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The Importance of Boundaries | The Column

Sometimes, we just want to say no. Not today.


So why do we feel guilty when we set boundaries?


Boundaries come up in all parts of our life; work, family, romantic relationships, friendships, just to name a few.


Boundaries can be hard to set, especially if you are used to others walking right through them. We want to please those around us by being agreeable, by being polite, and by removing any chance of conflict. These are not bad things to be. The issue arises when you are too agreeable, too polite, and can’t say no, instead of won’t say no.


Why is saying no so hard? It’s because it’s hardwired in us to help each other. That’s how our ancestors survived through the ice age and other hard times. If you can help someone, then why wouldn’t you?


There is a difference between saying no to someone because you can't fulfil the task, and being just generally unhelpful. People pleasers always want to help people, so there is a sense of guilt when they can’t.


Maybe it’s not a task, but a gathering. Or a large favour.  There are a lot of scenarios where unhealthy boundaries can crop up. This is where the line between someone asking for your input and someone taking advantage of you can become very fine.


Sometimes it’s not convenient. Sometimes you physically can’t. Sometimes you think it’s not right. And sometimes, you’re just not feeling up to it.


Some boundaries are completely set in stone, whilst others may change over time. We’re all individual, with our own experiences that shape our thoughts. If you’ve always been the people-pleaser in your group, you might reach a time where you begin to feel resentful. That can be your turning point.


Other times you don’t even realise you are being taken advantage of, until it gets to a point where your needs are always coming second. I’m not saying be selfish, but ultimately, you’re the one who has to live with you your whole life. Your needs MUST come first.


If you’re anything like me, you probably read that and recoiled. We’re always taught to put others first, right?


The truth is, you can’t establish boundaries until you know what yours are. If you are so used to looking after other people’s, you might not even know what yours are.


So take a step back, and look at your life objectively. Answer these questions honestly:

  • Do you feel guilty saying no?

  • Have you been guilt-tripped into doing something you didn’t want to do?

  • Have you completed favours to keep the peace?

  • Are you easily manipulated?

  • Do you fear what would happen if you said no?

  • Are you exhausted by doing things for other people?

  • Do you feel resentful when someone breaks a boundary, but you don’t voice it?

Building boundaries is daunting. It takes some practice, especially if you are not used to saying what you really think and want. But it can be done.


Here's some tips on how to build the right boundaries:


DISCOVER YOUR BOUNDARIES


You’ve come to the conclusion that you want more boundaries in your life. Take some time to figure out what those are. You can set boundaries for almost anything, including:

  • Personal space

  • Relationships

  • Your time and energy

  • Things you own

  • Work

You might need to dig deep to figure out what your needs are. You’ll also need to establish who you need to set boundaries with in your life.


Whether it's your partner, family, colleagues, there will be some people who are resistant to your boundaries. It could be because they are co-dependent, or they don’t understand why things need to change. Be patient with them, but also be firm once you have established your boundaries.


BUILD CONFIDENCE


A lack of boundaries usually stems from low self-esteem. Pleasing other people is one way to boost our esteem, but it’s not healthy in the long-term. In order to combat one of the causes of our lack of boundaries, we need to do some inner work to boost our own esteem.


Whether that’s working out more, taking up a new hobby, or spending time with people who make us feel good, you need to tap into those feel good vibes.


By building your confidence, you start to realise that you’re not just a cog in everyone else’s machine; you are your own wonderful person. Own it.


LISTEN TO YOUR GUT


Sometimes you know you’re being taken advantage of. You get this tight knot in your stomach, this feeling of 'wrongness', yet you don’t speak up. You fear worse repercussions if you say no. You want to be liked.


That feeling in your stomach is there for a reason. It’s telling you that something is off, predominantly because it conflicts with your own needs. Next time you get this feeling, try to think logically about the situation, and why it feels wrong.


BABY STEPS


Rome wasn’t built in a day. Defining our boundaries out in the open is scary. We’re used to keeping to the status quo, but if you want to feel freer, you’ve got to take some risks.


Think of these as baby steps. You could start by saying no to smaller activities. Your friend wants to watch a horror movie, but you know you’ll get nightmares. Normally you’d sit through it, but this time you suggest a different movie. That way, you both get what you want, without either of you having to sacrifice your needs. Boundaries are a part of compromise.


I GUESS WHAT I'M TRYING TO SAY:


It can take years to unlearn maladaptive behaviour, but it can be done. Think about how much freedom you will have once you start to care less what others think, and more about tending to what your needs are. The more you invest in you, the more you can then invest in others. But, you must take care of yourself first.

  • You will find yourself slipping back into old habits because sometimes it’s easier to go along with things. Just try to keep in mind what you are willing to put up with, and do what’s right for you.

  • Loved ones may be resistant to your changes. They may be the ones you have boundary issues with. Just be persistent, calm and honest with them.

  • Your life will change once you start to assert your boundaries. And it will change for the better.

If you would like to submit a story, anonymously or under your name, please get in touch! You can fill out the contact form on the website or email youmeandanxiety@outlook.com!​