For many years there was a word missing from my vocabulary. That word was “no.” It didn’t matter what was asked of me, I always agreed to do it. This behavior wasn’t just isolated to work. I also said yes to requests from my family and friends. In the rare instances where I had to say no, I felt so guilty that it made me physically sick. One time, I was so overwhelmed with guilt that I ended up in my therapist’s office for an emergency session!
All of that saying “yes” took a toll on me too. I constantly felt taken advantage of, angry and resentful. I felt like I had no control over my life. The constant strain of pleasing others came at the cost of my own health. For some reason, I felt the needs of others outweighed my own. I knew that if I wanted to feel happy, I needed to change something in my life. I just didn’t understand what was wrong or how to change it.
The problem was that I had no boundaries. According to PsychCentral, boundaries are “your ability to understand, communicate and make a stand for how you want to be treated in your relationships.” When you have healthy boundaries in place, they protect you both physically and emotionally. Healthy boundaries can reduce your stress and help you find balance in your life.
How to Set Boundaries
When you are used to operating without boundaries, it can be a very scary undertaking to start to introduce them into your life. There is a fear that asserting for your own needs will be met with disapproval from others. Or, if you were raised in a home where boundaries didn’t exist or where you were taught to put others’ needs ahead of your own, you have no idea where to even begin.
Setting healthy boundaries is a skill and, as with any skill, it takes practice. It starts with an understanding of what your basic human rights are and a self-examination to determine your personal values. With that, you can begin to insert healthy boundaries into your life. This article in Healthline outlines a four-step process for setting healthy boundaries:
- Be assertive. When you use assertive language to state your boundary, your message is firm and clear without feeling overly aggressive. It is important to state the boundary and how you feel when it has been crossed. State what you need from others to feel safe and heard.
- Learn to say “no.” This one can be very uncomfortable at first but with a little practice, can be very liberating. Don’t forget that “no” doesn’t require any additional information. It is a full sentence on its own.
- Safeguard your spaces. In today’s tech driven world, it is so much easier for others to overstep your boundaries, intentionally or unintentionally. Use passwords to secure access to items you want to keep private. Communicate times when you will not be available to respond to work e-mails.
- Get support. If you are having difficulty setting or holding your boundaries, ask for help from a licensed therapist who can teach you how to set healthy boundaries that work for you.
It took me a lot of time, but I slowly began putting healthy boundaries in place. I instituted a cut-off time for work each day which gave me extra time to do things in which I was interested. I began saying no to family and friends when I felt mentally or physically drained. Did people push back? Absolutely! But I held my ground and, almost immediately, I regained that sense of control over my life that I lost.
Tara, the Director of Tax for Vitality Group, has been a long-time advocate for therapy and is a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Tara and her husband enjoy traveling the world together, watching cooking videos on YouTube, and checking out local brew pubs and distilleries. Most weekends you can find her out hiking the Fox River trail or spending time with friends and family.