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.
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.
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.
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.
If the thought of setting even one single boundary makes you nauseous, consider therapy. I can help you 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 schedule a complimentary consultation.
Danielle is an anxiety therapist. 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.