Setting boundaries sounds good, doesn’t it?
It keeps others from walking all over you.
But whenever I’d read an article about it, I used to think, Yeah, yeah…
As if setting boundaries was an obnoxious fly buzzing around the room. Shoo!
Then, one day, I felt a storm stirring in my heart. My mouth got dry and my pulse raced. The last conversation with my dear friend went well.
So, what could it be?
This friend often arrived 15 minutes late. I had been tiptoeing around the subject. Then, she stood me up.
C’était la goutte qui a fait déborder la vase. It was the drop that made the vase overflow.
That’s when I knew: my boundaries had been crossed.
Worst, when I finally told my friend I felt upset, she denied her error. Sigh…
Do you struggle with setting boundaries?
If you fear judgment or lack self-confidence, you won’t be able to respect your own boundaries. And that means, back to square one: anger, resentment and people-pleasing.
So, check out these 7 must-dos before you set personal boundaries.
You’ll gain the strength and courage necessary to honor your boundaries. And feel happier in your relationships.
1) Find joy within
Hard truth: When you tie your happiness to any outside circumstance—like relationships, money, appearance or success—you’ll live in fear of lack.
Your actions won’t come from love, but a desire to protect yourself from fear.
So, what does that mean?
It means you cling to a disrespectful partner. You ignore your boundaries and people-please. Or burn out while chasing achievements.
No matter what you do, it seems like there’s never enough love, money or success.
The yin yang symbol teaches us that things change, what goes up must come down. So, enjoy your success. But don’t hang on to it or use it to feel better about yourself.
Because one day, that success will pass. Then, what will you do?
To escape the vicious cycle, recognize when you look for validation in people or things.
Journal about it, then make yourself a cup of tea.
Savor the joy within, here and now.
2) Confront your fears
Setting boundaries isn’t the hardest part.
It’s overcoming fears that keep you from reinforcing your boundaries.
You don’t want people to walk all over you. But in the moment, it’s easier to protect yourself from the risk of rejection and shame.
Despite the red flags, I ignored how upset I felt about my friend’s tardiness.
Whenever my intuition nudged me to talk about it, I felt tense: What if I lose this friend? I shouldn’t ruffle her feathers. I’ll feel better soon.
Worst, my inner critic chimed in: You know you shouldn’t depend on others to make you happy. So, shut up and move on!
Other fears can keep you from asserting yourself. For example, fear of:
- letting down friends, family and colleagues
- not adhering to your own high standards, e.g. I should know better, I’m independent
- being unworthy of love and respect
Don’t wait till you blow flames out of your nose.
Observe your fears to discern what’s true.
Once you confront them, you’ll have the strength to say no.
3) Heal your wounds
When I walk in the countryside, dozens of frogs sing at a time.
Hummingbird hawk-moths zoom by.
Long grasses brush my arms.
Sometimes, I get so caught up in the scenery, I forget I’m looking through my sunglasses!
Then, I take them off. I notice the grasses’ multitude of greens. Red poppies gleam more intensely.
The world seems to awake from a dream. As if someone had suddenly flicked on the lights.
When you heal your emotional wounds, it’s like taking off your sunglasses. Your perception of yourself and the world is clear and direct. You gain unshakable strength.
If you’re not careful, past hurts can act as a blinding filter, pushing you to react out of fear and hindering connection with others.
So, breathe into your wounds.
Try grounding exercises.
Grieve over the moments your boundaries were crossed.
4) Hang out with yourself
Have you ever lost yourself in a group?
You don’t want to step on people’s toes, so you avoid speaking up. You go along with the group’s choice to dine at a Thai restaurant, even though you crave Greek food.
When you’re by yourself, you get to decide. As a result, you learn more about who you are and what makes you tick.
You strengthen your voice, discover your creativity and boost your self-confidence.
It’s a way to say:
My needs and wants are valid.
I trust I’ll find a way.
Don’t let others’ love and approval override what’s best for you.
Draw strength from your hard-won wisdom.
Setting boundaries become easier when you connect with the true essence of yourself—which Anne Morrow Lindbergh describes as “that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships.”
5) Know your core values
Core values act like your North Star.
They define what’s most important to you. And help you navigate your work and relationships.
Perhaps among your core values, you cherish compassion.
When you get into an argument with a friend, you’d make extra efforts to understand their frustration instead of blaming.
If you catch yourself criticizing your work, you’d breathe deeply and remember: Nobody’s perfect. I’m doing my best.
When you know your core values, you can make conscious choices, set effective boundaries and live a more fulfilling life.
Otherwise, you might waste your time and energy doing what others expect of you, creating anger and resentment.
So, what are your top 5 core values?
Do your actions line up with them?
Live life on your terms.
6) Prepare for backlash
The knot in my stomach dissipated.
I had finally digested my worries and gave myself a pep talk. A sense of calm and assuredness washed over me.
So, I mustered up the courage to tell my friend, It’s not okay with me that you stood me up and are often late.
I’m sure she’ll understand, I thought.
Instead, my friend threatened to never hang out with me again, in order to avoid “pissing me off”.
With a heavy heart, I decided to stop hanging out with her.
Have you experienced something similar?
If you’ve just started to set boundaries, don’t be surprised if loved ones feel attacked, angry or sad.
They might even feel like you’re abandoning them.
Sadly, it’s because they’re used to walking all over you (though they might not be aware of it). They’re used to you overlooking their missteps, as if you’re okay with it.
Realize that you let them do so… until now.
We expect loved ones should mind our needs. But if you don’t communicate your boundaries, your loved ones won’t know when they cross them.
And if they can’t respect your boundaries, prepare to reduce time spent with the person. Or stop seeing them altogether.
Stick to your core values.
Breathe deeply to see which behaviors feel right to you.
Only you know what’s best for you.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” —Brené Brown
7) Take responsibility
Warning: when you set boundaries, you’ll experience guilt and resistance!
But that’s not a bad thing.
On the contrary, feeling guilty is natural if you’ve never prioritized your needs. The habit of attending to others first dies hard.
You might even question if your boundaries are all that important: Is it worth the trouble? Am I being selfish?
Yet ensuring your well-being lets you be more present with loved ones. Ultimately, you’re responsible for your well-being.
Michelle Farris suggests meeting your own needs with “comforting behaviors” like reading a book or gardening.
At first, when I stopped hanging out with my friend, I felt uncomfortable and empty. It took a while for me to accept the fact. But now I love spending that time reading and writing.
And I’m grateful for the learning opportunity—to review my needs, uncover fears and stand up for myself.
So, take care of yourself as you would with a loved one.
Hold your ground.
Everything’s going to be okay.
Setting boundaries takes time and practice
Remember, you have the right to say no and have needs. Boundaries are necessary for healthy relationships.
If you’re just starting to set boundaries, you’ll feel uneasy. Because for years, you believed you must put others before yourself.
Now you have the opportunity to bring more joy into your life.
So, spend some time alone, confront your fears and define your core values.
These are radical acts of self-love—which in turn, inspires others to do the same.
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness coach on a mission to help women let go of perfectionism, self-doubt and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.
Further reading to help you set boundaries: