For some of us, just saying no can seem like one of the hardest things possible, and can cause a ton of stress and anxiety in our lives. It's why learning how to set boundaries is so incredibly important for a balanced life in which we don't feel overextended or taken advantage of.
In an article for MindBodyGreen, professional life coach and best-selling author Nancy Levine said, "As children, we learn to respond in a way that brings us the least stress and trouble, and that often means allowing ourselves to be moved by others’ wants and needs." Because of this, she said it can often be difficult to assert ourselves as adults. Additionally, she said that many of us have a harmful inner-dialogue that tells us we're not good enough or unlovable, and that, "Refusing to set healthy boundaries is one of the primary ways we express that belief," as we think if we don't please others, we won't be liked or loved.
I personally have struggled with this a ton in my life. I'm fearful of disappointing or letting someone else down, and before I know it I'm completely over-extended, burning the candle at both ends, and full of irrational resentment towards whoever I said yes to — when it was actually totally in my power to say no. If this sounds familiar, or you're struggling with setting boundaries in your life in different ways, the below seven tips for setting healthy boundaries may help.
1. Think About What You're Saying No To When You Say Yes
A lot of times, setting boundaries is about learning to say no and be OK with it. In an article on ways to say no for Forbes, productivity writer Frances Booth recommended thinking about all of the things you'll be saying no to if you say yes to the request in front of you. "Look at what or who you’re saying yes to at the minute. What or who (including yourself) does that mean you are then saying no to," she asked. Does it mean you'll have to miss out on that dinner with friends? Or an evening spent giving yourself some much needed relaxation time? Sometimes when we think of what saying yes will mean in terms of other things we'll have to give up, saying no becomes easier to do.
2. Take Your Time
Booth also recommended taking your time before responding to a request that will take up your time and energy. "Next time you feel pressure to give an instant answer, stop. Log out of your email or leave the room. Shut your eyes for five minutes, walk round the block, or sleep on it. Think about whether you really want to say yes. Think about whether you’ve really got the time for it. Pausing before responding uses far less time than it takes to backtrack," Booth said. So don't be afraid to say you need to think about it, or that you just need to look at your schedule and see how you could fit it in. Having that extra time to really think about what saying yes will mean can help you with the resolve to say no.
3. Stay In-Tune With Your Feelings
In an article on ways to preserve better boundaries in your life for PsychCentral, life coach and psychologist Dana Gionta, Ph.D, said it's important to stay in touch with your feelings, especially if a person or request makes your feel resentment or uncomfortable. She said that if we feel resentment, it often means we feel as though we're being underappreciated or taken advantage of, and if we feel uncomfortable, it often means someone is violating or crossing our boundaries. Stay in touch with what you're feeling when dealing with other people, and try to be aware of why you are feeling the way you do.
4. Give Yourself Permission
Gionta also said it's important to give yourself permission to say no and have boundaries in the first place. We might feel guilty saying no to a friend or relative, or worried that we'll disappoint, and then “feel drained or taken advantage of" in the end. Boundaries are a sign of self-respect, Gionta said, and we should remember that we deserve them just as much as anyone else.
5. Start Small
Levine recommended starting small when it comes to setting boundaries in your life. She recommended making a list of all the areas in your life you feel you need to set bigger boundaries, whether it be at work, with parents, or with a particular friend and "Choose three of these boundaries that you are willing to set in different areas of your life this week." Saying no and setting boundaries is like a muscle — the more we do it the less fear we have of it, and the easier it becomes.
6. Evaluate Why You Are Saying Yes
Levine also stressed to really evaluate why we feel the need to say yes in the first place. Would you never leave someone you aren't in love with anymore because they feel they could never live without you? If so, you know this isn't true even if the other person does. Is it because you're afraid someone won't like you anymore if you don't say yes? If so, know that their opinion shouldn't be dependent on it (and probably isn't). Levine said thinking about it in these terms can also help us disengage with people who may be overly dependent on us.
7. Vocalize Your Boundary
In a piece on the Huffington Post blog, life coach Jennifer Twardowski said to voice your boundary in order to make it known. "Keep in mind that if there is any backlash from the other person or if they want to argue, then it may be best to simply just walk away and focus on taking care of yourself. The reality is that if there is a backlash then the other person isn't respecting your boundary," Twardowski said. And voicing a boundary doesn't have to feel aggressive or dramatic — Levine said staying calm and appealing to the other person's rational, higher nature can often yield respectful, rational results in return.
Setting healthy boundaries can be extremely difficult, especially if you're a person who has trouble saying no or fears disappointing others. However, the first step to addressing any problem is realizing it's there to begin with, and the good news is there are a lot of ways to work on setting and keeping important boundaries and improving your quality of life overall.