The People Pleaser's Guide to Setting Boundaries

Boundaries. Let’s talk about them, let’s get comfortable talking about them. When we get comfortable talking about boundaries, we get more comfortable setting boundaries.

Remember going on vacation in the summer as a kid? I don’t know about you, but my family would cram in to a small motel room and my sister and I would have to share a bed. By the end of the weekend, I would have an intensely bad mood that I just couldn’t shake. My family would tell me to snap out of it, but I couldn’t. I now know I’m an introvert and staying in close quarters with no alone time is not my jam (to say the least). For us children of the 80’s and 90’s, setting boundaries was not a thing. Since it wasn’t a thing when we were kids, we now have to figure out how to set boundaries as adults.

It sounds simple, but for many of us, setting boundaries can feel uncomfortable. You see, it was also ingrained in many of us as kids that setting boundaries causes feelings to be hurt. “Give grandpa a kiss or you’ll hurt his feelings!” “Lisa asked you over for a play date, if you don’t go it will hurt her feelings.”

Imagine where we would be as adults if we’d learned as children that it’s okay to say no to touch or plans. It’s okay to check in with ourselves to see if we actually want to go, or if we feel like we have to. Sometimes I need a little push from myself or a friend because a comfortable bed and “Veep” can feel like the best option for a Friday night. Learning to check in with our needs help us form and set boundaries.

Setting boundaries actually helps us form healthier relationships. It’s a way to let our friends and loved ones know what we are needing, what we aren’t needing, and how to safely and securely execute our needs being met.

In our 20’s and 30’s our boundaries become more important than ever. We often are busy with work, friendships, hobbies, volunteer work, and possibly parenting. We recognize the neon “self care” signs off in the distance but perhaps are still working on when and how to tap in to it. Setting boundaries can be the beginning of self care.

It wasn’t until I became a parent that I recognized my need for boundaries. Suddenly, there was another little person that needed me to be present. I learned to say no to taking on too much and learned to say no to things I simply didn’t want to do. I learned to cancel plans when my system told me I wasn’t in a place to connect and reach out for connection when I needed it.

In the therapy room, I find boundaries are new for a lot of folks I work with. Much like myself, we were given no direction for setting boundaries and often times, the outlines we tried to set were trampled upon. If this concept is new to you, here are some ways to begin to integrate them in to your life and get comfortable setting them for yourself and those around you. Remember, you are the expert on you. You need to teach your friends, partner, and others around you how to accept and respect your needs.

  1. Check in with yourself and listen to your body. What does your body need? Rest? Food? Relief? Connection? In learning to check in with your body to see what it is really needing, you can begin to understand your own important boundaries.

  2. Practice saying no. Practice saying no to low stakes events, where you know the other person will be accepting of your set boundary. When you get comfortable saying no, you will be able to set boundaries around events that feel higher stakes.

  3. Create your own rules. Turn your phone off. Black out from social media. Don’t answer texts after 10 PM at night. Setting boundaries only you know of can help to express boundaries towards others.

  4. Talk about boundaries with your partner. What boundaries do you set within your relationship? How do you set boundaries with your partner? Do you wait until you get irritated or are you comfortable saying them straight out.

  5. Notice what happens when boundary violations occur. Are you irritable? Does it send you in to a depression? When we notice what happens for us during a boundary violation, it can help us understand the importance of setting boundaries for ourselves.

How do boundaries show up for you? How do you want them to look? You are the geographer of your boundaries road map and only you can guide others in your needs along the way.