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  • Writer's pictureSteph


Updated: Mar 5

A red traffic light at dusk

I ran a workshop on setting healthy boundaries earlier this month and while I was preparing for it, I noticed how difficult I still find it to deal with the guilt of saying no. My colleague and I were modelling how to communicate boundaries and I literally had to bite my tongue or I would have followed up with a hasty yet exhaustive apology. I still wish I could say yes to all the things and help all the people - but doing this had me burnt out and that is not a place I ever want to go near again. There were, however, a few learnings I will build on that I want to share.

I never lacked boundaries

Contrary to my previous belief, I don’t lack boundaries in general. It turns out I just have porous boundaries in some areas of my life (mainly when it comes to work or helping friends) and super rigid boundaries in others (especially in terms of personal relationships). The trick, it seems, is to find a happy medium where I have healthy boundaries. Meaning: I need to be firmer when people ask me to do things for which I don’t have the time or energy or skillset. And I need to be a bit more compromising instead of walking away from relationships that don’t 100% fulfil my expectations - especially when I haven’t voiced them.

I just did not communicate them properly

And that is the crux of the matter. Boundaries exist anyway, but if we do not express them, then how are people supposed to take them into account when interacting with us? They can’t. So it’s actually not negative or detrimental to a relationship to voice boundaries. It doesn’t make me hard work or high maintenance. Instead, it gives people clear guidelines as to how I would like to be treated, what works or doesn’t work for me. How often have I wished that personal interactions came with instructions???? And here’s the very thing!!! So communicating my boundaries is actually beneficial all round. Duh.

It’s not too late to change that

So how do I set boundaries with people who are used to me being… a bit of a doormat? It seems far easier to express them when it comes to new people I meet, and that’s where I’ve started. And stalled, admittedly. I still am finding it hard to discuss this with people I know and on a bad day, I still tend to avoid known energy vampires rather than push back against their demands. But letting people know about my boundaries, clearly and repeatedly, is a sign that I value our relationship and want to work on it - rather than walk away from it. Sure, it’s the harder of the two alternatives. But in the long run, it’s better than resenting the other person and myself for a suboptimal relationship dynamic.

There’s no need for justifications

One of the questions that came up for me was “How do  I explain why I want to set boundaries now?”. Of course, I know the why. Because the current setup is not working for me. Because I feel that I am giving way more than I get back. Because I don’t have the time or energy or skillset to deal with a request. It’s more the timing that I anticipated as a problem, i.e. if it wasn’t working, why did I never speak up before? Cue all kinds of awkward fidgeting - because that’s what I cannot explain, even to myself. But the good news is: while I am figuring this out for my own education, I don’t have to give anyone else a reason. I can let them know that I would like us to engage in a different way from now on.

The truth is: people change their minds all the time, circumstances change, what worked in the past might not be working so well now, so you adapt. There is no need to provide lengthy explanations, apologise for the inconvenience, or justify myself. Any company or entity whose Terms of Service I (often blithely) accept, reserves the right to change those terms at any time. So why shouldn’t I?

If you knew that the reaction was fuss-free acceptance, what would you start or stop doing?


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