When you say “no” to someone, do you often feel immense guilt afterward?
Or do you second-guess your boundaries after setting them?
I have seen a lot of my therapy clients sacrifice their boundaries due to guilt. But letting guilt sabotage our efforts to have healthy boundaries is a one-way ticket to Bitter Town.
Boundaries are meant to protect ourselves and our relationships. They deepen our connections. Yet, many of us still feel guilty for having and enforcing boundaries.
This episode is about deepening our understanding of post-boundary setting guilt. I talk about what you can do to combat it, how to tell if it is actually guilt you are feeling, and when feeling guilty may be appropriate.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are your own personal rules of engagement. They let other people know what is okay and what is not okay with you.
Your boundaries are made up of your preferences, desires, limits, and deal-breakers.
If you have disordered boundaries, your boundaries might be too porous or too rigid.
Think of porous boundaries as being a house without a front door. Anyone can come and go and take your stuff whenever they want.
Rigid boundaries are when you are more likely to cut someone out of your life rather than tell them they hurt you.
When you have porous boundaries, you are more of a “people pleaser”. Rigid boundaries are more “my way or the highway.”
Either way, we all need healthy boundaries, which are flexible (between porous and rigid). To create healthy boundaries, we need to get better at communicating our boundary requests to others, which is why I wrote Boundary Boss and created The Boundary Boss Workbook!
Are You Actually Feeling Guilt…Or Fear?
Guilt is one of the most common reasons people do not set boundaries. If you feel guilty after setting a boundary, you are not alone.
But why do we feel this way?
There are a few possibilities.
You may believe drawing boundaries or making a boundary request is selfish or wrong, especially if your parental impactors modeled this behavior in childhood.
Or you may have been raised and praised for self-abandoning codependent behaviors. If you grew up putting everyone else first, then putting yourself first will not come naturally to you.
But there might be more to the story.
When you say you feel guilty for setting a boundary, I want you to dig deeper. Are you actually afraid? Is it fear or anxiety presenting as guilt?
In my younger life, I often mixed the two up. I thought I felt guilty, but I actually felt fearful. I did not want someone to be mad at me, nor did I want to experience rejection.
Fear of rejection, disappointment, or retaliation are common boundary blocks. And if you identify as a highly sensitive person (HSP) or an empath, as many in our crew do, it can be terrifying to set a boundary because you will deeply feel and experience the other person’s disappointment. It hits differently for us.
To avoid this potential disappointment, we often self-abandon, self-sabotage, and people-please because we want to have good relationships.
But here is the thing: you cannot self-abandon your way to a healthy relationship.
What To Do If You Feel Guilty for Setting a Boundary
To have less post-boundary-setting guilt, fear, or anxiety, you need to reflect on why you feel this way. You also have to self-reflect on your relationship with yourself.
Being last on your own list or constantly self-abandoning because you are trying to please others does not set you up to have a good relationship with yourself.
If you are a people-pleaser or a high-functioning codependent who spent years over-functioning and saying yes to all the people, saying ‘no’ now might bring on feelings of guilt and fear.
Drawing a boundary with someone and having a guilt parade by yourself is a solo experience. If you do not say anything to the other person, they have no idea what is happening for you. This is an inside job.
You might feel bad or selfish for saying no, but a big part of shifting this dynamic is self-reflection.
Question the guilt. Was it wrong for you to prioritize what you needed?
You have to know how to take care of yourself and what you need to be healthy in your one and only precious life.
When I was in my twenties, I felt obligated to everyone, even people I barely knew. (You will hear these stories in my upcoming book on high-functioning codependency!) I worked on this in therapy and asked myself, why do I feel obligated to prioritize virtual strangers?
I had a lot of misplaced guilt and obligation: I felt as obligated to someone I barely knew as I did to the high-priority people in my life.
When you feel obligated or guilty after drawing a boundary, reflect on why you feel this way.
You might also discover the answer you are looking for by asking whether you think the boundary you set was wrong.
For example, sometimes we mistakenly make demands when we think we’re setting boundaries. We might even manipulate others by setting a “boundary.”
Demands and boundaries are different things. This is why being fluent in the language of boundaries is important. I cannot tell you how many times people have talked to me about setting boundaries and I’ve had to tell them what they are talking about is making demands.
Boundaries are limits or rules we set for how we want people to interact with us. They are for us. They are not meant to be used as a way to control others.
People can choose whether to accept our boundaries or not. And if they do not accept them, we get to decide what it means.
I describe boundaries as preferences, desires, limits, and deal-breakers because they do not carry the same weight or importance. For example, a deal-breaker is much ‘heavier’ than a preference- you might not feel the need to set a consequence for a preference, but you likely want to enforce one for a deal-breaker.
For more questions to gain clarity and dig deeper into guilt, download the guide right here.
Return to Why You Set the Boundary
One of the most important things you can do to combat post-boundary-setting guilt is to dial back into your original intention.
Why are you setting this boundary, and why now?
Most of the time, we set boundaries to protect ourselves or our relationships, which is not something we need to feel guilty about.
Guilt is a default emotion for many of us. We tend to automatically feel guilty whether we have a reason to or not.
Feeling guilty when you’ve done something wrong is appropriate because it will inspire you to make things right.
There is nothing wrong with guilt, but we are not talking about that type of guilt here.
When we have excessive guilt around setting boundaries, it is about something else.
Many of us are over-givers or high-functioning codependents. Putting a line in the sand or setting a limit can feel selfish, but it is not. You are simply honoring and sharing the way you feel.
As long as your heart is in the right place and you are not setting a boundary to be mean or to control someone else, your side of the street is clean. It can help to remember this when guilt begins creeping in.
I hope this episode added value if you are struggling with post-boundary-setting guilt. Don’t forget to download the guide to gain clarity on why you might feel guilty after setting a boundary. And let me know in the comments or on Instagram: what are your biggest struggles with boundary guilt?
Have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.
P.S. The Boundary Boss Workbook is officially out! 🎉 Go to boundarybossworkbook.com to grab your copy!