“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.” ~Brené Brown
I used to believe that others didn’t have healthy boundaries. They didn’t know where to draw the line, and I was the victim of overbearing people. People that would always cross the invisible line.
When people crossed that line, it left me feeling uncomfortable, exhausted, and resentful. It felt wrong in my gut, but I never knew how to communicate it or change it until later in life. Lack of boundaries seeped into every part of my life, personal, professional, and everything in between.
For example, an ex-boyfriend assumed it was okay to borrow my car. I wanted to be nice and easygoing, so I let it slide until I found myself walking home in the middle of the day from a long work shift. The same ex-boyfriend also moved in with me during a difficult life transition for him, and I thought being supportive meant letting him stay.
I struggled with staying up late to talk a friend through her troubles night after night, even though I knew I needed to rest and felt depleted. In many cases, she wasn’t listening and was unaware of how long we had been speaking. I wanted to be helpful and caring and thought that it was the right thing to do.
I also felt afraid to speak up with friends on subjects I was passionate about and would keep quiet when a friend said something that I didn’t agree with because I didn’t want to rock the boat or receive her judgment of my different opinion.
In work situations, not setting boundaries meant I made myself overly available and overly responsible.
I had a boss that would call me during off hours to complete a task he wasn’t able to do during the day. My instinct was to ignore, yet the people-pleaser in me wanted to be a “good” employee. I also went above and beyond finding my own replacements when I left jobs so that the transition would be smooth, and my co-workers wouldn’t have to bear any extra weight with my leaving.
I’d continuously find myself offering and accepting situations that left me stressed out and resentful and would wonder why other people didn’t notice.
I blamed others until I realized that it wasn’t anyone else’s job to guess what I was thinking or feeling. It wasn’t their responsibility to change to suit me; it was my responsibility to change to suit myself—my truest self, the part of me that felt confident enough to be honest, communicate, and trust that it was okay to do what was best for me.
My problem with boundaries wasn’t that other people kept crossing the invisible line. It was that the line was invisible. I needed to start setting boundaries with myself. That meant recognizing that I struggled with setting boundaries because I felt safe and secure when I over-gave. I felt loved and worthy.
After realizing why I struggled with boundaries and empowering myself to learn more about my unhealthy pattern of people-pleasing, setting boundaries became about facing my fears around others’ approval or disapproval.
Being able to say no to people I loved or jobs I cared about might come at a cost to me. Would they ultimately love and accept me even if I didn’t meet their needs, or would they abandon me?
In most cases, the communication or conversation wasn’t so dire; however, the fear I felt was big. After years of habitually putting others first and pleasing, I had to have the courage to disappoint others and even lose relationships that no longer fit.
Thankfully, when I faced my fear of speaking up and potentially being abandoned, I was mostly met with unconditional love and support. In fact, most of the judgment came from myself and not from others. The pain I felt wasn’t about them, it was about me.
To overcome my fear, I spent time journaling and listening to my heart. I spent time getting to know myself and accepting myself. I realized it was safe to be myself and that the relationship that mattered most was the relationship with myself. When I started to love and accept myself, I no longer searched for love acceptance through approval of others.
I had to reach a point when honesty with myself and honoring my deepest desires became non-negotiable. Continuously going above and beyond for others left me angry and lonely. I wasn’t able to be authentic, so even if I was accepted by others, it was impossible for me to feel good.
If you struggle with setting boundaries, speaking up for yourself, or saying no, begin by asking yourself why. What part of you desires to put others first? What are you truly afraid of? And are you willing to face your fears in order to meet your needs and create more reciprocal relationships?
In order to communicate our needs to others we need to be clear with what they are first. That means taking the time to understand what is most important to you and what helps you feel your best.
If, like me, you’re afraid of being abandoned, you can overcome your fear of rejection by understanding where it stems from and taking the time to nurture and soothe it. Then taking initiative and getting clear with what you want (and don’t want) won’t be a problem any longer.