Creating and Maintaining Healthy Boundaries
“No” is a complete sentence.”
― Anne Lamott
What do I mean by boundaries?
Boundaries are essentially the lines you have that keep you separate from other people. They are the to keep you safe, protect your energy and help to keep relationships balanced. Boundaries ensure you are staying mentally and physically healthy. They provide clear lines for people regarding what you will and will not tolerate. Helping to give a sense of self worth they make sure you are always thinking of yourself as well as the other people.
What kind of people are more likely to have difficulty with creating and maintaining boundaries?
People pleasers. How do I know – because I am one! Albeit a people pleaser actively working to be less of one! If you are similar, for one reason or another it’ll be second nature to want to help people. If you see someone looking low or struggling your automatic reaction will be to do all you can to help. This is a beautiful gift to offer to those around you and the majority of people will be grateful. What we don’t need to change is the way we think of others. We need to just make sure we’re valuing ourselves in the process. To really be of most help to others, it is essential we are first looked after and okay.
I think we all have an internal little love battery. This gets topped up when we experience joy. For me it’s things like cuddles, looking at beautiful sunsets, spending quality time with people I love. The help we offer others kind of flows out of this love battery, which is brilliant. But I believe we only have so much to give at any one time. Then we need to be filled back up again. Whilst giving out the love and care to people that need it we must be aware of our limits and recognise when we are running low.
What someone who has unhealthy boundaries looks like
The person who;
- is absolutely wiped out and has little energy for doing things they enjoy because the majority of time is spent thinking of others
- doesn’t feel okay about saying no, even if it’s what they really want to do
- can sense they’re starting to feel unwell, feeling more irritable, stressed and low
- needs people to like them and think positively of them
- wants to help others so much they neglect their own health and wellness
- has lots of time and compassion for others but little for themselves
- feels like they aren’t doing enough for people unless they say yes to everything
- ignores their own needs and desires
- get angry when other people don’t realise and appreciate all they do
- says yes to working extra but then moans to colleagues about ‘having to do so.’
- feels powerless and voiceless
Why not having boundaries is unhealthy
Without boundaries you are much more likely to feel mentally unwell. Stress, sadness and worry will appear more easily because you’re constantly giving out what you don’t have.
In personal and professional relationships it won’t ever be clear what you are / aren’t happy to do. People will likely unintentionally be taking advantage of you as you haven’t established where your line is. This creates very unbalanced relationships, likely to have held in resentment, frustration and disappointment.
You’ll likely not value or appreciate your own needs and desires. Putting yourself at the back of the queue creates a unhealthy relationship to who you are and what you deserve. You’ll make decisions based on what you think you should be doing rather than what you want to do.
Without boundaries you can end up completely burnt out because you want to help others you’re continually forgetting about what you want and need. Whilst it may appear this is being the best version of yourself and makes you a good person it doesn’t. Instead of doing things because you want to, you probably feel more like you have to. That can cause a build up of resentment which can be too difficult to be expressed.
How to start building in boundaries
See having a boundary as the difference between being well and unwell.
Start small but make sure you start. One step at a time. I personally know how difficult it can be to start trying to navigate creating boundaries with others. Especially in well developed relationships where you’ve already got a way of being established. Don’t let the fear of how the other person might react put you off. It is likely some people won’t initially enjoy you suddenly not just doing all the things they want you to do. That’s normal and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. You’re just rewriting a wrong that’s gone on too long.
Find a relationship you feel most safe in to begin, or talk about it with a good friend that will encourage you to do this work. A lot of the time you’ve probably been saying yes to things people haven’t actually expected you to say yes to so you might be surprised by people admiring you starting to behave differently.
Start by acknowledging how it feels when someone asks something of you. If it feels okay, say yes. If not try and explore what is going on. Do you feel pressured to say yes or agree to doing something you really don’t want to? Even if you say yes, don’t worry. Use it to see why you felt you couldn’t say no and be honest about how you feel. It could be that the particular person actually isn’t a good person for you to be around and spend time with. Again that’s okay and normal and it doesn’t mean anyone is to blame. Sometimes when we’re in an unhealthy place we create unhealthy relationships with others.
Think about your expectations of others. Is something out of sync because you expect more of yourself? If so look at why that could be. My personal discomfort with saying no and looking after myself was related to thinking I wasn’t a good enough person. I needed people to like me. At any cost. That caused a tremendous amount of anxiety and suffering that I simply won’t put myself through anymore.
Remember saying no is completely okay. As much as we want to be there for others it really is essential to maintain healthy boundaries to look after yourself. We live in such a fast paced World the expectations others may hold for us is unreasonable. You can still be a thoughtful, caring and kind person. In fact I think you’ll end up being a better person than before, because you’ll be showing others how to look after themselves better.