- People who don't have strong boundaries often believe others' needs are more important than their own.
- Setting boundaries can be incredibly difficult, but creates more personal freedom in the long run.
- Setting a boundary can start with assuming they have the best intentions before stating one's own needs.
Hi. My name is Dr. Whitney, and I’m a recovering People Pleaser.
(Hi, Dr. Whitney.)
When I was younger, I was a “good kid.” I never really got in trouble. All my teachers loved me. I answered questions when I was supposed to (always with a raised hand) and was quiet when I knew that’s what they wanted.
I was that kid in class.
But it didn’t just stop after elementary school.
Early in dating, I never wanted to fight with my husband Scott because I didn’t want him mad at me. I, as a full-grown woman, still gave in to my mom’s requests that I knew would turn my day upside down. I said yes to all the things at work so that no one would have an excuse to say anything negative about me.
Through (a good amount of) therapy, I’ve learned I was doing those things not just because I was a nice person who wanted to do nice things for other people (I really wish that was the reason.) What it really boiled down to was the fact that I had a hard time setting and keeping boundaries with other people. I tried so hard to avoid conflict with other people because I was convinced their feelings and comfort were more important than mine.
So this one is for all the women who’ve said yes to a request at work when they knew it was going to wreak havoc on their family. Who’ve stayed silent in meetings because they didn’t want to rock the boat. Who’ve not said anything to the in-laws about the amount of sugar they hand out at their house, even though their kids will be tantruming for hours on the way home as they hit that sugar crash.
8 Signs You May Have a Problem Setting and Keeping Boundaries
- You absolutely hate it when you let other people down. This means that you often go along with other people’s plans and say yes to things you wouldn’t usually choose to do, and possibly don’t want to do. Joining extra committees, agreeing to restaurants where you know you won’t be able to find anything for your kid’s health restrictions on the menu, choosing to go along with a haphazard schedule at work in order to accommodate your boss’ new whim.
- You feel like how other people feel is up to you. You worry whether they’re having a good time and are feeling good. You go out of your way to make sure this is the case. This means you feel guilty and anxious pretty regularly. You can never feel settled because there’s always going to be a person who is upset or a fire to put out. And you have to be the one to do it.
- You are constantly tired and don’t even know why. And every mama said, “Amen!” While it’s different than “mom-tired,” it’s incredibly common. It happens as you’re giving all your energy away by constantly tending to everyone else’s needs and putting your own on the back burner.
- It’s easy for other people to take advantage of you. You’re pretty sure that’s not what you agreed to, but you’d rather not say anything. And they know you won’t either. You may even wonder if you’re being manipulated by those who are closest to you.
- You are annoyed… all the time. On the regular, you’re never really doing the things you want to do and are usually going along with others. Which leads to resentment of others and their choices. It may also be because…
- In your heart of hearts, you think no one respects you. This is probably because you’ve been pushed over too many times, so they don’t think they need to.
- It’s hard for you to make decisions based on what you want because you’re always thinking about what everyone else wants. When you actually have to decide for yourself, it’s exhausting. It can also make this a reality...
- You’re less than sure about who you are, what you like, or what matters to you. It can feel like you are having an identity crisis. What do you like or dislike? What does it even feel like to make a decision based on what you want to do rather than what you think others want you to do?
What to Do About It
Do you find yourself identifying with some of those? Been there (sometimes still there). If you do, here are three steps to setting healthy boundaries:
Here's the situation. You have to pick up your kids at 3:45. You leave work every day at 3:15 and have left at that time since you started your job four years ago. Your boss was really supportive and let you know they were totally okay with you having a flexible schedule.
But for the last two weeks, they’ve been scheduling a couple of meetings a week at 3:30.
Step 1: Put yourself in their shoes and assume the best. I know you have to balance a lot of different schedules on our team and that has to be a lot.
Step 2: State your boundary clearly so that the other person can understand what you feel and what you need. I just wanted to remind you that I have to leave every day at 3:15 to go get my kiddos and won’t be able to attend meetings scheduled after that.
Step 3: Give them details. Define what you would like to see in the future. And don’t forget to pre-thank them for honoring your boundary; this goes a long way. I love working here and am so grateful that you’ve allowed me to have this flexible schedule. If that’s changed, please let me know because I would have to unfortunately look for a different position.
Even though setting boundaries in your life can be incredibly difficult, it actually gives you more freedom in the long run.
It’s like when you have a budget. You could look at it as restricting you from spending money where you want. Or you can look at it as deciding where you’re going to spend your money. So, that way, when you see that cute top at your favorite boutique, you feel totally free to buy it because you know the boundary is in place.
And the more you practice reminding yourself what’s at stake if you don’t continue holding your ground, the better you’ll get at it.
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