“Daring to set boundaries is having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brene’ Brown
I struggle with boundaries in certain areas of my life. And I’m quite certain that I’m not alone. I believe that a lack of boundaries is at the center of so many of the issues and relationship struggles I discuss with clients, co-workers, friends and family. Both personally and professionally, having healthy boundaries are essential to our happiness and well-being, and can help transform our lives.
Establishing healthy boundaries can be very difficult. It can feel extremely uncomfortable upsetting or disappointing others. Putting their needs before our own and ensuring their happiness seems like, on the surface anyway, the best way to keep the peace. But taking responsibility for everyone’s happiness while ignoring our own needs doesn’t actually make others happy. Nor does it make us happy. In fact, you’ll actually become very unhappy. In her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” Brene’ Brown describes that before she established healthy boundaries she was “sweeter on the outside” but “judgmental, resentful, and angry on the inside”. I can relate. Can you? Because really, can you truly be happy if you’re always trying to please others? I mean, I’m sure you don’t believe that people are responsible for your happiness, so why would you believe that you are responsible for their happiness? At the end of the day, no matter what we do or don’t do, I know we can’t really control the happiness of others.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behaviour or a choice.” ~ Brene’ Brown
The way we treat ourselves sets the standard for others around us. If we don’t put the effort into clearly establishing what we want and don’t want, then how can we expect others to know what we want. They can’t read our minds so if we don’t define them, then someone else will. Having healthy boundaries in place will help you realize your self worth, and demonstrate that your needs and feelings are valid and important. You’re worthy of being seen and heard and of putting your needs first. You deserve to have a voice and an opinion. Of course, for some, it may be a bit more difficult to find your inner power and firmly define your boundaries, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. There’s no doubt that it’s hard but anyone can do it with time and practice. At first you’ll feel uncertain and a bit scared, and your boundaries will feel a bit shaky, but the more consistent you are, the easier it will feel. In the beginning you’ll likely feel bad or guilty if others aren’t happy, but you can’t please everyone.
Just like other people can’t read our minds, we can’t read theirs. It’s not our business to try and keep them happy or avoid disappointing them. In fact, in doing this, we also kind of take away their power from them by trying to avoid upsetting or disappointing them. We don’t need to filter ourselves for the sake of others. We’re allowed to feel what we feel and it’s not our place to manage other peoples emotions, even if it comes from a caring place. We may think we know what’s best for everyone but sometimes we need to take a step back and allow other people to decide how to feel for themselves. All we can really do is have our own boundaries in place, honor them, and express what we need and how we feel.
Having healthy boundaries can help change our lives. They can help you express your needs and desires without feeling pushy, rude or guilty, and they help you strengthen your relationship with yourself. When you get clearer about what you want, what you are here for, you’ll no longer feel the need to hide or filter yourself. The more self-aware you are (see previous post), and the better you understand your Striving Styles predominant need, fears and triggers, you be able to identify who you’re meant to be and know that you’re worthy of feeling good and honoring yourself. Your well-being doesn’t have to come last.
Signs you lack healthy boundaries
A lack of strong and clear boundaries can result in feeling worthless, weak, or not good enough. Here are some signs that you are lacking healthy boundaries in your life:
- you find it diffcult speaking up when you feel mistreated.
- you find it difficult making your own goals a priority.
- you do things when you don’t want to. You have a hard time saying no.
- you go out of your way to please others and seek their approval.
- you overcommit and give away too much of your time, making too many sacrifies at your own expense.
- you get guilted into doing things for others.
- you agree when you actually disagree.
- you feel guilty taking care of yourself, and taking time for yourself.
- you feel guilty when someone else feels bad, like you are responsible for other peoples thoughts, feelings, and actions. You feel guilty when others aren’t happy.
- you feel taken for granted by others.
- you give your time away for free.
- you do or give away things that you can’t afford.
- you feel like you have failed someone or guilty if you say no to them.
- you feel resentful and complain even though you agreed to the request or the expectation.
- you are what others want or need you to be, and not what YOU need to be.
- you are almost always comply with those in superior positions (boss, parent, etc.)
- you have toxic relationships or stay in unsatisfying relationships or situation.
- you let others describe your reality.
- you minimise your own feelings and needs.
- you do things out of obligation.
- you are consumed with what others think of you.
- you over-share details about your life.
- you often feel like a victim (refer to previous post)
- you attract people who try to control or dominate you.
If you identify with any of these then stay tuned for my next blog post where I’ll be discussing strategies and tools you can use to define, develop and honor healthy boundaries in every area of your life. While initially it won’t be easy, having healthy boundaries can really help you navigate life situations without feeling guilty or bad every single time. By leaning on the understanding that ultimately everything you do is for the sake of yours and others well-being and that you are always doing your best, you will soon realize that you’re worthy of taking care of yourself and that there is nothing wrong or bad about it, and eventually you’ll feel less and less guilty.
Healthy boundaries* include:
- saying no to things you don’t want to do or don’t have the resources to do.
- leaving situations that are harmful to you.
- telling others how you want to be treated.
- being aware of your own feelings and allowing yourself to feel differently than others.
- not trying to change, fix, or rescue others from difficult situations or feelings.
- allowing others to make their own decisions.
- prioritizing self-care.
- sharing personal information gradually based on how well you know and trust someone.
- recognizing which problems are yours to solve and which problems belong to others.
- communicating your thoughts, feelings, and needs.
- having personal space and privacy.
- pursuing your own goals and interests.
in the following video clip, Brene’ Brown explains, in her typical humorous style, how to let go of the person we think we’re supposed to be and embrace who we are. And when we have the courage to set boundaries, we engage with our worthiness.
Now, it’s your turn.
What you would really want to do if you knew that it wouldn’t disappoint others? Which area(s) of your life are boundaries the most difficult to maintain? Which of the unhealthy sign(s) did you identify with? I recommend journaling or mediating on them. Of course, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo source: Susan Wheeler (view of Stanley Park from Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver, BC)
*Sharon Martin, LCSW