Finding the courage to set boundaries and reclaim your life

Picture the person who has a problem with setting boundaries. It could be your friend, your family member, or perhaps, it’s you. They never seem to have any time for themselves, they’re always the one waiting for their perpetually late friend, they’re the recipient of their sibling’s endless problem dump sessions, they often pick up the slack for their coworkers, and they’re easily talked into “just one more drink” by that friend who enjoys a tipple a little too much.

Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone. Many of us struggle with setting and enforcing personal boundaries, and it can be a challenge to find the courage to do so. 

Let’s explore the importance of boundaries, why some people have trouble establishing them, and how you can summon the courage to set and maintain them in various aspects of your life.

Boundaries are invisible but real

Boundaries, as elusive as they may seem, play a pivotal role in our lives. Even if we’re not consciously aware of our personal boundaries, we certainly feel it when someone crosses the line. It’s that uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, that sense that something isn’t quite right. 

The thing is, you might find yourself suffering in silence because the idea of saying no and asserting yourself can be daunting. You see, the fear of having to establish boundaries with others can override the pain of feeling like your boundaries are constantly being violated.

Boundaries = Assertiveness

In simple terms, when we have weak boundaries, others tend to take advantage of us. Nobody likes to be walked over, coerced into doing things they don’t want to, or overburdened. Having firm boundaries ensures that your time, privacy, and dignity are respected. It’s a way of saying “no” without feeling guilty, and it’s a sign of self-respect and self-care.

What’s the harm?

Boundaries are your protection from harm. When your boundaries are frequently ignored, you end up feeling drained, emotionally exhausted and vulnerable. Manipulators, narcissists, and sociopaths often see people with weak boundaries as easy targets, using guilt, shame, or manipulation for their own agendas. 

In the end, boundaries have a profound impact on the outcomes of our lives. They are intrinsically linked to our needs and wants, so without maintaining boundaries, we often find ourselves not getting what we need or want. This can lead to frustration, resentment and depression.

Why do some people have slack boundaries?

The fear of upsetting or disappointing others is a common reason for having weak boundaries. You might worry that setting boundaries will lead people to think poorly of you. But as Brené Brown wisely puts it, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” 

It’s essential to stop worrying about what other people think about you because, as the saying goes, “What other people think about you is none of your business.” 

Your boundaries are your responsibility. What others think or how they react is their concern, not yours. By embracing this mindset, you can take the first step towards setting healthier boundaries.

Know yourself

Personal boundaries are closely tied to your wants, needs, and the overall direction of your life. Your boundaries are essentially defined by who you are and what you want. If you don’t have a clear understanding of your desires, you become susceptible to being pushed around or led astray from the life you ought to be living. 

As another saying goes, “When you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” The better you know yourself, the easier it becomes to establish boundaries, shaping the person you could be and the life you could have with those boundaries in place.

Start by exploring your needs and core values. Find out who you are with some self discovery exercises.

For example, if you’re an introvert like me, you can’t spend hours socialising without needing some downtime to rest and recharge. Recognising this about yourself can help you gracefully communicate your limits to others without fearing you’ll disappoint them.

What should your boundaries look like?

Your boundaries are uniquely yours and can vary in different situations. Think about the various zones of your life: home, work, friends, family, and your partner. Consider the situations that make you feel disrespected and visualise how your life would improve if people respected your boundaries. How much more time would you have to pursue the things you’ve always wanted to do? Imagine yourself doing them.

The courage to establish boundaries

The real turning point comes when you begin to value yourself more and understand how your life could be improved with firm boundaries in place. Setting boundaries is about using your self-worth and assertiveness to communicate how you want others to treat you. It’s about deciding what boundaries meet your needs and then asking, or even negotiating, for them.

Initially, it might feel uncomfortable, and there might be pushback from certain individuals. However, as you practice, you’ll become more confident in asserting your boundaries.

Remember, there are positive ways to say “no.” Start by declining with a legitimate excuse, and then progress to saying no without providing an excuse. “I won’t be able to help, as I have a full schedule today” can evolve into “I’m not able to do that on this occasion.” Be firm, fair, and flexible with your boundaries.

Take baby steps and explore your negative feelings and emotional responses, using them as a source of information about your unique mindset and whether your boundaries are serving you.

In situations where an interpersonal boundary is repeatedly breached, you may need to reinforce it with a ‘consequence’. For example, if your mother-in-law frequently calls at your house unannounced, you can first make a request, such as, “I’d rather you didn’t call at my house unannounced.” If she persists, the request becomes a boundary when you say, “It’s important to let you know that if you continue to call at my house unannounced, I will not answer the door.”

What happens after establishing boundaries

People respect you more, and the nature of your relationships changes (and because you’re clear about what you want, they can even help you achieve your goals). 

Setting boundaries is not about being selfish; it’s about protecting your well-being and maintaining healthy relationships. 

It takes courage, but the benefits are well worth it. So, go ahead and take the first step towards setting personal boundaries. You’ll no longer feel resentful or burdened, and can start living the life you should be living.

Stephen Ellerker
Verified Coach
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Stephen Ellerker is a Counsellor, Transactional Analyst and Life Coach helping people discover their purpose and to create a life of meaning and fulfilment. Book a free consultation here or email hello@stephenellerker.coach

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