Boundary Setting 101: An Essential Guide for People Pleasers

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People pleasing can feel like an internal tug-of-war between feeling wracked with guilt for disappointing someone when you say you can’t fulfil a request and seething with resentment for once again disappointing yourself by agreeing to something you’d rather not do. If you’re someone who far too often finds yourself saying “yes” when you’d really rather say “no”, the words that follow are for you. 

Understanding people pleasing

People pleasers derive their sense of self-worth and innate value from making other people happy. Think; staying late at work to make life easier for your boss, taking on extra responsibility for your parents because your siblings don’t have time or not asking your partner to help you around the house because they’re always complaining about being tired and you get the picture.

Whilst there’s nothing wrong with being considerate and kind, consistently prioritising others’ needs over your own can lead to burnout, resentment (which is bad for your health) and a loss of your own identity. Recognising that you have a people pleasing problem is the first step to making a change. Any Enneagram 2s reading this will likely be nodding along.

Why boundaries matter

Strong boundaries are essential for maintaining healthy relationships and balance in all the areas of your life. If you’re always busy, but not terribly productive and rarely have time for yourself I suspect you have a boundary problem.

Boundaries help you:

  1. Protect your energy: ensuring you have time for yourself to rest, recharge and enjoy your life. It’s a cliche, but you cannot pour from an empty cup, so stop trying.
  2. Maintain self-respect: defined boundaries demonstrate to others that your needs are important. When you value yourself, other people will too. 
  3. Improve relationships: creating clear expectations can prevent misunderstandings, resentment and disappointment in your work and personal life.

5 steps to setting effective boundaries

  1. Self-reflection
  • Understand your own needs: identify what you need from others in order to feel safe, respected and understood. When you know what your needs are, it’s easier to articulate them.
  • Recognise your limits: be aware of the situations and people that drain your energy or make you feel uncomfortable.
  1. Communicate clearly:
  • Be direct and honest: use “I” statements to express your needs without blaming others. For example, “I need some time to myself this weekend to recharge.”
  • Stay calm and respectful: direct does not mean rude. Approach conversations about boundaries when you’re in a calm, untriggered state.
  1. Practice saying “no”:
  • Start small: begin with low-stakes situations to build your confidence and rather than a hard “no” offer the person an alternate option if there is one. For example, “no, I can’t help you with proof reading this article today, but I have some time on Monday, would that work?”. (Assuming of course you do have time on Monday).
  • Be firm but kind: a simple, “no, sorry I can’t help with that” is enough. If you genuinely can’t or don’t want to do something, you don’t have to explain yourself.
  1. Set consequences:
  • Follow through: if someone violates your boundary, be prepared to enforce any consequences you’ve set. For example, you might have a client who is continually late for online consults. If you’ve told them the next time it happens you’ll end the meeting and still charge them for it, then end the meeting and send an invoice if they’re late again.
  • Be consistent: consistency helps to reinforce boundaries and shows others that you mean what you say. 
  1. Seek support:
  • Find allies: make a mental note of who respects your boundaries and supports your growth; spend time with these people, limit time with folks who don’t.
  • Consider professional help: a therapist or life coach can provide guidance and strategies to help you set and maintain boundaries, even when you’re challenged by other people.

Fear, guilt and resentment

The ultimate boundary triad. Feeling guilty or fearful when you first start setting boundaries is normal and very common, think of these feelings as indicators that you’re meeting a growth edge. 

Guilt is normal: it’s okay to feel guilty when you initially start to flex your boundary muscles; remember taking care of your needs is not selfish. On the other side of guilt is empowerment and confidence.

Fear of rejection: the people who truly care about you will respect your boundaries, they might not like them initially, but they will respect them. If your lines in the sand are met with disrespectful behaviour it might be time to reevaluate the relationship.

Resentment is bad for your health: not setting boundaries and saying “yes” because you feel obliged will lead to resentment, which leads to anger, which leads to ill health. I highly recommend Gabor Mate’s book ‘When the Body Says No’ for more on this.

Celebrate your progress

Setting boundaries is a journey and it’ll be a bumpy one to start with. Celebrate each time you say “no” to something, no matter how small. Each “no” is a step towards asserting your needs and building your self-confidence and self-respect.

Know that breaking free from the trap of people pleasing takes time, tenacity, practice and courage. By understanding your own needs, communicating said needs clearly and being consistent by firmly, but politely declining unwanted requests you can create a healthier, more enjoyable, more empowered and fulfilling life.

I’ll leave you with two parting questions to think about: where in your life are boundaries repeatedly being crossed? and what’s the first “no” you’re going to say?

Pop me a DM on Instagram here and let me know.

And if you’d like my support to set and uphold your boundaries, please book a free strategy call with me here and let’s get started.

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