How to Set Boundaries and End People Pleasing for Good.

Posted 10/12/17

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We often hear the term Personal Boundaries thrown around, but many people are confused about what boundaries are and why they’re important. Only in my early 20’s did I begin to fully understand the value of boundaries and how necessary they are for healthy relationships and personal happiness.

The absence of boundaries in the past lead me to be treated like a complete doormat in my attempts to help and please others. I would put my heart on the line consistently in the hopes that my love and effort would be reciprocated, without any regard for the potential hurt I may be causing myself. I wore it as a badge of honor: “Look at me. I’m not afraid to trust, fall in love, put myself out there again and again, I don’t have any walls up.”

But here’s the thing. I didn’t understand the difference between walls and boundaries. Walls are what we place around our lives, our hearts, or our emotions, out of fear of being hurt, judged, or rejected. Walls cut us off from living freely and cultivating positive and meaningful relationships. Walls keep us stagnant.

Boundaries on the other hand are smaller fences, necessary to protect ourselves from those who may not have our best interests at heart, including at times, ourselves.

So what exactly are Boundaries?

Boundaries to me mean having a clear understanding of how certain situations, behaviors and feelings affect you and deciding accordingly what you can and cannot accept into your life, for your own well-being. Boundaries are a side effect of healthy self-esteem and they also help to build it. Establishing your limits comes from recognizing that you deserve to be treated in a way that makes you feel good, while implementing them reinstates your confidence and attracts the right kinds of people into your life.

Personal boundaries are different for everyone, but are always determined by feelings.  This can make boundaries difficult for people to implement because many of us are not tuned in to how we truly feel. Some of us have learned in childhood, that certain feelings are not okay or that other people’s feelings are more important than our own. Which is why we often accept behavior that doesn’t feel good to us, or say ‘yes’ when we our gut is saying ‘no’. When we ignore these feelings, and act against them, we betray our truth.

The payoff of disrespecting our boundaries in this way, is that we gain validation from pleasing others. This is not inherently wrong, until it comes at the expense of our own happiness or we do so because we subconsciously fear the outcome of not doing so (that we will lose approval, friendship etc.)

I was always a huge people pleaser, and would bend over backwards for people that would give me very little in return. This caused me so many problems in past friendships, relationships and most notably in work, where I would tolerate being treated badly and being taken advantage of out of fear of being fired. And if I was fired it would validate my deepest fear that I wasn’t good enough. So, I door-matted myself constantly and became a lapdog for my bosses, completely ignoring my own needs and desires in an attempt to satisfy them and be accepted. The more the disease to please took over, the less they respected me and the more I became a target for bad treatment and ridicule. It was a cycle from hell that only ended when I recognized that every relationship, professional or otherwise, needs to be a two-way street.

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Recognizing a boundary issue can be tough for people pleasers, as our instinct is to look outward rather than inward. If you can relate to any of the following points, it may be a sign you are putting other people’s comfort and happiness above your own:

 

– You often feel resentful or uncomfortable in your exchanges with others.

– You wish your relationships were reciprocal, with more give and take.

– You often feel taken advantage of or used by people

– You feel like you wear a mask around others, rather than expressing how you actually feel, or what you truly need.

– The idea of someone thinking badly of you is so unbearable, that you would go above and beyond to prevent it from happening.

– You often feel the need to save or rescue others.

– Most of your actions stem from a sense of duty, obligation or guilt, rather than genuine desire.

– You often feel that your kind-hearted nature is a curse, that prevents you from obtaining the respect you desire.

 

People pleasing is exhausting and is one of the fastest routes to resentment. Let’s pretend a co-worker is constantly asking for help with her work assignments. The people pleaser will give it to them freely in their attempts to be selfless and a good person. This exchange may not actually come from an unselfish place in their subconscious mind, as the exchange is transactional. Meaning the help is given with the expectation of something in return; acceptance, praise, validation. If this expectation is not actualized, disappointment and resentment ensue, as the people pleaser is unable to get their needs met.

A person with secure boundaries will only give if they have the time, resources and genuine desire to help another, and so will do so from a place of love rather than fear. In this case, the expectation is that the transaction is non-reciprocal, as it hasn’t crossed the givers boundaries and so nothing is needed in return. This all comes back to listening to how things feel to you. I try to follow the mantra of ‘give freely or not at all’. If I start to feel taken advantage of or resentful towards another person that I am giving something to, rather than blaming them, I now try to take responsibility for a boundary that I failed to set.

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I recently learned to not only implement boundaries in my relationships with others, but also within myself. If you have a frantic mind, setting boundaries for what you are and are not willing to focus on can be a hugely effective in preventing the spiralling effect of anxiety. I am someone who has a deep empathy for the suffering and pain of others, to the point where the worrying can have a negative impact on my mental health. Lately I have learned to set boundaries on my worries. Sounds crazy but it has been hugely effective. I allow myself to feel empathy and do as much as I can with the time and resources that I have. But I set a limit on how involved I am willing to get for my own well-being and sanity. For me setting boundaries is a way of protecting myself from myself.

‘People pleasing Lisa’ used to think in such polarities. I thought that being kind meant being a pushover and being honest meant being a bitch, and I had to be one or the other. Now I try to be both honest and kind. To be as open as possible about how I feel or what I need, if it’s important to me, while expressing it in the kindest way possible. To live with both an open heart and a strong backbone.

I fail at these things regularly, but the more I practice balancing both, the easier it gets. Many people fear that having boundaries will damage their relationships, or that they will come off as rude, selfish or stuck up. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve found that people really respect and trust those that honor their feelings and stay true to their integrity, as they always know where they stand and don’t need to second guess anything.

Setting boundaries then, is not about being high maintenance or demanding, but about protecting your heart and proving with your words and actions that you have your own back. Above all, it’s about loving and valuing yourself enough to accept only the people, situations and behaviors that are for your highest good.

Lots of love,

Lisa

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