We all know that relationships can be highly challenging yet rewarding and fulfilling all at this same time. But do you ever feel that it is not only challenging but all consuming, stressful, or anxiety-filled? In my practice, I often find that although people enter the therapy space due to feelings of depression, anxiety, fear, or lack of coping skills, once we explore their issues, it may be that a lack of boundaries is the underlying source of their negative moods and responses to life. Living a life without setting and enforcing boundaries with others can leave you stressed, anxiety-ridden, physically and emotionally drained, and perpetually irritated. Structuring relationships that do not include conflict or the word “no” (and not the word “no” with a 100-word explanation around it) is not only creating an unrealistic relationship between yourself and others, but an unrealistic and unhealthy standard and norm that there is no way you can maintain. Believe it or not, people are more willing to meet our expectations than we often realize. It is the fear of not pleasing others that keeps us struggling to maintain these unrealistic standards. The world around us sets boundaries for us daily. We accept them and meet them, for the most part. For example, we follow laws and traffic rules, go to work even when do not feel like it, and even accept a loved one’s new hairstyle, even if we hate it. Why, because we ALL are accepting limits and compromising each day. Struggling to find a place for boundaries in your life? Consider doing the following: How can you set appropriate, positive, and appropriate boundaries? Try these tips:
Get your own “stuff” together, recognize how you really feel about boundaries: Come to grips with your own feelings about authority, about boundaries (possibly modeled to you by your family of origin) and get really clear about it.
Be OK with not pleasing others: Do you neglect to set boundaries because you fear conflict or making others upset? Although it may not feel good to see other people unhappy, failing to set boundaries will leave YOU feeling unhappy, taken advantage of, and stressed. How can you show up authentically in any relationship if you are constantly pleasing others? If everyone is always pleased with you, you are living a lie and more than likely feeling unfulfilled. You are either lying to yourself or someone else.
Talk and explain LESS: Why give a lengthy explanation as to why they you have said no? If an explanation is needed, make it short, clear, and to the point. This allows for communication, if necessary, yet still allows you to be firm in setting limits.
Need practice? Try these things: Going from completely porous to healthy boundaries is not easy. Find small ways to practice. Start by setting boundaries with your time. If you receive work calls or emails outside of work hours, practice not responding to them until the next business day. Someone in your family calling with all the hot “tea” (i.e.-gossip) but you are tired? Try not answering those calls right away and calling back when you have the energy to listen. Someone asking you to volunteer for yet another committee? Practice simply saying NO, especially if you do not want to and then take it even further by not giving a reason as to why you are saying no. Remember #3!
Practice setting boundaries daily!