“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They're compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.” ~Brené Brown
Do you find yourself saying yes when you’d rather say no? Are you inexplicably exhausted all the time? Do you often experience anger, bitterness, or resentment toward yourself or others?
I did too for a long time.
I’m a recovering people pleaser. For as long as I can remember, I desired to keep everyone around me happy. I was also very fearful of upsetting others.
Over time, I found myself doing whatever I could to keep others happy. In short, this meant saying yes to just about every request that came my way. No matter the day or time, no matter what I was doing, I found time for others by neglecting my own needs.
For instance, I often need time alone for personal reflection and meditation. But instead of starting my day with silence, I would begin my days by checking email. This would often cause me to start my day feeling stressed. At the end of each day I was often exhausted and irritable.
Over time, this path became unsustainable. By not giving myself the care I needed, I was much less effective at caring for others. As my feelings of resentment and bitterness grew, I knew that something had to give. I needed to develop healthy boundaries to protect myself and others.
Over the years, as I’ve strengthened my own boundaries and helped others do so, I’ve found some common misconceptions about boundaries that keep people from creating and enforcing them.
If you struggle with boundaries, it’s likely that you’re consciously or unconsciously harboring some of these misconceptions as well:
1. Boundaries are not needed in intimate relationships.
Every relationship needs boundaries to be healthy. Setting boundaries is all about establishing ownership over what’s yours versus what belongs to someone else. Boundaries may be physical, emotional, or spiritual. Dr. Henry Cloud, author of Boundaries, defines the concept this way:
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership.”
No relationship, no matter how familial, is exempt—that includes relationships with spouses, lovers, children, parents, coworkers, extended family, and close friends. This misconception alone is responsible for a high degree of dysfunction in our families and intimate relationships.
It’s actually rare for people to have boundary problems with total strangers or acquaintances. People often struggle with boundary issues in their most personal relationships.
It makes sense: those who know us best may use that knowledge to manipulate us. Most of the time, this happens unconsciously but it makes the reality no less painful. However, the solution is not to pretend that nothing’s wrong for the sake of the relationship.
2. Boundary setting is for selfish people.
If you’ve had loose boundaries for a long time and attempt to put some in place, it’s almost guaranteed that someone will call you “selfish.”
For some people, the idea of losing their power over you will cause them to do or say almost anything to keep you under their control. Others are simply unaware of the ways in which they were conditioned to view any form of self-care as selfish.
If you’re a naturally generous person, you may refrain from creating or enforcing boundaries for fear of being viewed as selfish and cold. However, setting boundaries is one of the most generous things you can do for others.
Boundary setting is not about being selfish; it’s about protecting the spiritual property rights of yourself and others. Because it’s not just about protecting yourself from others, it’s also about protecting others from your own potential toxic behaviors that may unconsciously occur when your needs are not being met.
In my case, when I did not give myself the alone time I needed, I often snapped at the people closest to me. This reality finally convinced me to take action by waking up earlier in the morning to spend the first moments of my day in solitude.
3. Setting boundaries means being aggressive toward others.
If you’re a sensitive person, this common myth can be an obstacle to setting proper boundaries. Boundary setting does not mean that you need to get in peoples’ faces, have nasty arguments, or display acts of aggression toward others. In fact, aggression is a sign of poor boundaries.
Setting boundaries is really about modifying your own behavior to conform to the reality that you are limited in what you can do for others. It means recognizing that to effectively bring your authentic self to others, you must care for yourself—not as an afterthought, but in a primary way.
4. Setting boundaries involves saying no all the time.
Undoubtedly, learning to say no is a big part of proper boundary setting, but this is not the end all be all. Learning to say no is ultimately about learning to say yes to the things that truly matter in your relationships with yourself and others. In other words, “no’s” pave the way to authentic “yes’s.”
It’s also important to realize that not all boundaries are created equally. Boundaries have different levels of permeability depending on the nature of the relationship and the individual on the other end of the relationship.
Boundaries tend to be more permeable when dealing with the people closest to you (quite different from having no boundaries at all) and less so when dealing with strangers. However, if the family member is highly manipulative then the boundary will need to be less permeable.
5. Nobody will like you if you set boundaries.
We resist setting boundaries to appear more likeable to others. If you’re a recovering people pleaser like me, you’ll be tempted to answer phone calls, emails, or texts immediately. You’ll quietly bear the lion’s share of the workload at school or in the workplace, and you’re probably wearing many hats as a church or non-profit volunteer. Finally, you can be counted on to take on any other roles that nobody else wants to sign up for.
If you’ve lived this way for many years, upending the balance can seem daunting. Besides, everyone thinks you’re a saint and you feel highly regarded by your peers.
This may be true, but it’s also likely that some of these people actually respect you less and view you as a pushover. Some will actively take advantage of your kindness because they know they can always get what they want from you. Are these relationships really worth protecting?
Free Yourself By Defining Your Boundaries
Are you ready to be free of resentment and bitterness?
If you’ve resonated with these misconceptions, you already know that it’s time to try something new.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take today to begin setting boundaries in your life. These include: clearly defining your values, learning to say no, asking for what you need, and making time for yourself.
Defining your boundaries will feel cold and hostile in the beginning. But if you do it with a compassionate heart, you’ll regain your joy.
And you’ll increase the joy of those around you.
Editor’s Note: Cylon has generously offered to give five readers free access to the Kindle version of his book Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally. With this book, you’ll learn how to overcome negative thinking, grow your confidence, and transform your life.
To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment below. You don’t need to write anything specific—“count me in for the giveaway!” is sufficient. You can enter until midnight PST on Friday, September 2nd.
Update: The winners for this giveaway are: Melody of Life, Regan, Michael Gibson, Mary Banks, and Dylan Montanez.