Learning to set boundaries isn’t a one-and-done thing.
It’s not even a do-it-once, and you’ve-got-it-down kind of thing.
I WISH skill building was that easy. Especially withs skills as important as setting boundaries.
Sadly, however, learning to set boundaries— let alone getting good and comfortable at setting boundaries— is an ongoing project.
It’s a project that you’re probably going to be pretty bad at, at first. At least, most people are.
And why shouldn’t they be? For years, most people have been conditioned against setting boundaries. See, most people in our lives like to talk the talk of respecting our boundaries— but when it comes to us actually setting those boundaries, those other people often don’t like it. Us setting and adhering to boundaries almost always entails other people hearing “no” in some form from us, and boy, they really tend to not like that.
It’s particularly maddening, when other people in our lives claim they want to respect our boundaries and strengthen our ability and inclination to set good boundaries, and then they turn around and undermine our boundary-setting abilities. It’d almost be easier if they told us the truth: “I want to help and support you in setting boundaries…as long as that doesn’t mean you say ‘no’ to me.”
But, we work with what we have.
Here’s the thing: let yourself be bad at it. Be WILLING to let yourself be bad at it.
You’re not going to be great at setting boundaries at first anyway— and probably not for awhile.
That’s not your fault. Setting boundaries is kinda complicated, both logistically and emotionally. And that’s even before the complicating factors of how others respond to us when we attempt to set boundaries, which comes with its own collection of emotional and logistical complications.
You’re going to have difficulty determining when it’s appropriate to set a boundary.
You’re going to have sabotaging thoughts of, “Do I really need to set a boundary here? Or am I just being too whiny/sensitive/selfish?”)
You’re going to have difficulty figuring out the exact language you should use. “Do I need to explicitly state this is a boundary? Do I need to assume a very serious tone here? Should I frown? Do I need to look angry in order to get anybody to take me seriously?”
Then you’re going to have a whole series of thoughts that center around somehow controlling the other person’s reaction. “How can I make it so they’re not mad at me? How can I assure they still like me? How can I make sure their feelings aren’t hurt?”
These thoughts can be the most insidious of all, because 1) you 100% cannot control the other person’s reaction, and 2) the other person is 100% entitled to whatever reaction they’re going to have. Just like you’re 100% entitled to set boundaries in the first place.
For many people this is a whole process they go through each and every time they need to set a boundary. A lifetime of conditioning has led them to the point where setting boundaries isn’t a natural thing we feel entitled to as human beings; we’ve been convinced that it’s a thing that only selfish people do. It’s a rigamaroll. It’s a pain in the neck.
It’s no wonder many of us would prefer to remain doormats, rather than deal with the emotional and logistical hassle of setting boundaries.
And it’s going to happen EVERY TIME, you say?
The good news is, though: it does get better.
But there is an “if.”
Setting boundaries does get easier IF you’re working on your self-esteem.
Setting boundaries does get easier IF you’re nudging closer to believing you are worthy of having strong boundaries.
Setting boundaries does get easier IF you’re developing the belief that you are more than others’ approval or disapproval of you.
Some of those are tall orders, I realize. Especially when we’ve gone for years having the exact opposite reinforced.
Again, though there’s good news: IF we’re willing to put in the leg work, IF we’re willing to be super honest about ourselves, our lives, and our needs, IF we’re willing to let ourselves be bad at something for awhile before we get comfortable and good at it…it really will pay off.
Our self-esteem really will begin to rise.
Setting boundaries really will get easier.
But we have to be willing to let ourselves be bad at it first.
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4 thoughts on “Setting boundaries gets easier…IF…”
Thank you! I recently told my oldest son no for the first time when he asked me to care for his children. Before I said no, I was a nervous wreck, but I sent the No, I cant text anyway. Immediately I started crying, oh no what did I do? I can keep them, I don’t have to do what I had already planned and on and on. About 10 minutes later I got a reply, “Ok, I’ll ask dad or my girlfriend.” Everything you’ve said about boundaries is spot on, again thank you!!
Oops I forgot, that this is after I’ve tried to tell him no 4 previous times. So yes, I suck at setting boundaries! hahaha BUT, I am learning!
Another intelligent article. Must say i look forward to reading your articles and grasping the wisdom you so easily portray. Many thanks good Sir.
Very well written. I wrote about this earlier today and this appeared in the related post area. Thanks for sharing