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How to Start Setting Boundaries and Prioritizing Your Needs

Woman at the Beach

“You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.” ~Tony Gaskins

I highly value being loyal, honest, empathetic, and supportive. I am also partial to advocating for the underdog. As a result, I have historically attempted to be a ‘hero’ in situations of difficulty, tension, conflict, or stress.

I take pride in being the person who others can turn to for support, guidance, and empathy after an upsetting experience.

When a friend was going through a troublesome period, I literally dropped everything to race to her and give her a hand. I drove her everywhere when her car was destroyed in an accident. I sat with her in the car for hours each day and listened to her troubles in the driveway when dropping her home.

I often answered the phone late at night when this friend was having a crisis. I barely spent time with my husband as I tended to her needs, even when our marriage began to show cracks as a result.

I would fall prey to her criticism and insults when she was distressed and seemingly needed a ‘punching bag,’ or when I didn’t respond as quickly or as perfectly as she desired. I regularly defended her behavior and tried to cheer her up when she questioned her value as a friend, in an attempt to help her feel better.

I convinced myself that it was a stage that she was going through and that she needed my support—that despite the emotional manipulation and unreasonable expectations—a good friend would stick by her, no matter what. Besides, she was a beautiful person and a wonderful friend in many respects.

When another friend wanted to provide a quote on a personal project, despite my intuition warning me against mixing friendship with business, I proceeded out of concern that I’d offend him if I did otherwise.

When he made a number of errors and contradictions, was significantly late with his submission, and quoted a much higher figure than initially indicated, I continued to reinterpret his behavior and make excuses for him.

Even upon first hearing that he had then proceeded to lie about conversations and events to others, my initial reaction was to defend him and make excuses for how he might have been misled by other influences (when this was very unlikely to be the case).

When a single friend who liked to frequently sleep with different women who he met at a bar each weekend suddenly got upset by the fact that he hadn’t met his soul mate, I’d regularly open the door to him at three in the morning if he wanted to have a drunk DMC about his life and situation.

When a man came at my friends and I with a baseball bat in a Melbourne train station, I tried to reason with him and determine why he was so worked up and how I could help deflate that— before my friends dragged me away to safety in disbelief.

I could provide many more examples of where I have put the needs of others before my own, to the point where I have been hurt or experienced significant difficulty. I bet that if you’re still reading this article, that you can do the same.

I thought I was being a loyal, giving, and kind person who continuously chose to see the good in people. I took pride in this, and identified with it being a core part of who I was. But then I started to notice a painful pattern.

My own health, happiness, needs, and desires were continuously neglected. I was so busy helping others that prioritizing my own needs wasn’t possible.

I implicitly told people that I didn’t have boundaries, so it was understandably a shock to the system when I tried to put them in place at a later date.

I also demonstrated that I held an impossible expectation for myself to be perfect in a relationship, and people started to hold me to that level of perfection and expect it from me 100 percent of the time (even when they did not hold their own behavior to anywhere near the same level or quality that they expected from me).

And what hurt most of all is that I started to notice that people often didn’t do the same for me. They didn’t risk putting their neck out on the chopping board and they certainly didn’t hang around to fight for our relationship when even the slightest bit of difficulty appeared. When I started to better manage my own energy and space, they would ‘dump’ me in a flash.

I suddenly realized that I needed to change.

I needed to respect and value myself and my needs more. I needed to make me a priority. I needed to stop being a martyr. I needed to introduce and maintain boundaries.

I needed to find a way to balance being big-hearted, loyal, and generous with taking care of myself and protecting my own energy and interests.

It was a difficult period—a period of adjustments and lessons, that are still continuing to a lesser degree. But at the end of the day, my increased emphasis on taking care of myself was not only good for me, but also for the people that truly loved and valued me.

But how could it be a good thing, you might ask? You lost friends, you suffered, you learned that many people you loved wouldn’t be there to back you up when you needed them. How is that a good thing?

Please, let me explain. When I ‘lost’ or better managed those who drained energy from me and disregarded perfectly reasonable personal boundaries it:

  • Freed up more time for me to support and enjoy the company of those who did respect, value and cherish me—those who were uplifting and supportive
  • Led to me respecting, valuing, and honoring myself and my own needs more, which allowed me to feel more energized, vibrant, happy, healthy, and ‘on purpose’ than ever before
  • Allowed me to learn more about myself and what I valued in a relationship and to be more cautious about spending time with people who didn’t align with these values
  • Helped me further fine-tune the art of boundary setting, a skill that I believe can impact on your life in so many ways
  • Encouraged others to start treating me with more respect
  • Inspired others to start taking better care of themselves and their needs too
  • Helped me learn how to say no and to ask for help—two valuable skills to have in your internal wellness toolkit

The above are only examples, of which I am sure there are many more, of the benefits I have experienced from setting boundaries and learning to prioritize myself and my own needs.

Now this might sound great in theory, but I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to start setting boundaries and to prioritize your own needs, desires, and dreams. Some suggestions to help you get started include:

1. Begin to take notice of who you spend your time with and how they make you feel.

Do you enjoy their company? Do they make you feel supported and uplifted? Do they bring you joy? Or do they deflate you? Make you feel bad about yourself and your character? Suck the energy from you? Perhaps it is time to consider how you manage your time with these people in the future.

2. Take time out to reflect on and identify your own needs, desires, and dreams.

Do you have a self-care and me-time practice? Do you make time for activities that you enjoy? Do you feel satisfied with your work, home life, health, or other areas that you value? Commit to making a conscious effort to start prioritizing these areas more in your life.

3. Actively look for ways to make time for you.

What can you organize or change in your schedule to make this happen? Where can you find efficiencies or introduce systems that will make time for you? Where could you ask for help or delegate work or tasks to free up time? What items can you cull from your to-do list in order to drop some balls and pick up the self-care ball?

4. Practice saying no.

Putting a stop to the automatic “yes machine” and learning to say no are vital steps for setting boundaries and learning to place more value on yourself, your time, and your desires.

Learning to say no can take practice. I suggest that you start with a ‘buying time’ script, where instead of responding with a clear “yes” or “no” straight away, you tell people that you are busy and that you’ll check and get back to them. This buys you time to formulate a more considered response in line with your own needs and desires.

At the end of the day, please remember that you matter. Your life matters. Your needs and desires matter. And when you take care of yourself, you are in a much better position to be of service to others and the world.

In finishing, I’d love to leave you with a quote from Dodinsky that sums up one of the main points of this article: “Be there for others, but never leave yourself behind.”

Woman at the beach image via Shutterstock

About Naomi Arnold

Naomi is an award winning Business + Life Passion Coach, writer, speaker and human rights activist. She works with big hearted, creative and mission driven people who want to make a difference in the world. Through her coaching, writing, and award nominated Freebies Library at www.naomiarnold.com, she helps people embrace their uniqueness and live their version of a passion-fueled and purposeful life.

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  • LaTrice Dowe

    No one is obligated to be a part of your life, since friendships are voluntary. It’s nice to be surrounded by those that love and care about you, and would want the same in return. Although friendships aren’t perfect, it’s important to work out the disagreements without overstepping boundaries.

    Almost one year ago, I ended a friendship with someone that I knew since childhood. My ex-best friend was like a brother to me. I didn’t like how he handled the situation between myself and his girlfriend. I tried so hard to understand her insecurities, but it was impossible. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It’s NOT a crime for me to be friends with someone from the opposite sex. Instead of hiding behind her boyfriend, she could have spoken to me as an adult. I did respect the relationship between the two of them, but I didn’t respect her as a woman.

    The name calling wasn’t necessary. My ex-best friend could have spoken to me in a calm manner. I realized that he didn’t respect me as a person, and doesn’t know how to be a friend. His actions not only hurt, but it hit me like a ton of bricks. He wanted to work on the friendship, and I decided that it was best for the both of us to go our separate ways. He wasn’t going to apologize for his actions, and he will NEVER hear my side of the story.

    My ex-best friend’s actions taught me to cherish my friendships, and respect is a two-way street. It’s okay to set boundaries, and I refuse to be someone’s door mat. I’m okay with us NOT being friends again in this lifetime.

    Thank you, Naomi, for sharing your experience, and writing an excellent article.

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  • Here is a technique how you can get 85 dollars an hour… After searching for a job that suits me for half-a-year , I started working over this website and today I possibly can not be happier. 3 months have passed since being on my new job and my income is around 5000 dollarsmonth -Check web-site click on my profile to find out more

  • yearoftheboar

    Great article! I’ve recently gone through a similar change, the transition from high school to college being very eye opening when it came to who my true friends were. I was always known for being very loyal and willing to help friends in a pinch, but soon I became *too* available and too convenient. It was the type of situation where I’d help out certain people by giving them rides or throwing down cash for food, and they would never return the favor.

    Really while the idea of “cutting” people out of your life sounds kind of harsh, when you do detach yourself from certain influences there can be a huge difference. You can step back and see from a different perspective. You realize just how rude, opportunistic and generally disrespectful your former friends were. Creating such distance can bring you closer to happiness.

  • Peace Within

    Woah! It was like reading my own life story. When I finally made the changes that I needed, the people around me made me feel guilty. They were so used to me going above and beyond for them all. Now, I only keep relationships with a health balance. Before I take care of anyone, I have to take care of myself. I’ve lost a lot of friendships, I am much happier though. It’s quality that matters, not quantity. Time is too valuable to waste on anyone. Thank you for sharing.

  • I’m sorry you experienced that transition – I know from personal experience, it generally comes along with a grieving period and is difficult. But you are right, once we’re through it, and surround ourselves with more supportive and uplifting people, oh what a difference it makes! I am glad that you found creating such difference brought you closer to happiness 🙂

  • Oh Peace Within, it totally sucks when people make you feel guilty for it doesn’t it. But you are right, you have to take care of yourself, before you can take care of others. I’ve seen it in my own life – but I’ve seen it in my clients’ lives too. Surrounding ourselves with supportive and uplifting people, having healthy boundaries, and looking after ourselves – has a huge impact on our lives and our abilities to reach life goals.

  • I am sorry to hear about your experience with your ex-best friend, I can just imagine the grief you must have felt moving on from someone who you had been close to since childhood. I agree that we need to cherish our friendships, that they are a two-way street and that boundaries and taking care of ourselves are important. We can’t expect others to love and respect us, if we’re showing them that we don’t love and respect ourselves either!

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Honestly, cutting people from your life isn’t harsh. You love and respect yourself enough to let them go. It doesn’t feel good to be taken advantage of.

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