’t agree with her. In this case, while the relationship is important to you, which is more important, denying yourself to not upset your friend or upsetting your friend and being true to your needs and boundaries? Or what if your friend cusses like a sailor and you don’t feel comfortable with that in front of your kids? You have a choice. Do I assert my boundaries and my need for a verbally safe environment for my kids or stuff my preferences to ensure the comfort of my friend? Keep in mind, this boundary is not about changing your friend or her words, it is about keeping your home free from language you don’t want your kids hearing. Do you see the difference? Trying to change your friend is manipulation and control. Setting boundaries around what you allow in your home is about you and your needs.
The next fear, fear of other people’s perceptions. Are you afraid that others will think you are pushy, demanding, rude or a slew of other negative things? Like I said before, we cannot control how other people view our behavior. What can we control? We can control how we convey our boundaries and our intentions. When we focus more on other people’s perceptions then we do our own, we are giving that other person power over us. I don’t know about you but there some people that I do not want to have power over me. So, what do I do about it? I strengthen that self-esteem muscle to know who I am, what I stand for and what is my heart so that it is not swayed by the potential negative perceptions of others. I also practice that protection boundary so that my worth and value is not tied to the opinion of others.
Let’s talk about another fear: What if I lose the relationship? While this is not as common, it does sometimes happen. If people are used to taking advantage of you, of you always saying yes even when you want to say no or using you in some way and now they can’t, they may discard you and find someone else to use and abuse. I don’t mean to be harsh here but that is actually a gift when those people choose to leave your life. Now, what about the people that don’t abuse you but you still fear if you set a boundary, they will leave. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each side. Pros of setting a boundary are you assert your needs/wants and change happens. Cons of setting a boundary is the dynamics of the relationship may change and someone may choose to not honor that and instead leave. What are the pros of not setting the boundary? The relationships stays the same and you don’t have to ride the wave of discomfort. The cons of not setting the boundary? You deny yourself and your wants/needs and more often than not develop a whole heck of a lot of resentment.
Let’s talk about the last fear. If I set the boundary, I don’t think I will be able to follow through with taking action if the boundary is violated. Let’s start with this. If you aren’t going to follow through on the boundary, don’t set it. You can share preferences but setting a boundary and not following through sends a loud message that it is okay to continue violating boundaries and we don’t want to send that message. Now, back to the fear of not being able to follow through. Let’s explore that….. Is the fear of not being able to follow through due to past experiences of not following through, of a lack of confidence in yourself, fear of the response when action is taken or lack of knowing what action step to take if the boundary is crossed? Each one of these reasons needs to be explored to find out the root issue and to deal with it. But, that is going to take more than a blog post to do…..
So, what’s your fear? Maybe it is one of the above or maybe it is something completely different. Whatever the fear is, think about the pros and cons of setting and not setting the boundary and see which one outweighs the other. If not setting the boundary outweighs setting the boundary, then work on that internal protection boundary so that you can be okay regardless of whatever is happening. Don’t know what an internal boundary is or how to set a boundary? You are not alone. Join my boundaries course today and learn all the ins and outs of boundaries, setting boundaries, obstacles to setting boundaries and more. You are worth it!
I have worked with countless women over the years that struggle with boundaries. It is not that you don’t want boundaries; it is that you don’t even know what they are or where to begin setting boundaries in our lives. I have seen women who read all the books, pin all the pins and do everything to learn about boundaries but are missing one key aspect, how do I know what areas of my life need boundaries?
If you can, take 5 minutes and reflect on your life. Where is the most resentment, dread or stress? Where are the areas where you feel unappreciated and undervalued? Who are the people you dread being around or have the most conflict with? Those are your pain points. Those are the areas that you need to set boundaries.
But before you can set boundaries, you need to figure out what you want and need in those situations. If a pain point for me is my marriage, what do I need in that relationship? Do I need to be heard or respected. If so, then I know I need to set boundaries around communication and ways of interacting.
What about at work. If my pain points are around feeling overworked and stretched thin, what do I need so that I can function optimally at work? How can I set boundaries with myself that even if my situation doesn’t change, I can be okay in my workplace?
What if my pain point is with my in-laws? Think about what areas are most difficult or upsetting for you in that relationship and what you need to be comfortable? Do you need to set boundaries around unsolicited feedback or their input around parenting because if those boundaries can be set then you would feel better about the relationship?
Where ever your pain point is, take the time to explore what you want and need in the relationship and then set boundaries to reflect that. You deserve to set healthy boundaries and honestly, if your relationship is healthy, it will grow and be better because of the boundaries you set.
Let’s face it, none of us are perfect with our boundaries. Even as I write this, I am thinking of all the ways I have struggled with boundaries today. I said yes when I wanted to say no, I did not honor my own boundaries around self-care and I struggled clearly communicating my needs to someone I love. You are not alone in this struggle and I know I am not alone either. There are many signs that your boundaries may be out of alignment so let’s talk about a few.
The first sign: resentment in your relationships. When your relationships with partners and friends (or even the stranger down the street) are filled with bitterness and contention, that is a clear sign of a boundary issue. That could be because you have some boundaries that you need to set with others or it could be that you need to strengthen your internal boundaries (or more than likely both). Either way, you are not happy because you do not feel like you are getting what you need in the relationship.
The second sign: You constantly feel overwhelmed. When you have a to-do list a mile long and are balancing a million things on your plate, you have boundary issues. Most often this is due to not setting boundaries or setting boundaries and then when people push against them, caving in. Perhaps people are used to you being the “yes” person and so when you actually do say no, they do not accept that and pressure you until you eventually cave. Or, you may be the person that gets your worth and value by serving others. In therapy we like to call this a human doing instead of a human being. Someone that constantly is striving to earn their right to be here or prove that they are valuable versus just being able to be present without having to prove yourself.
The third sign: You have high internal conflict and conflict with others. When you have an internal battle raging inside of you, it is a red flag you have boundary issues. Your internal boundary muscle needs work because you are currently allowing the thoughts and opinions of others to impact you negatively and dictate your thoughts and feelings. You are also lacking boundaries with yourself and giving permission for negative self-talk to dictate your thoughts. Your itty bitty sh*tty committee is strong in your life because your negative self-talk and the voices of those around you who have spoken negatively about you or to you. You also have conflict with others because of resentment (which we discussed earlier) but also because your needs and wants aren’t clear. Either you know what your boundaries are and you are not communicating them effectively or you don’t even know what they are but are upset with those around you for not honoring them.
The fourth sign: You feel unappreciated and taken for granted. When we do not set boundaries, we allow others to take advantage of us. We say yes when we want to say no, we take on too much and then are upset because we feel unappreciated for all of our work and sacrifice. We believe others take us for granted and our efforts go unacknowledged. We may feel like a martyr, sacrificing ourselves for others and yet, we still don’t get the appreciation we long for.
The fifth sign: You struggle identifying your needs and wants. Maybe none of these other signs have related to you because it is not that you are not communicating your boundaries, you don’t even know what they are. You don’t know what your preferences are in your relationships and interactions with others. You don’t have awareness of when your boundaries are violated because you don’t even know what a boundary is. If this is you, you are not alone. I see this all of the time with my clients and my students. This is whether therapy can be such a benefit. Someone can walk alongside you to teach and guide you on what a boundary is and how to set boundaries in your life. If you are not ready for therapy or you want something more, that is why I created the boundaries course that can be found on my website.
Regardless of which (or all) of the signs you relate to, the action step is the same. You need to take a deep breath, say an affirmation and remember this takes practice. If you don’t know about boundaries, learn more. If you do know, take the time to slow down and identify what boundaries you need to set with yourself and others and then slowly, start sharing those boundaries. You may need to write them out first and practice them, that is okay. Whichever step you are on, work on taking the next step because you are worth having healthy boundaries.
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Failure to plan is a plan for failure. However, you want to say it, the meaning remains. When we do not properly prepare, we falter. In school, work, relationships, home buying, finances, retirement and vacationing when we do not plan accordingly, the outcome is often not as good as it would be had we properly planned. The same is true for our mental health. When we do not plan time for self-care or self-improvement, we tend to struggle in those areas.
Let’s talk about two people, Jenny and Lisa. Jenny schedules herself some self-care time every Sunday. Every Sunday she takes a long shower where she gives herself a deep conditioning treatment and exfoliates, gives herself a manicure and pedicure, plans her outfits for the week and then cuddles up and reads her favorite book while sipping her favorite drink. She also incorporates intentional acts of kindness to herself throughout the week such as workouts, healthy meals and time with friends. She takes her self-improvement as seriously as her self- care. She is reading at least one book a month on self-improvement, has weekly therapy and is part of her religion group’s small groups where she gains community and accountability. She serves monthly at the local shelter to ensure she gives back to her community. Jenny still has rough days but because she has all of her self-care and self-improvement strategies planned out and scheduled in her week, she is able to move through the rough days fairly well.
Lisa, on the other hand, does not like structure and believes that if self-care is scheduled then it is not self-care but merely an action item on a to-do list. So, she has great intentions of working out regularly but because she does not put it on her schedule or have a plan for which days she works, looks up on Friday and realized she has not worked out yet this week, despite her fancy workout club membership. She is also really tired after her week because she did not properly fuel her body due to eating on the go and having quick meals in between her busy over booked schedule. She was out late with friends multiple nights and the other nights binge watched Netflix as “self-care”. She occasionally reads a helpful article or book on self-improvement and has great intentions to implement what she has learned but because she did not plan on how to implement what was learned, quickly forgets it and moves on to the next thing.
Let’s face it, most of us are like Lisa. We view our nightly Netflix binges as self-care and our nights out with friends as a way to rejuvenate. While those very well may be occasional acts of self-care, they may also be hindering us as well. Just think about it, do you feel more energized and ready to conquer life after your T.V. binge or more tired and lethargic? Do you feel excited to wake up the next day after a long night with friends or groggy and unmotivated? On the other hand, how do you feel after taking care of your body through a healthy meal and quality sleep? What about after a good therapy session (okay, maybe not right after…)?
What if we just change one aspect of our week to focus on fueling ourselves? Perhaps that is meal planning, planning our workouts, being intentional about small ways to nurture ourselves throughout the day or scheduling a therapy session. Today I challenge you to find one way to plan your self-care and self-improvement for the week. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
More is Caught than Taught
More is caught than taught. You may have heard this phrase with parenting, management or finances. More is caught than taught basically means that people learn more by our behaviors than they do what we say. The same could be said for boundaries.
People learn more about how to treat us by the way we treat ourselves and how we honor our own boundaries. If we set a boundary but fail to follow through, the message we give to others is that the boundaries we set don’t matter. When we violate our boundaries, we teach others it is okay to also violate our boundaries. However, the same can be said for the opposite. When we honor our boundaries and respect ourselves, we teach others to do the same. We don’t allow ourselves to be in disrespectful relationships or to be taken advantage of.
Let me give you an example with my kids. When I set boundaries around their technology use and tell them too much technology is bad for their brain but am then on my phone or watching more T.V. than I would like to admit (hello Grey’s Anatomy), my behavior is speaking louder than what I say and they see that and then like to test limits around technology because I am doing it.
The same is true with my commitments. If I say no when someone asks for help because I have enough (or too much) on my plate but after them asking 5 times, I compromise on my boundaries and say yes, I am teaching that person that if they just bother me enough I will eventually give in. Again, I am teaching them more by my actions than my words.
One last example. If I set boundaries with myself around practicing self-care every Friday night from 6-8pm but continually book other plans or put other’s needs above my need for self-care, I am teaching myself (and others) that what I need and want is less important than what others need/want. Of course there are times where compromise is needed or I may need to sacrifice for others but that is a blog post for another time…..
Actions speak louder than words. What we do with our boundaries speaks volumes over what we say.
Do you struggle with boundaries? If so, check out my boundaries course. Everything you need to know about setting and maintaining boundaries in your life.
Jocelyn is a Licensed Professional Counselor and course creator who desires to help clients heal and grow into who God created them to be.