Most people know internally what boundaries they want to set in their lives. Even if you don't call them "boundaries", you know the feeling when you really wanted to say no when someone asked you to do a favor for them, but you said yes instead. Or the exhausting feeling of having a toxic person in your life who is constantly critical and you know you don't want them around as much.
You know you want to say no, but something stops you.
This can become a pattern of saying yes even when you are tired, burnt out, or just having that gut feeling that you need to draw a line. When the pattern continues it can lead to resentment towards others, towards your job, or even towards yourself. Depression and anxiety are common symptoms of a lack of boundaries.
Depression can look like that resentment and frustration turned inward and can lead to lower self esteem and low energy. Anxiety can look like avoiding situations where you know your boundaries might be overstepped. Or feeling anxious when someone asks you to do something because you know you are going to struggle with saying no.
So if you know you in your gut that limits need to be set, what is actually stopping you?? I believe it comes back to what we tell ourselves about boundaries. And some of the lies we tell ourselves can paralyze us from moving forward.
Here are 3 (of many) common lies we tell ourselves about boundaries:
1) If I set boundaries, I will hurt others
There is a big difference between purposely hurting others and letting them experience natural consequences. If someone asks you to cover their shift at work because they forgot about an appointment they had, you are not hurting them if they miss that appointment. If you say no (because you don't want to work that shift), missing their appointment may be a natural consequence that helps them become more responsible next time.
TRUTH: I am not hurting others when I respect my own needs.
2) Boundaries mean that I am angry.
We have all experienced bad examples of setting limits out of anger. You or someone you know has gotten to the point of lashing out and yelling "NO", or saying something hurtful, or hanging up the phone in a rage. Anger tends to build when we don't set appropriate limits.
If you keep letting the toxic person criticize you on the phone until it gets to the point that you yell back at them, then you probably should have hung up 10 minutes ago. Boundaries do not equal anger, but the lack of boundaries can definitely lead to anger.
TRUTH: Boundaries keep my anger from growing bigger!
3) Boundaries are permanent, and I’m afraid of burning my bridges.
Maybe you need to say no today, but you can say yes tomorrow. It's ok to be too overwhelmed this month to take on that extra responsibility at work, but you can always ask next month if the opportunity is still available. We can let others know, "hey, things have changed and I have more energy now." We all change with time and growth, so it makes sense that your boundaries would change too.
TRUTH: I can always change my mind.
Next time you get that gut feeling that a limit needs to be set, do a quick check for any lies that may be stopping you and remind yourself of the truth!
For practical tips on setting boundaries check out my blog post: 3 Reasons to Say No More Often.
Ideas adapted from Boundaries Chapter 6 “Common Boundary Myths” by Cloud and Townsend.