Here are 3 easy ways to start.
Why Is Setting Boundaries So Hard?
Setting boundaries may be hard for you because, as children, we have no boundaries. It seems as though little girls, especially, are taught to be kind to everyone, never show anger, and don’t cry. We learn that our feelings are not as important as someone else’s, primarily adults. If an adult wants you to sit down, you sit down. If an adult wants you to eat the food that is served, you eat it without complaining. You don’t want to play with your mother’s friend’s kid? Well, that’s rude and will hurt her feelings. Play anyway.
If you were a sensitive kid, like I was, you learned to anticipate the feelings of others. You noticed every eyebrow raise, every chin lift, and every eye squint. That meant someone was displeased. If people are displeased with you, that means loss of love and connection. If you grew up in a home with parents that had healthy boundaries themselves, they probably modeled that to you, and you don’t struggle with this. But, since you are reading this article, I’m guessing you do struggle with boundary setting.
You Finally Realized You Need Boundaries, but Where Do You Start?
Most people-pleasers come to the realization that they need boundaries the hard way. Someone, or many someones, have treated you badly. Maybe you have parents that continue to treat you like their 7-year-old child, telling you what to do. Or maybe you’ve had a partner that tried to control you. Perhaps a friend or boss has treated you poorly. You can’t go on like this anymore, but every time you try to set a boundary, you end up giving in to that person again.
If that’s the case, then start simple. Begin by becoming aware of what you like, and what you don’t like. What behaviors are acceptable to you, and what behaviors are not acceptable to you? Then, these three things are the simplest way to begin setting boundaries.
*It’s important to note that boundaries are limits you set on your own behavior. You can only control yourself.
- Start letting your preferences be known. Do you like the color blue more than the color green? Would you rather have pizza for dinner than tacos? Does the lifelike painting of mountains suit your taste more than the abstract painting of a person? Many people-pleasers say things like, “Whatever you like is fine with me.”, or “I don’t mind eating tacos again if that’s what you really want.” Instead, you can tell what you like, and then compromise if needed. You might find the other person actually agrees with you.
- Spend time on self-care daily. People pleasers give all of their time and resources to others. Set aside at least 30 minutes to spend on yourself. You can use that time to exercise, meditate, read, garden, or whatever you really enjoy. Don’t let anyone else infringe on that time. You may find it easier to fit this time in first thing in the morning. My self-care time starts before anyone else in the family wakes up. If you wait until the end of the day, you may be too tired, or you may run out of time.
- Get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. You will not be able to uphold new boundaries if you are exhausted. Sleep time is a boundary, because it is a time that you set aside to not be disturbed. If your spouse likes the TV on while you’re trying to sleep, ask them to go in the other room. If your teenager plays loud music, request they use headphones. If your sleep keeps getting disturbed, try some ear plugs and a sleep mask to block out sound and light. I have a fan for white noise, and I bring it on every vacation.
You Probably Never Thought of These Three Things as Boundaries
When I used to think about boundaries, I thought of them as a consequence for the other person. That’s not exactly right, though. Boundaries are really about you and your own behavior. Cloud and Townsend describe boundaries like a fence around your yard. You control what comes in and out of your yard. If you don’t want mean behavior in your yard, you can close your gate. Likewise, you can open your gate to supportive and loving people.
If your gate is open to everything, all day long, that is on you. You are responsible for allowing all the stray dogs that came in, the thieves that wanted to steal your patio furniture, and the wild neighbor kid throwing rocks at your window.
The three boundaries listed above are about you and your own behavior. They are an easy place to start because they involve taking care of yourself, and not doling out consequences for other people. Give them a try, and then check out one of my other articles on boundaries, here.
I have a free Healthy Boundaries e-book and video on my website, as well.