“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.
But, setting boundaries can be one of the best things for your mental health.
As a child, I was able to put others’ needs before mine. This is a trait that has not changed in my adult years.
It is a rewarding job to be able to help people in need. However, I find it exhausting.
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.
The origin of my poor boundaries
Growing up, I was raised in hostile surroundings. My parents would argue and me decide whether to fight or flee.
The younger me tried many times to intervene, but the older me just became angry or blamed my actions when it had nothing to with me.
It was easy to see that my best option for dealing with problems was to follow 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 found myself often being unwilling to participate in their arguments. Often, one of my parents would approach me to try and force me into their camp and get me to agree with them.
Although I was aware of this tactic as a terrible one, it was difficult not to get involved in the relationship.
As a result, I didn’t know where to place 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.
In my world, boundaries became inexistent. They were always there, up until recently. Thankfully, I’m now able to see that boundaries are healthy and important.
Feeling Comfortable Setting Boundaries
My first exploration of the concept boundary-setting occurred when I was 22 years old. For almost one year, I avoided contact with my mom and went off-the-record.
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.
These are some ways to be more comfortable when you struggle with setting boundaries.
1. Be curious about what your struggles are.
Consider which emotions are most difficult to convey. Do you have a story to tell? It might be easier to share your emotions and needs once you understand the root cause of your problems.
2. Recognize that there are boundaries.
Look at how your friends and family set 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. Keep a journal about what boundaries you are looking for.
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. To reassure yourself of your boundaries, use affirmations
You won’t be able to set boundaries if your upbringing doesn’t show you how boundaries can help you. Particularly if you repeat them daily, affirmations can be very helpful. Below are some examples.
- For my own energy protection, I create boundaries between myself and others.
- Boundaries don’t exist to be selfish
- With boundaries, I prefer to be first.
- My needs matter, and that’s why I use boundaries.
How to set boundaries honestly and compassionately
People often mistake boundary-setting for not caring.
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. Find a calm place and have a great time having the conversation.
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. Let them know how much you love and care.
Ask how they’re doing and have a normal conversation before bringing up the topic of boundaries. It may help to disarm them, and allow them to be more open to you and your needs.
3. Take a gentle approach to the question of boundaries.
You can approach the subject with compassion, allowing yourself to feel your feelings and not blaming others. Perhaps start with “I’ve been feeling really emotionally drained recently because I haven’t been clear about my needs.”
4. Talk about the reasons you desire to create a boundary.
It should be concise and direct, such as:: 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. This is a common occurrence, so you need to be ready to stand your ground again.
5. Be reassuring to the individual, but remember your own needs.
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.”
Take one thing away from this article: Boundaries are healthy. They’re a way to show love and respect for yourself.
Because I set limits to preserve my energy and keep me in my peace, today I feel empowered more than ever. 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.
It is my hope that you will also become more comfortable setting boundaries to reap the many benefits.
Evie Graham has a passion for her personal self-growth and uses her words to motivate. Practicing both visual arts and written art, she’s dedicated to connecting with others and helping people realize their own potential. Creativity flows through just about everything she does—including the quirky and unique!
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Tiny Buddha published the post How to Feel Comfortable Setting Boundaries and Why We Have to, first appeared on Tiny Buddha.