© 2011 jen

Grasping the Good – Setting Boundaries

Setting boundaries is hard, especially if you’re a helpful person like me, but it is one most necessary aspects of managing your life effectively and reducing your stress. I wasn’t raised with a model for how to set boundaries. I was encouraged to be helpful, and so that’s what I did, for most of my life.  If someone needed something from me, I’d probably do it, no matter how inconvenient it was for me, simply because they asked and because I wanted to be nice.

As my small business grew, I found that I could not fulfill everyone’s needs and still meet my own.  I had to start setting boundaries. When I first began, I found my guilt was terrible. I felt terrible telling anyone “no,” or “not right now,” that I’d agonize over the decision and feel like I was letting the other person down. Until I had a really great experience with a friend who told me “no.”  I was actually thrilled that she’d set boundaries because it was the best thing for her. Turns out, it was great for me to be on the receiving side and realize, I wasn’t let down.  I wasn’t bummed out.  I was fine.

This is what happened . . . I asked a friend who does graphic design work to help me with the design of a postcard for a school fundraiser.  She agreed at first, but later realized that the graphics for the sale had already been selected and her work wouldn’t be featured on the postcard.  She told me that the reason she had wanted to do the cards was to help the school and promote her business.  She told me that she was crazy about me and really wanted to help the school, but that she only had so many hours to devote to volunteer projects. She was so busy with her toddler and because this project wouldn’t benefit her business, it ultimately wasn’t a good move for her.

We don’t need to feel guilty when we say “no” to people.  If someone asks for something we don’t need to deliver unless we want to.  Whenever we ask anyone for anything the chance that they will say no is inherent.

You may have heard this before, but it bears repeating, setting boundaries is really about finding balance and meeting your own needs.  If you struggle with setting boundaries you run the risk of having no time to yourself.  Spending all of your time doing for others, whether you want to or not, can breed resentment.  If your boundaries are too rigid you literally shut people out of your life.  People with rigid boundaries might seem aloof, distant and like they don’t really want to share their feelings. Extremely rigid boundaries can lead to feelings of loneliness.  Either end of the spectrum is a hard place to be, and in both cases finding a place in the middle is important.

Here are a few tips for setting your own boundaries:

1. Give yourself some time before you commit yourself.   Give yourself time to mull it over, rather than commit on the spot.  If someone asks you for a favor tell them you’ll think about it, then decide on your own if it’s a good fit for you without the pressure of the person standing over you.

2. Find a nice way to say no and be direct, but don’t go on and on.  You could say something like, “I’m sorry, but my schedule just won’t allow any new projects at this time.”  Or maybe you’ve committed to something but realize you need to back out of the commitment, “When I took on this project I thought I’d have more time to devote to it, but now I’m seeing I don’t have the time or energy to give this project the attention it deserves.”  Don’t go into sob stories about how hard things are for you or what else is on your plate.  It isn’t necessary and that type of talk is coming from guilt.  Don’t go there if at all possible.

3. If you feel resentful, lonely or sorry for yourself look at your boundaries and adjust them accordingly.  When you feel resentful or sorry for yourself it can be a warning sign for you to set a boundary with someone or something.  When you feel lonely, this may be a sign for you to lower your boundaries a bit and share yourself more with others.

4. Most people will respect your boundaries, but if they don’t this is a warning sign.  You may have to be more firm with the people who have a hard time respecting your boundaries. In some cases, you’ll find that ending the relationship is the best choice for you.

5. Be patient with yourself.  Changing any behavior is hard work.  You might feel selfish, guilty or if you’re coming from the opposite end of boundary setting you might feel exposed and vulnerable.  These are normal feelings that will pass as you become more adept at setting boundaries.