As a helper and a doer, I’m definitely someone that has struggled with developing and enforcing healthy boundaries. Having to tell someone, “no,” could make me so uncomfortable and anxiety ridden that it was just easier to agree to the request and figure out the rest later. However, after some time as a “yes woman” I finally learned the importance of being able to stand up for myself and say, “no.” Once I was able to experience the freedom and power of my boundaries, saying, “no,” came to be comfortable, and at times, absolutely necessary. After all, you can’t give from an empty cup.
So why are boundaries so important? Boundaries set the standard of your worth and how you expect to be treated. Boundaries help us define our identities and shape what we want and what we need. Boundaries can be physical and emotional. Just because Uncle Leroy is reaching out for a hug at the family reunion doesn’t mean that you have to have your arms wide open, especially if it violates your physical boundaries. Just because your best friend wants you go out with her tonight after you’ve worked a 12-hour shift doesn’t mean you have to say yes, especially if you’re sleep deprived and stressed. Boundaries help us to be our authentic selves, express autonomy and make decisions that are best for our lives.
Without boundaries, we set ourselves up to be taken advantage of. As they say, people only do to us what we allow. We’ve all been in a situation where we said yes when we wanted to say no. Maybe you went to that party when you would rather be on the couch watching Netflix or you’ve taken on extra responsibilities at work when you were already feeling overwhelmed and overworked. So why do we do this to ourselves? A lot of us struggle with saying, “no.” We want to be helpful and we want to be nice. We want to be recognized at work. We want to be there for our loved ones. We want to be liked. All of which are valid desires. Our bodies are like cars and boundaries are the maintenance. If we never say, “no,” if we never allow ourselves time to rest, we will break down.
So how do you get started with boundaries? The first step is determining what’s important to you and how you would like to be treated by others and then you can start to communicate your needs. Boundaries can be extremely difficult to enforce, especially with loved ones. Boundaries help us to speak up for ourselves and advocate for what we need. If you feel like you are struggling with boundaries, talking to a counselor can be a great way to get started. The book, Boundaries, by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend is also a great resource if you would like more information on boundaries.
Ultimately, without boundaries, we sacrifice dignity and self-worth. We are all worth and deserving of respect. Our boundaries reflect that self-worth and self-respect to others and shows them how we expect to be treated. In turn, when others reflect their boundaries to us, we follow their standard and treat them accordingly. It’s ok to be helpful and it’s ok to say, “yes.” But it’s also ok to say, “no” and not feel bad about it. Give it a try!