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The Complexity of Boundaries


Boundaries are one of the hardest things to set AND one of the most instrumental tools for leading a happier life.

When we know how to set and hold healthy boundaries:

  • We have more energy for the people and activities that matter most to us.
  • We are living with integrity and not engaging in people pleasing activities.
  • We will have less drama and angst, because there will be clarity on where we stand and what is most important to us.

Crossed or over-stepped boundaries show up all the time. We tend to think setting boundaries is all about just saying no.  And while saying no is important, boundary setting can become much more nuanced.

Here are some simple ways boundaries can affect your life:

Your neighbor asks you to look after her kids for the third time without reciprocating. You don’t want to be petty, but you value your time, and you want her to respect it as well.

Your friend asks for your support in setting up a jewelry party. You HATE jewelry parties and feel torn between wanting to help out your friend and not wanting to spend a whole weekend getting ready for a party that you don’t want to throw.

Your spouse says yes to an event without asking you (for the third time in a row). He has a habit of just saying yes, and then checking with you later. One of his mottos is that it is easier to beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission – and it is wearing thin.

Your co-worker signs you up to bring the main course to the company picnic.  Just because you have volunteered for it every other year doesn’t mean this year you want to be cooking all night.

Your grown daughter asks for money again – you don’t want her to go into debt, but you don’t want to keep giving her more and more money. You wonder: where is the line?

Your mom keeps giving your sister money and then complaining about her reckless spending to you – you are tired of hearing about it. You want to be supportive, but why should her lack of boundaries affect you?

Setting boundaries can be way more complex than just saying no.  Changing patterns and expectations can leave you asking  “Wait a minute!’ or “Is this really happening?”  When your gut makes that lurch of ‘WHAT?!’ that is the time to do a double take and ask – does there need to be a boundary here?

Tips For Setting Boundaries:

  • When someone ask you to do something, use the phrase “I will get back to you” or “I have to check my calendar.” This will give you space from the immediate pressure to say yes, and allow you to say no when you are ready and more comfortable.
  • Remember: you are not responsible for ‘protecting’ the other person. It’s okay to disappoint them and/or not solve their problem.  You don’t have to take care of everyone and everything.
  • Along that same vein, you don’t have to Justify, Prove, Defend or atone for saying no or setting a boundary. You are allowed to say no, change your mind, or opt out.

Want to learn more about the complexity of setting boundaries? Join us at the Live Happier Loft for the Trust Your Boundaries Already Group – where we discuss the art of setting and holding healthy boundaries.

2 Responses to The Complexity of Boundaries

  1. I totally pulled an Anne Lamott yesterday! (No is a complete sentence.) My default setting is to explain, explain, explain and take on the potential disappointment whenever I have to tell someone no.

    The particular person I said no to really tries to manipulate me, so I always try to project 15 moves into the future, and think of how to counter everything they’ll say. (Side note: This attempt to figure out the perfect way to speak the boundary, the right time, the right explanation–it often leaves me thinking it’s easier to just not set the boundary at all.)

    This time? I just said “no.” I didn’t explain why no was better, or why outside circumstances made no the only possible option. Just no.

    The person came back with the usual, “oh-I-just-thought” statement, baiting me to change my mind or explain my choice again. I didn’t. And it didn’t have the sting or the fear around it that it might have when I first began practicing this boundary stuff. It took a lot of really uncomfortable “no’s” to get here, but it’s true: No is a complete sentence! 🙂

  2. Nancy Jane Smith says:

    Love it! And unfortunately it does take a lot of uncomfortable ‘no’s’ but once you get there–it is magical!!