Setting Boundaries in Relationships & How to Avoid the People Pleasing Trap
Setting boundaries with the people we love is powerful.
It’s also difficult.
Yet, this necessary act is ultimately what allows for healthy, loving relationships.
What Are Boundaries?
Quite simply, they’re the limits and needs we define for ourselves and express within relationships to feel safe, healthy, and comfortable.
Setting a personal boundary might be declining a request from a loved one, carving out two hours for yourself on a weekend away from your family, or asking for what you need from a partner. It’s a fundamental form of self-care and a critical component of healthy relationships.
A person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to a friend, mate, or family member when they need to, but they’re also comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships.
Yet, many people-pleasers fear how a loved one might respond, and that can make boundary setting a challenge.
Dr. Daniel Amen suggests answering these 5 questions to determine if you need to improve your personal boundaries with your friends and family:
- Are you the go-to person for everyone’s problems?
- Do some people treat you like a doormat?
- Do you often say “yes” when “no” is what you really want to say?
- Do others take advantage of you?
- Do you feel somehow obligated to help certain people, even when the support isn’t reciprocated?
If any of these resonated with you, there’s a good chance you need to hone your boundary setting skills.
There are many different types of boundaries, and they’re important to know if you want to get better at expressing them. The most common are emotional/mental (feelings), physical (non-sexual touch like shaking hands, hugging), sexual, intellectual (thoughts/beliefs), material/financial, and time.
Communicating and respecting each other’s boundaries makes for strong relationships.
As complex human beings, we may exhibit more rigid boundaries with certain people, healthy boundaries with others, and weak or no boundaries in certain situations.
Weak boundaries (called “porous” by mental health professionals) can cause a lot of stress, hurt our self-esteem, and negatively impact our mental and physical health, according to research.
Porous boundaries may present as oversharing personal information with certain friends, struggling to say “no” to requests from loved ones, or getting too involved with the problems of certain friends or family members.
People pleasers often have porous boundaries. They may be overly dependent on the opinions of others, accept disrespect or abuse, or fear rejection if they don’t comply with others.
Of course, having rigid boundaries is the other side of the coin.
These boundaries can lack communication and expression of needs and limits. They make love, respect, and intimacy more difficult.
The best scenario for healthy relationships is cultivating healthy boundary setting.
How to Set Boundaries with Friends and Family
The big key for regular and healthy boundary setting with the people we love most is communication. If you don’t have solid communication in a relationship, setting a boundary will likely be hard. However, if you have open communication, setting boundaries will go more smoothly and be less stressful.
Before you communicate anything, take time to listen and be still with your feelings. Anger usually indicates a boundary has been crossed.
Check your motives. You don’t want to communicate a boundary with the hidden motive of trying to punish or control.
Identify what boundary needs to be set. Be prepared to clearly explain what you mean and talk about what exactly the boundary entails.
If you have troubles understanding or expressing your needs and limits, consider talking to a therapist to serve as a coach. This is especially helpful if you have strong people pleasing tendencies.
Be Kind and Keep It Simple
Even if you’re angry, be calm and kind when setting your boundary. Don’t overexplain it; keep it simple. Remember, “No” is a complete sentence.
Be Open and Listen
Once you’ve communicated your limits, allow your friend, spouse, or family member to have their reaction. Be patient with any questions they may have.
Don’t react to their potentially negative response. Listen and stay open, but don’t abandon your needs. Be willing to negotiate.
Pause If Heated
If the communication becomes heated or isn’t fully resolved, take a break and come back to it later when you’re both calm. In the meantime, talk it over with a friend or therapist.
Remember that sometimes our loved ones have trouble adjusting to accommodate our boundaries. If they cross the boundary you set, gently restate it. It will let them know you’re serious.
Remember that you’re setting boundaries with your friends and family because you love them and want to grow closer to them. You won’t do it perfectly, and that’s okay. Your boundary setting skills will improve over time.
People pleasers may feel guilty or selfish at first. That’s a sign that you’re doing the right thing!
Enjoy the well-being that comes from boundary setting.
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