Boundaries: 4 truths I’ve learned that may surprise you

setting boundaries

There once was a woman who found it hard to say no. If someone asked her to do something, she felt obligated to do it.

As a result, she would do all kinds of things she didn’t want to do. Things other people might have enjoyed, but which made her unhappy.

She had never learned to set boundaries. Never heard of them, actually.

She didn’t know it was her responsibility to teach people how to treat her. As a result she felt misused putting everybody’s needs ahead of her own.

The burden of pretending to be happy while doing mostly things that made her unhappy took a toll.

It's hard to pursue your heart's desire when you have no idea what that is. Click To Tweet

She lost sight of what she liked and didn’t like. It’s hard to pursue your heart’s desire when you have no idea what that is.

So she let other people design her life with their demands. And she slowly disappeared.

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

If you haven’t guessed already, that woman was me.

Maybe you can relate to having trouble setting boundaries. Even though your plate is full, you pile on more just because someone asked you to. Or maybe they don’t even have to ask.

You take on more than is comfortable because you want to be seen as helpful or uncomplaining. Or you know you need help, but don’t know how to ask for it.

I’ve spent more than a decade now consciously setting boundaries. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve finally become fairly good at it. As with anything, practice makes perfect.

Here are 4 major truths I’ve gathered during my ten-year journey of learning to stop giving myself away:

1. Setting boundaries takes courage.

It takes courage to do things differently than the way everyone else is doing them. All the other parents throw huge birthday parties with expensive loot bags.

But you don’t have the energy or money for that. Even if you do, you may not think it’s the best use of resources.

Maybe you’re an introvert and volunteering at large gatherings provokes anxiety. It takes courage to honor your need to give back in a quieter way.

By letting the outgoing types marshall the big events, you let them use their gifts. You use yours when you do something more behind the scenes or with a small group.

But when you stray from the accepted way of doing things, the culture has ways to keep you in check. These include shame to stop you veering too far off the approved path.

It takes courage to overcome raised eyebrows and your own internal critic.

You may never get used to saying ‘no’ after a lifetime of saying ‘yes’. The answer is to push through your discomfort. Growth only happens outside your comfort zone.

The amazing upside of saying ‘no’ more often? Your ‘yes’ becomes so much more meaningful and enjoyable. You feel great about helping others instead of obligated and burdened.

2. Boundaries require clear communication.

Setting boundaries is a matter of authenticity. It means being clear about what you want and don’t want. It’s honoring to both yourself and the people around you.

Setting boundaries means being clear about what you want and don’t want, Click To Tweet

People aren’t mind readers. And some of them are all too happy to take advantage of your unwillingness to stand up for yourself.

They say you teach people how to treat you. You do that by being clear and saying no in an unequivocal way. No explanation needed.

As you practice saying no it will become easier to do so without hedging. In the meantime, give yourself grace when you don’t do it perfectly.

3. Some people won’t like them.

Change is hard and many people do anything to avoid it. When you start protecting yourself through boundaries, you may be surprised at the reactions you get.

You’ve done this wonderful thing to improve your life, but others might not see it that way.

Some will act disappointed because they can’t depend on you to fulfill their unreasonable demands.

They might even get angry and try to bully or persuade you to continue in your old patterns.

These people are the very reason you need boundaries. Their negative reaction is proof you are on the right path. Keep going.

When you are a people pleaser, it is incredibly difficult to feel like you’re letting people down. But you have to do it anyway!

Your life is more important than someone else’s feelings. Click To Tweet

Take it from me, your life is more important than someone else’s feelings.

4. Boundaries build your confidence.

Your confidence will grow as you find your choices align more with who you are. As a result, you’ll be living a more authentic life.

Your opinion about yourself changes when you stop putting yourself last. When you overcome the subtle and not-so subtle rejection that comes from living life on your own terms, you grow. 

You’re like the proverbial eagle chick breaking her way out of the shell. All that lonely pecking helps the chick come out stronger.

You begin to believe that your needs matter. And you have a responsibility to nurture those needs. Because God gave you those desires to help you know how to serve the world.

Living authentically

Setting boundaries helps you align with your values (and perhaps discover them for the first time). When you get more intentional about how you spend your precious resources of time and energy, you discover who you really are.

You ask questions about what pleases or serves you, and what doesn’t. In the process you gain clarity over what matters most to you. And soon you begin to steer your life in that direction.

You may begin to question the value of relationships that ignore those boundaries. You might make the difficult decision to detach from people who prefer you kept quiet about your needs and serve theirs instead.

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