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November 5, 2022

7 Tips For Setting Healthy Boundaries (Without Feeling Like a Jerk)

If you’re an anxious people-pleaser, you probably know how important it is to set healthy boundaries. Advocating for upholding boundaries in your relationships is always a good thing, but it can also feel terrifying. How are you supposed to suddenly jump into setting boundaries when you’ve never done it before? How can you have difficult conversations with loved ones or coworkers without your people-pleasing anxiety screaming at you to shut up?

This comes up a lot in my sessions. My clients know they’re supposed to set boundaries in order to stop the vicious cycle of people pleasing and anxiety, but they don’t know how to actually start. So how do you set healthy boundaries without feeling awkward or mean? Let’s talk about it.

how to tell someone your boundaries

How to Set Boundaries Without Hurting Feelings

I get it: Setting boundaries can feel scary, mean, and even degrading. This is because when you implement a new practice or behavior, it’s bound to feel awkward and difficult. Setting boundaries, which requires assertion and direct requests, can feel very aggressive – at first, anyway. And the fact that it feels hard and new is okay. Learning how to set boundaries isn’t supposed to feel easy or fun. It’s scary. The difficulty and awkwardness is part of the process.

The sooner you can accept that these fears are part of the process and not actually a problem, the easier your journey away from people-pleasing will be. The fact that resistance comes up is not a problem. The fact that you’re worried about looking like an asshole is not a problem. The fact that it’s scary is not a problem. It’s all just part of the process – it’s uncomfortable, yes, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.

Setting boundaries is a learning process, and you won’t always be perfect at it. And I won’t lie to you: your boundaries might hurt someone’s feelings. When you begin setting boundaries with someone, you’re opening up space for a different dynamic in that relationship. Keep in mind that both you and the other person might feel disoriented or uncomfortable.

But the truth is, it’s not your job to control or minimize other people’s emotional reactions. Your job is to practice direct communication and act from a place of care and integrity. As long as you’re doing these things, you’re doing it right.

How to Tell Someone Your Boundaries 

When it comes to communicating your boundaries, don’t worry too much about the “right” way to do it. There are lots of ways to get your point across. You can tell someone in person. You can write it out in a text or email. And you can simply enact your boundary without saying a thing. All these ways of communicating a boundary teach others your expectations and how to treat you. 

Regardless of which mode of communication you choose, be direct, and say what you mean. If you know you need alone time, but your response to someone’s request to hang out is “I’m not sure, maybe” you’re not doing anyone any favors. A response like this might feel like you’re softening the blow of a “no,” but unclear boundaries are actually more likely to hurt someone’s feelings than clear ones. If you mean no, say it. If you want something specific, request that exact thing.

Remember, people aren’t mind-readers. Don’t assume someone knows what you’re thinking or what you need. Your needs might be obvious to you, but they’re usually not to other people.

7 tips for setting healthy boundaries

7 Tips For Setting Healthy Boundaries 

Say it with me: “Setting boundaries does not make me an asshole.” Healthy boundaries are crucial to having fulfilling, loving and sustaining relationships, both with yourself and others. Asking for what you need and advocating for yourself does not make you an asshole. It makes you more compassionate. It deepens your relationships. And it stops the cycle of people-pleasing. So here are 7 tips for setting healthy boundaries – without feeling like a jerk.

  1. Start out slow. Practice setting boundaries with someone you know and trust. Tell them you’re practicing implementing boundaries, and ask for their support. Practice saying no to them. Practice telling them if they hurt your feelings. Practice asking them to help you with chores or a project. Easing your way into boundaries with a loved one helps you test the waters without being terrified of the consequences.
  1. Practice being okay with feeling uncomfortable. This is easier said than done, of course, but making space for difficult emotions is one of the best ways to expand your comfort zone and stop people-pleasing. Discomfort will come up. Trying to avoid negative emotions will only fuel the cycle of anxiety and people-pleasing. Instead of trying desperately to avoid it, think of discomfort as a perfectly natural and safe state of being. Widening your emotional window of tolerance will help you learn that discomfort is not dangerous, and that you can get through it. By allowing discomfort to come up, you’ll also learn how to advocate and care for yourself. You can practice discomfort on your own, but you can also seek out support through therapy and community. Either way, it takes time, patience, and lots of practice. 
  1. Come up with an emotional tending plan for yourself. When things feel tough – you’re anxious or uncomfortable or worried about how someone might react to your boundary – it helps to create an emotional tending plan for yourself. Ask yourself: how might you care for yourself through hard feelings? What skills, tools and resources do you have at your disposal during and after setting a boundary? Who can you call or text? In what ways can you soothe your nervous system? You can try writing some ideas down in a journal, or work with a therapist if you’re unsure where to start. 
  1. Let your values guide you. When you’re wondering whether your boundary is worth sharing, ask yourself what your core values are and why that boundary matters to you. If you understand your values, it’s easier to enact clear boundaries. For example, if you know that solitude is important to you, saying no to social obligations to avoid overbooking yourself is a key factor in your health and happiness. 
  1. Act with care. Some people who haven’t had much practice in boundary-setting find themselves with a build-up of resentment and anger toward other people in their lives. This is a reasonable response to stuffing down your needs for so long. Remember to act from a place of care for both yourself and the other party, even if you’re frustrated. This doesn’t mean you should water down your boundaries. It just means you should ask yourself if your boundaries are coming from a place of self-care and respect, or if they’re coming from a place of resentment and anger. 
  1. Use direct communication. Be specific, clear, and concise. People usually respond well to clear, to-the-point communication. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Remind yourself that direct communication actually isn’t mean, even though it can feel like it when you’re first starting out. 
  1. Let go of perfection. Aiming for perfection in your boundaries – and anything else – will only increase the pressure and make it harder to achieve your goals. Your boundaries don’t have to look or sound perfect, and it’s okay if you make mistakes in upholding them. 

Therapy and Coaching Can Help You Figure Out How to Set Boundaries Without Hurting Feelings

If the thought of setting even one single boundary makes you nauseous, I can help. Together, we can work through your challenges and set goals so you feel confident, capable, and empowered. You’ll learn to get comfortable with discomfort, advocate for yourself in any situation, and set healthy boundaries.

I’m ready if you are. Reach out today to get started.

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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