Setting boundaries can be really scary. For one thing, you may not be able to trust yourself to set the boundary in a way that feels good to you. Even more than that just the idea of hurting their feelings is enough to make you cringe away from the very idea.
It’s just that when we don’t set boundaries regularly, things build up.
You may think you are preserving the relationship by not saying anything (you’re strong enough to deal with it, right?), but what actually ends up happening is that when you finally get fed up and set the boundary it comes out of you in. . .let’s just say not the most ideal way.
I see this cycle play itself out for so many clients. The client wants to be kind and forgiving not make waves. So they don’t set any boundaries. At first it feels fine. Little by little things start to feel more aggravating. Eventually a small thing feels like a big problem and the client gets snappy, or loud, or mean when they set the boundary. The person the client set the boundary with feels like the client lost their shit for no reason.
Nothing the client said was heard.
They end up feeling not only like boundary setting doesn’t work because no one listens, but they also end up feeling ashamed of the way they handled the situation. Unfortunately, this causes the client to swing all the way back to being passive and not setting any boundaries out of guilt. And the cycle continues; no boundaries with building aggravation swings to aggressive boundary setting, which leads to shame and guilt about boundaries.
Here’s one way it can play out. Imagine for a moment having a mom that you love very much but she drives you up the wall regularly (far fetched, I know). You appreciate her and like to talk to her regularly, but it seems every time you talk with her she seems to feel like she needs to tell you something else that she thinks you need to take care of or do differently. It makes you feel like you can’t relax around her, and often you end up cutting your time with her short.
Honestly there’s a part of you that feels really good about the fact that you don’t lose your temper with her, but you are starting to realize that the time you spend together doesn’t feel good and your relationship has been feeling more superficial and forced. One day when she makes another one of her comments you just can’t stand it anymore, and you end up snapping at her and telling her to get off your ass! But now her feelings are hurt, and you feel like a jerk.
So you feel like an asshole, your mom’s feelings are hurt, and you certainly don’t feel closer to her or like you protected the relationship.
All you ended up doing by not setting the boundary in the first place is ensured that the way you set the boundary was not the way you would have wanted to communicate with your mom.
If you can’t set boundaries and feel like things go to hell when you try, you end up avoiding the people you care about.
Look, boundaries are hard.
Finding the balance of making sure you communicate what you need in a way that is kind and neutral is hard. It’s really normal to feel overwhelmed by boundary setting. A lot of people end up just trying to suck it up (until they blow up) or avoiding the whole deal in the first place.
Difficulty with boundary setting can make you feel touchy and maybe even make you feel crazy sometimes for blowing up. If you can learn, step by step, how to set a boundary that is not dependent on how the other person responds, you can start to trust yourself to handle these situations more smoothly. When we follow these simple steps for how to effectively set a boundary, we can start to feel more in control of our communication, and we can feel heard in our relationships.
Keep reading to learn how to feel comfortable and more confident setting boundaries today.
Why bother? No one listens anyway.
The worst thing about not setting any boundaries is that your only options are to avoid people you care about or lose your temper when you can’t stand it anymore. This means you either lose intimacy in important relationships or end up feeling like a lose cannon.
At the very least you end up feeling like what you need doesn’t matter and you have to “suck it up”.
Living like this is not fulfilling at best and frustrating at worst.
Be in control of the way you communicate in relationships.
Although you struggle with the guilt that comes with knowing that you are going to hurt the feelings of someone you care about if you set a boundary, you have the potential to feel calm and in control of the way that you are communicating.
You can communicate your boundaries in a way that enhances and protects your relationships.
When we choose to set boundaries in a way that empowers us to communicate what we need with no strings attached, with recognition that we don’t get to affect the way that what you say is received or responded to, you can finally feel ready to take on your relationships in a more honest and authentic way.
This is an opportunity for you to communicate kindly and effectively so that you can feel empowered and authentic in your relationships, regardless of how capable the people in your life are at respecting your boundaries.
How to Set Boundaries Kindly and Effectively
Yes, you might be feeling frustrated with setting boundaries and communicating your needs in relationships, but the key to feeling empowered and authentic in your relationships is to set kind and consistent boundaries. It is scary to think about communicating things that are possibly upsetting to people you care about, but it feels a lot better when you can trust yourself to communicate in a way that you can feel good about. When you follow this simple, step by step path, you will start to notice that you can be more authentic and kind in your relationships.
Take a look at these steps to see how you can feel more authentic and comfortable communicating in your relationships.
Authentic, Consistent Communication
One of the main reasons you struggle to communicate your needs to the people who are important to you is fear of hurting their feelings or upsetting them. It makes complete sense that you feel guilty for making things worse or hurting the relationship when every time you try to set a boundary it ends up in flames. But it doesn’t have to stay this way when you start implementing authentic, consistent communication.
1) Identify the common thread
When you are regularly getting upset in one of your relationships, the first step is to try to understand what it is that is happening, or what you feel is getting communicated. It’s really easy to just act as though these are stand alone experiences that you can get over. When you start to pay attention, though, you’re probably going to notice that there is a theme. Maybe you get upset when you are given unsolicited advice. Maybe what really gets to you is when people flake out on plans. Maybe the really hard thing is when you feel like your feelings are dismissed.
Whatever it is, it is very likely that it happens often in the same relationship.
In sessions we will examine the instances when you feel that your boundaries were crossed or your needs weren’t met by the people in your life. We will explore other times when you have felt similarly and then find the common thread together. What we are looking for is what actually upset you and why you don’t like what happened. It’s not usually enough to just know that you didn’t like that the person was late to meet for coffee, but it is more helpful to be able to say, “I don’t feel like you respect my time.”
When you are able to identify the common thread in the instances of being angry or upset with a specific person, it will enable you to communicate more fully and precisely what it is that isn’t working and what you need next time.
2) Communicate honestly, and kindly
The two issues that I see most often that are impeding communication are either not communicating honestly or fully (“Of course I don’t mind!”) or communicating aggressively because we have waited until we are full on pissed before we said anything. Ideally we want to communicate what we don’t like and why, what we need to be different next time, and how we will react if this trespass happens again. We want to do that as neutrally and kindly as humanly possible, so that regardless of how the other person reacts, you can feel good about what you said and how you said it.
I recognize that this is very difficult. This is why in session I support my clients not only in identifying what they want to say, but also practicing how to phrase it.
We identify potential ways to respond if the communication isn’t received well, and we walk through step by step identifying how to respond in different scenarios.
This is a really important part of the process. If you can identify and feel good about how you are going to respond if your boundary is received really poorly, you are empowered to engage in the relationship only in a way that feels good to you. This is a big deal! You get to feel good about your boundary, what you said, and how you said it, regardless of the way that the other person responds to you.
3) Be consistent
This is where things fall apart for most of us. We wait until we feel like it’s a big deal before we say anything. We let it slide. We say we’re not going to put up with it anymore but then we do. In a lot of ways it is easier to just not deal with it until it feels like a big deal. The issue with this is that you will notice yourself either avoiding your relationships, or blowing up every so often when you want to set a boundary. This is why you end up feeling like no one respects your boundaries. Because you aren’t enforcing your boundaries, and that is the bulk of the work.
When you schedule a session with me I will talk with you about what boundaries you might be overlooking and how that might be impacting your relationships. We will explore what happens when you decide to let things slide, and together we will determine which boundaries you feel you need to start enforcing, and which you feel can be put on the back burner for a while.
You don’t have to take on every issue in every relationship, but when you make the decision to take it on, it’s good to stay consistent.
Make sure that you know exactly how you will respond when your boundary isn’t respected and then you and I will hold you accountable (gently and kindly of course) for staying consistent in the way you handle it.
Adding this boundary setting technique to your life will help you feel more in control in your relationships. You will notice that you don’t feel as though you have to censor yourself quite so much because you trust what comes out of your mouth. You will start to notice that you get to be more authentic in your relationships because you are comfortable with what will happen if someone doesn’t like what you have to say.
Being able to set boundaries in a kind and consistent way can be invigorating.
You absolutely can feel authentic in your relationships and still take care of yourself.
Therapy can help you to sort through what is and isn’t working in your relationships, and identify exactly how you would like to handle it from now on so that you can feel empowered and confident moving forward.