How to Have Boundaries (From a Recovering People Pleaser)
Here’s a secret:
I only just started actively and intentionally asserting boundaries in my life.
To my chagrin, I am a people pleaser: Putting other people’s feelings before my needs is one of my toxic traits. Oh, you want to be friends with benefits even though I would like to be in a relationship? Let’s just do what you want. You desperately need to dump your emotional baggage on me, even though I told you I’ve had a really draining week and don’t have the bandwidth for it? It’s cool, dump away!
I cannot continue on like this, because I am Tired (yes, capital T!) Not only has a lack of boundaries worn me the hell out, but it’s neither attracting nor sustaining the types of relationships I want in my life. Instead of being honest in the moment, I tend to be passive aggressive, letting my annoyance and resentment boil inside of my chest until the day it spills everywhere and makes a huge mess—and by mess, I mean incoherent babbling and lots of crying.
Of course, I have to take into consideration that this way of dealing or not dealing with people has been a way to protect myself. Somewhere between my parents getting divorced and being in my first relationship, I learned that acquiescing to the other person’s needs was safer. Especially when you factor in patriarchy: women have literally been killed for saying “no” and rejecting men’s advances.
I’m not going to bag on myself for developing this defense mechanism, but there is a huge difference between situations that make me not want to leave my emotional comfort zone, and times where my actual physical safety is threatened. The former, of course, is where the work is.
In the short time that I have been pushing myself to grow in this area, I’ve learned a lot. I am by no means an expert on boundaries, and I am FAR from having it all figured out, but here is what I know to be true:
1. I am my only advocate. If I’m not defending my wellbeing and enforcing my boundaries, then no one will.
2. Those who cannot understand, respect, and honor my boundaries are not people I want or need in my life.
3. Part of my fear of upsetting others stems from being socialized as a woman—to be “agreeable” and “nice” at all times is what the patriarchy needs from me. Speaking my truth and standing my ground are forms of resistance.
4. Every time I silence or shrink myself to fit into what I think someone else wants, I am disrespecting myself.
5. When I acquiesce to the version of me that others want, I am not showing up as my full self, which is a disservice to everyone involved.
6. Other people’s reactions to my setting of boundaries is their responsibility, and ultimately a reflection of them, not me.
7. Boundaries are a form of love, because they outline exactly what I need to foster a healthy, committed relationship.
8. Speaking my truth is always worth it, no matter the outcome.
Since going to therapy, I’ve felt more empowered to claim what’s mine and brave those difficult conversations with my loved ones. To experience the full spectrum of life, I have to be willing to lean into the uncomfortable, the terrifying, and the difficult—because the real secret is that it’s not actually easier to swallow my honesty, and when I do, there is always a price.
So take this as an invitation. Stand your ground. Advocate for yourself even when it feels weird or uncomfortable.* You can start small—saying “no” in low-stakes situations is a good place to begin if you’re a newb like me. And when someone comes to you with their boundaries, don’t be a dick. Don’t make it about you. Acknowledge the bravery it takes, and thank them for their commitment to your relationship. And if they don’t afford you that same courtesy? thank u, next – ariana 5:11
*If you are physically at risk by being honest, please choose your safety!