Do you ever wonder why setting boundaries feels like a struggle?
Why it is difficult to speak up when you have something to say?
Or why it can feel impossible to set a limit when you don’t want to do something?
If you are nodding your head, this episode is for you. I am giving you the top five boundary blocks I have seen in my 25+ years as a psychotherapist and suggesting ways to overcome them.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Why might we avoid setting boundaries, even though we know they protect us and our relationships?
Let’s start with what is likely the biggest reason.
Boundary Block #1: Fear of Rejection
Rejection terrifies us for many reasons.
As humans, we are wired to avoid rejection because in the caveman days, being rejected by your tribe meant you were likely to die. Fear of rejection was a survival mechanism.
Then there is fear of judgment. Many of us do not ask for what we want because we are afraid people will think we’re greedy or petty.
Painful experiences with rejection in childhood, like with our family of origin or at school, influences the fear we feel as adults, too.
It is normal to fear rejection, so if you do, try not to judge yourself. Almost everyone struggles with this when it comes to setting boundaries. Trust me, you’re in good company!
In the guide, I give you questions you can answer for a deeper understanding of what might stop you from asserting healthy boundaries in your life. Download it here.
Boundary Block #2: Lack of Awareness
Do you have a clear sense of your boundaries? If not, then how can you clearly communicate them?
As a quick review, your boundaries are your preferences, desires, limits, and deal breakers (which are your non-negotiables). Think of your boundaries as your personal rules of engagement. They let other people know what is okay with you and what is not okay with you.
It is difficult to proactively assert your boundaries when you do not know what they are. You might only become aware of a boundary when it is crossed and you get upset.
If this is true for you, the guide for this episode contains questions you can ask yourself to dig deeper into your boundaries. This is the perfect place for you to identify what you might be tolerating in your life.
Getting clear on what is not working helps you proactively share and assert your preferences, desires, limits, and deal breakers with others.
I know – easier said than done. I often had trouble proactively articulating my boundaries when I was new to them.
But creating your own rules of engagement sets other people up to succeed. Boundaries protect us, our dignity, and our relationships. You can manage expectations by telling the truth about how you feel, what you want, or what does not work for you.
If you are completely new to boundaries, you might wonder, “What boundaries should I have?!”
There are no one-size-fits-all boundaries because we are all different. Our lived childhood experiences heavily impact our preferences, limits, desires, and deal-breakers. Discovering what yours are will raise your self-awareness and allow you to set boundaries that reflect who you are and protect how you want to live.
Boundary Block #3: Guilt + Obligation
If you are a people pleaser or a high-functioning codependent who has spent years over-functioning and saying “yes” to all the people, the thought of suddenly saying “no” might bring up a ton of guilt.
You might feel bad, selfish, or wrong for saying “no.”
I encourage you to question this guilt.
There is nothing wrong with some guilt if it is appropriate. For example, if you snap at someone because you are in a bad mood, guilt propels you towards a “reparative action” like apologizing, taking responsibility, or asking for forgiveness.
But when we lean towards codependency, we usually have an overly developed sense of obligation to lots of people, and our guilt may be inappropriate.
In my 20s, I sometimes felt obligated to people I barely knew. If they felt I should be obligated to them, I would get completely sucked in. If I could help them, I would, even if it was not in my best interest to do so.
This is why we have to look at guilt and obligation. How much of what we do when we over-function and have no boundaries is self-sabotaging behavior? Why do we self-abandon and try to please other people?
This doesn’t mean you should never feel obligated to do anything for anyone. After all, compromising is how we make long-term relationships work. But compromising is not the same as self-abandoning to please others because you feel obligated or don’t want to feel guilty.
Guilt is an important aspect of boundary-setting to get in touch with. How much of your time do you spend feeling guilty? How much of your behavior towards others is driven by obligation or guilt?
(These questions, along with others, are inside the guide. You can download it here.)
Boundary Block #4: Fear of Conflict
Another big block to establishing and holding boundaries is fear of conflict. Most of us don’t do conflict well, especially if we are conflict-avoidant. Self-abandonment might show up here, too.
I think it is helpful to change our minds about conflict and instead think of it as honestly communicating.
It is okay for someone to disagree with you. It is okay for someone to be upset with you. I want you to allow this to be true for you.
You might need to course correct and decline an invitation you previously accepted for your mental wellness. Yes, you might disappoint the other person in doing so, but as I often say: you are not that fragile. Your relationships are not that fragile.
You and your relationships can withstand a little conflict.
Of course, I am not talking about domestic violence, which is a whole other conversation. If you are in an abusive relationship, I wrote a blog on how to leave safely, which you can find here.
I am talking about the emotional terror many of us feel regarding conflict. If you are conflict-avoidant, you will probably do anything to avoid an uncomfortable conversation.
Since having a boundary conversation might feel uncomfortable, being conflict-avoidant often results in not setting boundaries. Or you might let someone cross a boundary because it is too threatening for you to say something.
We all have downloaded blueprints around conflict. I grew up in a conflict-averse home where no one was allowed to be mad. Inevitably, people got mad – they just shoved their anger down. As humans, we are not powerful enough to decide we will not experience anger.
It is important to understand your downloaded conflict blueprint because it can help you clarify why you feel the way you do.
Boundary Block #5: Lack of Confidence
If you feel like you don’t know how to set, enforce, or state a boundary, or you are worried you will not be taken seriously, then you might avoid setting a boundary altogether.
This is why I recommend creating a proactive boundary success plan (which I have written about in both Boundary Boss and this blog). Unless you need to set a spontaneous boundary with a stranger (like someone cutting you in line), a proactive boundary success plan can help alleviate a lack of confidence.
It is okay if you do not feel fully confident right now. You will naturally become more confident as you develop boundary-setting skills.
Remember, no one taught us how to set boundaries. You would not expect to be fluent in a language you never studied, right? Boundaries are like learning a new language. Don’t sweat it. Just get committed to learning it.
I will leave you with this thought: boundaries are important because what you think, how you feel, and what you want matters. It needs to matter to you more than what anyone else wants, thinks or feels.
Again, compromising is important for long-term relationships, but you have to know your boundaries before you can compromise.
I hope this episode resonated with you. If it did, please share it with the people in your world. Have an amazing week getting in touch with your boundaries, and as always, take care of you.