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Coronavirus Disease 2019

Setting Boundaries During Coronavirus

A message for people-pleasers.

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“I’m sorry, but I’m not having people over right now.” “Can you please wear a mask while providing your service?” “You were just on vacation. I don’t feel comfortable seeing you right now.” “I’ve decided to put my child in daycare.” “I’ve decided to homeschool my kids.”

These are statements we may find ourselves making now that we’re living in a world with a pandemic on the loose. They might sound like pretty straightforward statements, but as many people-pleasers know, it’s hard to say things to others that may offend them. Pleasers tend to prefer going with the flow and going along with the vast majority. But living in times of a pandemic, all of us have different opinions and ways we like to keep ourselves safe. It might become a huge stressor for you if you have different opinions than some of your family and friends. You may be wondering how you can communicate your thoughts and feelings to others without feeling scared.

The coronavirus pandemic comes with so many new experiences and opportunities to feel stressed out and anxious. It’s an especially hard time for people-pleasers, who may find themselves needing to set the proper boundaries to keep themselves safe. Even though it’s scary and difficult to set boundaries, especially with strong, tough-minded people, I encourage you to use this time as an opportunity to practice. What better time than a pandemic to learn to keep yourself safe and make YOU a priority? Below are some tips that will get you started:

1. Become aware of your boundaries: Before you begin to set boundaries with others, you need to know what your boundaries actually are. Many people-pleasers are confused about where their boundaries lie and what their own thoughts are about important issues. So, when it comes to coronavirus, it’s important to first become aware of what you believe is safe or unsafe at this time. Looking up the facts and/or talking to an objective, non-judgmental person can help with that. Overall, keep in mind that your personal boundaries are about what feels right for you. They can be fluid and change as the virus’s impact on your local area changes.

2. Communicate clearly: When you’re clear about what you feel is safe and unsafe, you can openly communicate your limits to others. I know this is a lot easier said than done; but if you work on managing your own anxiety (rather than other people’s), you’ll have an easier time communicating your boundaries. Be as clear and straightforward as possible. Remember, you don’t need to defend your choices or overly apologize for them.

3. Remember it is okay if others aren’t happy with your decisions: The people in your life might not be happy with your boundaries or accept them. They may even try to convince or pressure you to do things their way. This is especially hard to manage when you’re a people-pleaser—especially if it’s coming from someone you don’t want to upset. People might try getting you to do what they want you to; but remember, standing for your boundaries and values doesn’t make you a bad person, even if it upsets other people. The people who push back about your choice to social distance most likely mean well; they probably just miss seeing you. But even with the pressure they apply and the feelings of guilt you might feel, hold onto your boundaries and remember that you can still be a good family member and friend, even while saying no.

4. Make a plan: Like I said, family and friends may be disappointed when you set boundaries; but you don’t need to sacrifice your health to make them happy. If you know a particular person might trigger you or get upset when you set boundaries, come up with a plan of action. Before you get emotional, thoughtfully work out how you might respond and exit the conversation if it gets overwhelming. It’s hard to think clearly when you’re in the moment and nervous. So, come up with a plan beforehand. It will always be a little uncomfortable, and sometimes a little difficult, to set boundaries with certain people. But over time and with practice, it gets easier.

When you’re a people-pleaser, setting boundaries isn’t easy—especially if you’re already anxious. Be patient. Take note of what makes it hard for you to set boundaries, and come up with strategies to get past those obstacles. It’s okay to not get it right all the time. It’s always a good time to work on boundary-setting, even if you don’t do it perfectly. Your health and safety are important. Be clear about the boundaries and limits you want to set. You can even write them down to remember them! Just remember that no matter how clear your boundaries are, you may still get pushback from the people in your life. This doesn’t mean you’re wrong. In some cases, taking care of ourselves means disappointing others. You can be understanding of their feelings, but you aren’t responsible for them.

More from Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D.
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