Why You Don't Set Boundaries

Why You Don't Set Boundaries Codependency Struggle

Boundaries are not for the weak.  

They're about speaking up for what you need and taking care of yourself in relationships. You don't always get what you want but by speaking up you give yourself a fighting chance. 

Let's define boundaries first so we are on the same page. Boundaries are limits you set for yourself that determine what you will or won't participate in.  

Examples of Boundaries Include:

  • Saying no without over-explaining

  • Speaking up for what you need

  • Not offering to fix other people's problems

  • How much give time, energy or money you give

  • Privacy needs

  • Amount of physical space you need

There's a lot of confusion around setting boundaries. Honestly, most of us (including myself) find setting healthy boundaries a challenge. But it gets MUCH easier the more you do it! 

Here's what it looks like.

Codependency and setting healthy boundaries

Codependency and setting healthy boundaries

Sharon finds herself thinking: 

"I have say no the next time my sister asks me to babysit all weekend. I can't keep doing this. I got my own stuff to do."

You secretly make a commitment to yourself that you'll say no.

A week goes by and you forget about it. Your sister buys tickets to a play she's been dying to see. You know it's been rough for her lately. She could really use some "me time." She asks you to take her kids for the weekend.

You say yes without thinking about it. You feel like you HAVE to help her. She doesn't have anyone else. At first, you're happy to do it. She really appreciates it and you're glad be helping out - again.

Later that day you remember that you have another committment. Resentment sets in. You think you can't back out now - she has tickets! You feel sick that you did this to yourself again. 

Why Boundaries Are Tough

Setting boundaries is the ultimate test in self-care. Taking care of others may come naturally to you. Or, it's just easier to help out rather than risk upsetting someone else.

Knowing that you need to set boundaries isn't enough. At some point you need to take action. But somehow other stuff always seems to get in the way.

Here's some tips to support you for next time. 

Fear of What Others Think

When you fear what others think, you're assumpting the negative. That provokes a sense of powerlessness and frustration. You have no control over what they think. But trying to guess what's happening reinforces self-doubt.

Tip: When the fear takes over, get a reality check. There is NO way to know for sure what someone thinks but trying to guess is where you get a little nuts.

Assuming They'll Be Mad 

If you grew up with a raging or unpredictable family member, you might relate to this one. You assume that you'll upset the other person if you say no. Notice that you are assuming the outcome without knowing for sure. Even in intimate relationships, be careful to check out any assumptions.

If the person looks mad, ask them 'Is this about me?' If they say no, you're off the hook! Always check it out.

When I first started saying no, I was shocked that nobody really cared. They just said okay and moved on. No biggie (but to me is was a HUGE biggie because of the next one I'll be talking about).

Trying to Avoid Conflict

Do you ever say yes to avoid a fight? I used to struggle a lot with resentment because I couldn't set a boundary if my life depended on it. Not a great way to live. 

Assuming that setting a boundary will trigger an argument is catastrophic thinking. You assume the worst which makes you feel more anxious. You exacerbate the fear by assuming something bad will happen. 

Tip: Stay in the moment and use positive self-talk like 'Everything's going to be ok' or 'It's okay to speak up.' Most of what you fear never actually happens.

Wanting to Avoid the Hassle

It's much easier to avoid the hassle and keep quiet. At first you feel like you're saving the day, but there is a price to pay when you say yes but mean no. Stuffing what you need creates a sense of hopelessness. You go unnoticed and that feels lousy.

Tip: Give yourself permission to have wants. The people who love you want you to take care of yourself. Don't let self-doubt keep you quiet. 

Thinking it's Not that Important

When boundaries aren't a priority, your needs don't get heard. Giving yourself permission to set a healthy boundary is an act of self-care. Challenge old beliefs that get in the way. Feeling bad about yourself keeps you pleasing others and neglecting yourself. You absolutely deserve to get your needs met!

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Fear of Being Seen as Selfish

Being seen as selfish often goes back to worrying about what others will think. By jumping into their head and assuming the worst you're probably off center emotionally. "Being centered" is feeling balanced emotionally and spiritually. You are comfortable in your own skin.

Tip: Don't try setting boundaries when you're off center. Find a practice like yoga or meditation to develop a practice of being centered. This builds confidence when you set a boundary.

Not Knowing Where to Start

The last obstacle is not knowing where to start. No one learns this stuff in school. You may not have seen healthy boundaries growing up. So how do you actually set a healthy boundary? 

  • Speak up and ask for what you want.

  • Be open for some negotiation.

  • Be clear and specific in your request.

  • Always have a plan B if they say no.

  • Don't do it unless you are calm enough to handle the response.

  • Try not to take the no personally. It's not about you.

What to Do Now?

Obstacles will come up when trying to set boundaries. it's part of the process. Be willing to explore old beliefs like "It's selfish to ask for anything" - or "I don't want to bother people." These beliefs no longer serve you. Do some journal writing about what gets in the way for you. That's a simple way to identify and work through old beliefs. 

When setting healthy boundaries, you are responsible for getting your needs not the other person. Getting a no is part of boundary setting. It's a risk to be vulnerable but that's why having a plan B is important.

Plan B is finding an alternative to fulfill the need in another way. Have a few people to ask instead of the same person. Learn ways to meet your own needs by finding what I call  "comforting behaviors" like reading a good book, cuddling with a warm blanket or spending time with pet. These habits empower you to take care of yourself which is the goal of setting boundaries right?

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