When I first started setting boundaries, I had no idea the primal fear I was up against. It’s true boundaries are mainly a matter of saying ‘no’. But, we can’t underestimate how difficult that is for some of us.
If you grew up in a home where your needs were not met, saying ‘no’ can feel like life or death. That’s because as a child you depended on the adults around you to keep you alive.
You intuited correctly that you had to keep these people happy in order to survive. They provided your food, shelter and clothing, and you were too young to provide these for yourself.
So, if saying no, having needs and wants, and expressing them, got you punished abandoned or rejected? Well, you did your best to suppress those needs and wants. You learned to focus on what other people wanted instead.
We take this conditioning into adulthood. And we treat our equals as if they had the power to end us like our parents did. We fear their rejection and abandonment in a way that feels life-threatening.
So, please know there are good reasons why you’ve been afraid of setting boundaries. There’s the fact that you never learned and were discouraged from doing so. Compounded by the fact that your life depended on you catering to others’ needs instead of your own.
Setting boundaries is also tied to our self-awareness. If you grew up without praise or guidance, you may have no idea of your strengths and weaknesses. What you like and dislike, and your values, may remain a mystery to you.
Self-awareness and setting boundaries
It’s essential to understand yourself this way before you can start setting boundaries. Knowing your likes and dislikes will help you make decisions. For example, you’ll accept or decline invitations depending on these truths about yourself, NOT whether people will like you.