“Avoiding certain people to protect your emotional health is not weakness. It is wisdom.” ~Unknown
The word “boundary” often conjures up negative thoughts. After all, it’s usually an indication of something being restricted.
However, deciding to set boundaries is one of the most empowering things you can do for your mental well-being.
Growing up I always put the needs of others before my own, and not much has changed in my adult life.
While I enjoy the idea of being a mediator in some ways, or the person that other people come to in times of need, it gets exhausting and emotionally draining.
You see, the more you engage in these sorts of dynamics the more difficult it becomes to set boundaries to protect your emotional energy, especially when you’re a people-pleaser, like me.
Where My Poor Boundaries Came From
I grew up in a hostile environment where the norm was my parents arguing and me deciding whether to use fight or flight.
Younger-me tried to intervene many times, but they just got angry with me or blamed me when the issue had nothing to do with me.
I quickly learned that the best way to deal with things was to go with the flight response. I would keep myself in my room until the arguing or chaos had ended, and then, when it felt safe to return, I’d tip-toe around the house while my parents served each other the silent treatment—sometimes for days on end.
I became accustomed to not expressing my feelings, since they weren’t available to receive them, but they often dumped theirs on me. I would often be unwillingly involved in their arguments as one parent would come to me and try and coerce me into taking their side and agreeing with their point.
I knew this was a horrible tactic, but it was impossible not to be involved in their relationship to some degree.
So, I grew up not knowing where I was to position myself. I learned to keep silent but other times agree with others all for keeping the peace, and I lost touch with my own emotions, growing to believe people didn’t care about my needs and it was best not to trust others.
Boundaries became non-existent in my world. Until recently, they always have been. Thankfully, I’m now able to see that boundaries are healthy and important.
Feeling Comfortable Setting Boundaries
When I first explored the idea of boundary-setting, when I was twenty-two, I approached it in an unhealthy way and cut off all contact with my mum for almost a year.
After setting this boundary, that I didn’t even communicate, I did not feel empowered. In hindsight, I’d say I was trying to escape my emotions rather than face them.
The ongoing pattern of my parents’ dysfunctional relationship continues to this day; however, I now choose not to be involved.
I’m far more mindful of how I set boundaries now, and I try to do so in a compassionate way. I’m often met with resistance, anger, or blame when I set them, but I know that they’re paramount to my healing.
If you also struggle with boundary-setting, here are some suggestions to get comfortable with it.
1. Get curious about your struggles.
Think about which emotions you struggle to express. Is there a reason why (like my story above) you learned to minimize said feelings? Once you have insight into where your struggles began, you might find it easier to speak up and share your feelings and needs.
2. Accept that boundaries are good.
Think of how other people in your life assert their boundaries. If nobody comes to mind or you don’t have great examples, think about how you’d feel if a friend were to set a boundary. By doing this and accepting that it is normal and okay for others to set boundaries, you’ll come to accept that it is good to set your own.
3. Journal about the boundaries you want to set.
Perhaps you have a certain friend who texts you with problems around the clock, or your mum constantly gossips with you and pushes you to offer personal information you don’t want to share. Journal about why the situation makes you uncomfortable, what you’ll gain if you set a boundary, and why you have every right to do it.
4. Visualize how much lighter you’ll feel with boundaries in place.
Oftentimes poor boundaries result in feeling exhausted emotionally, not aligned with our true selves, and constantly anxious about other people’s lives.
5. Use affirmations to reassure yourself that boundaries are okay.
If you grew up without good examples of how boundaries can protect and serve you emotionally, you will struggle with boundary-setting. Affirmations can help especially when repeated each day aloud. Here are some examples:
- I set boundaries with others to protect my energy.
- Boundaries are not selfish.
- I choose to put myself first with boundaries.
- My needs matter, and that’s why I use boundaries.
How To Set Boundaries Honestly and Compassionately
Many people confuse boundary-setting with not caring, but this is far from true.
When you set a boundary, you’re demonstrating that you care about yourself enough to honor your emotional needs. And when you communicate your need for a boundary, you’re conveying that you care about the other person enough to be honest about what your relationship needs to survive.
You don’t need to give in-depth reasons as to why you are setting a boundary. In fact, you’ll likely find that people who aren’t used to you asserting boundaries with them will resist your decision. You may be met with all sorts of mixed emotions—including your own.
Here’s how I communicate boundaries in an open, honest, and compassionate way:
1. Choose a peaceful setting and a good time to have the discussion.
If you have the conversation while the other person is driving in rush hour traffic, or right when they walk in the door after a stressful day at work, odds are they’ll be agitated and unreceptive.
2. Show the person you care about them.
Ask how they’re doing and have a normal conversation before bringing up the topic of boundaries. This may disarm them and make them more receptive to your feelings and needs.
3. Approach the subject of boundaries gently.
Bring up the subject in a compassionate way, owning your own feelings instead of blaming them. Perhaps start with “I’ve been feeling really emotionally drained recently because I haven’t been clear about my needs.”
4. Talk about why you wish to set a boundary.
Keep it short and to the point, e.g.: I can’t be in the middle of your arguments anymore because it’s not good for my mental health. Don’t allow the other person to emotionally manipulate you or diminish your reasoning or needs. Oftentimes, this will happen, and you have to be prepared to assert yourself again.
5. Reassure the person, but put your needs first.
If the person is insulted or shows negative emotion, you can say something reassuring, like “I understand this may feel uncomfortable, but this doesn’t mean I don’t value our relationship. I just need some space in our connection to honor my own needs.”
If you take one thing from this article, let it be this: boundaries are healthy and a way of showing love for yourself.
Today, I feel more empowered than ever knowing that I put boundaries in place to protect my energy and to maintain my inner peace. My relationships are far more balanced now, and I no longer feel like I’m neglecting my own needs just to keep other people happy.
I hope that you too can grow to be comfortable with setting boundaries so you can reap the benefits as well.