Last week on the blog I explored what healthy boundaries actually are, why they are so important for our emotional wellbeing and how much they effect our self esteem. If you haven't read that post yet then I recommend beginning there as that covers the foundations and helps you take note of where you're currently at with your boundaries and what you want to change. It can be particularly hard for those who identify as people pleasers to set boundaries as whenever you try to implement a boundary with someone you get hit with a HUGE wave of guilt, making it almost impossible to stick to it, especially if others are putting their own pressure on you too. We feel this guilt because for a long time we have been valuing other's needs and desires above our own and we have told ourselves a story about how it is selfish to put ourselves before others. This is nonsense. I'll say it again, this is nonsense. It is not selfish to look after yourself or care for your own needs, in fact you will be a better version of yourself and therefore a better friend/relative/partner/parent if you do.
Before I describe some steps for you to take in setting boundaries, I want you to be aware that this will bring up unwanted & uncomfortable feelings. You are going to experience push back because you are trying to do something different, and change is tricky... if it wasn't we would all already be a perfect version of ourselves right? But knowing this is going to help prepare you and help you in defending your boundaries. Over time and with practice it will become easier. Plus the more you put boundaries in place the more others get used to your new firm boundaries and they will begin to respect them without question and will not continue to pressure you to change your mind!
Step 1: Take note of what isn't working now.
This is what I covered in the last blog (so go read it if you haven't!)... you can't begin to change and implement new boundaries if you aren't aware of where in your life you may need them. Notice where strong emotions like anger, frustration or resentment are triggered in your interactions with others as this is probably a good indication that your boundaries aren't serving you and need some tweaking. Ask yourself "why am I feeling like this?" and "what about this situation needs to change in order for me to feel more positive?"
Step 2: Keep it simple, keep it about yourself, don't over-explain.
If we feel guilt about stating our boundaries we have a tendency to over-explain as a way of trying to justify ourselves, hoping that the other person will hear how difficult it is for us and therefore not feel angry with us. Prepare what you are going to say before you say it and keep it simple. If you are put on the spot reply with a "thanks, I'll have to think about it and get back to you" which buys you some time to think carefully about how you feel and to prepare an answer. Try your best not to go into too much detail about why you can't do something, the other person doesn't need to know and they may read this as an opportunity to talk you around or pressure you. Also keep it about yourself rather than defensively making it about them.. instead of saying "you must stop emailing me in the middle of the night" try "I will only be responding to emails when I begin work at 9am".
Step 3. Remember you are not responsible for someone else's emotional response to you setting a boundary.
Some people are going to get upset with your new boundaries as it is challenging their perspective of you and also asking them to engage with you in a different way, especially if those people have been controlling or abusive towards you in the past. But remember, this isn't about them, it's about you. If you have communicated your boundary to them in a respectful and clear way then know that it is their problem, and you do not have to feel guilty or apologise for setting a boundary. In fact, you must remain firm... if you start apologising or going back on your boundary you are communicating to them that you weren't serious in the first place and giving them permission to ignore your new boundaries, the complete opposite of what you are trying to achieve!
Step 4. Hold your ground!
This is probably the most important step and the most challenging.. you must hold your new boundary, even when you feel the negative emotions like guilt, shame, embarrassment. Those emotions have been keeping you from standing up for yourself for too long and as you practise setting boundaries they will diminish and your self esteem will improve. But if you go back on your new boundary then others won't believe you mean what you say and they will resist even more the next time you put one in place! Prepare to feel the emotions, acknowledge them when they come and don't use it as a reason to accommodate others, these are just growing pains.
Step 5. Be gentle with yourself and surround yourself with other supportive people.
Be kind to yourself (always!) but especially when developing a new skill. Also find friends who support you in your boundaries and that you can speak to about your quest to set better boundaries with others. They can help to hold you accountable and also to help you process the difficult feelings that might emerge whilst you are growing and developing. If people don't respect your boundaries and continue to attempt to control and manipulate you it may be worth considering whether you still want to keep them in your life. Toxic people will have a very negative effect on your emotional health and if they have been given multiple chances it's time to put yourself first.
I am an Integrative Therapist who works remotely online with millennials who are anxious, lost, stressed or depressed. I work collaboratively with people to support them in their emotional wellbeing, to develop skills in self-care and to foster a deeper understanding of themselves. If you would like to find out how I can help you to understand your emotions better, please book a free consultation to see if we are well suited to work together.
Alternatively, please come connect with me over on Instagram - I would love to get to know you further.