Boundaries Part 1: Why you cant say no & how to stop people pleasing
Boundaries, who need's em? Short answer - Everyone!
Now if only setting boundaries with the people in our lives could be simple. The thing is, it’s often challenging, anxiety provoking and can feel complex.
The thought of discussing healthy and specific boundaries with those closest to us can leave us with feelings of fear and anxiety.
How do I communicate my boundaries in a way that is loving, effective and easy is a common question I often hear from my clients.
Often people who find it difficult to set boundaries are referred to as “people pleasers”. This term, however, does not describe the underlying issues for many of us who experience the need to please others, make others a priority over ourselves or continually have our boundaries ignored and can never say no.
This unhealthy way of being in relationship is often the major cause of not being able to set effective boundaries.
How do you know if you have been focusing on pleasing others over yourself?
Do any or all of the below apply to you?
· You always put other people before yourself
· You can’t say no – PERIOD
· You can’t, won't, don’t know how to cut ties with anyone, full stop
· You find people often take advantage of your generosity
· You have little if any time for yourself
· You don’t like conflict and prefer to keep the peace even if it means you’re left hurting
· You want to ensure you look after everyone in all circumstances
If any of the above sounds likes familiar often repeated patterns, you might be at risk of feeling the overriding need to please others AKA people pleasing.
So why is it so difficult?
The reason setting boundaries can feel so difficult can be varied.
Many people haven’t had the role modelling or experience of how to “do boundaries” in a way that doesn’t come across as demanding, angry or confusing.
The inability to set boundaries and focus on pleasing others is usually made up of core beliefs about ourselves.
We believe we will be rejected and have a strong fear around this: Pleasing others allows us to behave in a way to minimise the risk of rejection. We take all steps possible to ensure we make other people #1 by going above and beyond.
We believe we are not good enough/worthy enough of love or connection: Putting other people first is often a way to get the love and connection we seek from others. Because who wouldn’t love someone who puts my needs first. We may have learnt early on that love was conditional on our behaviour or formed a belief about ourselves needing to prove our worth.
We have a poor sense of self: Having a poor sense of self is closely linked to our belief of not being good enough. People who please others often do not have a solid sense of who they are or a sense of self. They don’t know what makes them happy, what they don’t like even what a boundary violation is, they are so used to selflessly putting other people first they are not in touch with who they are, what they really need or even what support from another person actually looks like. The very thought of what support might look like often draws a mind blank.
What happens for all of us, is that despite not being able to set a boundary or having our boundaries violated time and time again, the pain, hurt and need for respect, love and care don’t go away.
If the above experiences are sounding familiar, there are some key things you can do to help you start to develop a sense of yourself and cultivate more self-worth and resilience to rejection.
Fill up your own cup first: Ensuring you’re making you a priority and getting your need met is critical to starting to establish a solid sense of yourself. Think about a full cup of water in a plastic cup. Just as a plastic cup can get holes in it over time and leak, we too can be worn down over time. When you start looking at your own needs before others not only will you feel less worn down you will start to recognise the benefits of looking after yourself first.
Speak your truth: When we don’t speak up about how we feel and retreat further into the shadows, our resentment often builds. The inability to speak our truth can cause to feel drained, angry and may often turn into subtle bursts of defensiveness, subtle cutting remarks or more passive aggressive behaviours.
Accept or reject the behaviour: When we decide what we will or won’t tolerate it sends a message that we are not willing to stay in relationships with people who don’t add value or serve us in a way that is mutually beneficial. When someone violates a boundary you have a choice. People who love, care and respect you, won't violate your boundaries – period. Cutting the ties with close friends, family or even partners because they don’t respect your boundaries is often on of the most challenging things to do.
Once you start to develop some of these skills you can begin to get really clear on your boundaries and work on stopping the people-pleasing behaviours.
The truth is that it’s simple to read these points. Self-awareness is always the first step in any change.
The follow-up is taking action with support. Now that’s not necessarily diving in and telling everyone you have boundaries and saying no to everyone. Instead, it’s about seeking guidance to explore the possibility of new ways of being. It’s about getting to know your struggle between putting yourself first and making others more important.
If you’ve been struggling with boundaries and notice that this is impacting your ability to live life to your fullest, it might be time to seek some additional support through a practitioner you trust.
Understanding boundaries and developing your own sense of self-worth is a journey well worth taking. After all… You as much as anyone else in this world is worthy of love, care and connection.
Sometimes we just need to learn how to turn the love we give so freely, inwards instead of outwards.
This is part one of the Boundaries Series, Part 2 will be out in April and I’ll be discussing communication around boundaries & how to set specific boundaries with love, grace and ease.
Natajsa Wagner is a Clinical Psychotherapist in Private Practice working with individuals, couples and groups. Natajsa is an advocate for authentic conversations that connect us. Natajsa believes that the relationship we have with ourselves and others is the essential ingredient to our emotional health, happiness and wellbeing.
Natajsa is passionate about speaking and teaching on the topic of moving from loneliness to belonging and the importance of human relationships. Her focus is on helping people develop self-awareness and understanding of our challenges, so we can create change that leads to more fulfilling and meaningful lives. Natajsa has been featured as an expert both locally and internationally and has contributed to a number of print and online media outlets including Women's Health and Fitness Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine & ABC Online.