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Nedra Glover Tawwab believes that the secret to having the life you want lies in learning how to stand up for yourself and set limits with other people. Her book ‘’Set Boundaries, Find Peace’’ offers a clearly outlined formula for knowing when you have a boundary issue, communicating the need for a boundary, and following it up with action. So, get ready to learn how to say ‘’no’’ and enjoy fulfilling relationships with coworkers, partners, friends, and family!
People usually seek psychotherapist’s help because they have conflicts with other people, issues with self-care, troubles with time management, or concerns about how social media impacts their emotional state. However, rarely does anyone come to therapy knowing they have boundary problems. The truth is, all the issues we mentioned above are, most of the time, results of boundary violations and can be resolved by learning to communicate boundaries to others.
Establishing boundaries in relationships is challenging for everyone—and, generally, it is something we need to work on our entire lives. But why do we need to learn about creating limits when interacting with others? We often accept to do something at our friends’, coworkers’ or family members’ request even though that is not in our best interest. For instance, we continue lending money to our friends even when we are not sure they will return it or do them some other favors even when we do not have time for them.
Most of the time, we assume we have to accept things and help people even if it harms us because we do not want to disappoint or make them mad. Yes, refusing to do what others want you to might bring you into an uncomfortable situation. This, however, is not the reason for you to do something against your wish. Tawwab says being honest and upfront about what you expect and what you can offer will save you and people around you lots of heartache and arguments. ‘’People don’t know what you want. It’s your job to make it clear,’’ she emphasizes.
Before you start learning how to set boundaries, you should determine whether you actually have boundary issues. According to Tawwab, the most common signs that you need boundaries are:
Tawwab defines boundaries as ‘’expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships.’’ Without them, you might feel mentally and emotionally unwell, which was the case with one of Tawwab’s patients called Kim. Chronically overwhelmed with worries about getting everything done, Kim hoped therapy would help her figure out how to do more without feeling exhausted. However, it quickly became clear to Tawwab that Kim did not need to work on her time-management skills but on setting boundaries. The thing was, Kim wanted to be perfect—for herself and others. Unfortunately, Kim thought being the best meant always saying ‘’yes’’—even when she could not manage to do all the things she signed up for, such as helping her friend move, assisting her coworker with the project, volunteering at her kids’ school, etc.
Like many other people who have boundary issues, Kim could not see the difference between the things she really had to do and the things she could delegate. She thought the only way to help others was to say ‘’yes’’ to doing everything herself. But, did Kim's friend really need her help with moving, or could she find someone else? Was Kim obliged to assist her colleague with the project? Perhaps she could give him some pieces of advice and let him do the rest without her assistance?
When we get caught up in our desire to help others by all means, we eventually become overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or resentful. On the flip side, healthy boundaries make us feel safe, loved, calm, and respected—and this is because they are, in Tawwab’s words, ‘’the root of self-care.’’
Setting boundaries indeed is not easy, especially when others refuse to acknowledge them by being ignorant, defensive, or passive-aggressive. Nevertheless, despite how others react to your refusal to do them a favor, do not be sorry about setting boundaries and, by no means, do not give up on them. After all, if someone does not respect your needs even after you repeat them several times, they probably are not worth being part of your life.
The fear about how someone might respond to our boundaries might hold us back. Therefore, in this section, we will reveal several techniques that might help you deal with undesirable reactions effectively.
You cannot stand up for yourself unless you learn the types of boundaries you deserve to have. Therefore, let’s identify six areas of boundaries and learn about the ways to honor them.
Tawwab says being assertive is the healthiest way to communicate your boundaries. It involves expressing your feelings openly without hurting others. When someone is assertive they:
So, working on boundaries means working on your ability to be assertive. Say your friend asks you to go to a party you don’t want to attend. To refuse them assertively say: ‘’Thanks for the invite, but I’ll sit this one out.” Or, say you want to tell your friend you cannot listen to their complaints about their work anymore. You would do it in this way: ‘’Listen, I get that your job is frustrating. I want you to consider talking to someone in Human Resources or meeting with someone through your Employee Assistance Program to talk about your frustrations.”
Assertiveness is about being straightforward and precise about your expectations. Also, it includes declining someone’s offer whenever it does not align with your wishes. However, apart from learning to be assertive, communicating boundaries successfully also involves learning to deal with the discomfort that appears after setting them. According to Tawwab, ‘’discomfort is the number one reason we want to bypass setting them.’’
Since, deep down, we believe speaking up for ourselves is wrong, guilt is a common feeling we have after we express our wants and needs. Rather than focusing on your guilt, treat it as a sensation that comes and goes. Generally, do that with all the uncomfortable feelings that follow your boundary setting, such as fear, sadness, remorse, and awkwardness. Remember: you must stay grounded in the belief that boundaries make you a healthy person, not a bad one.
If you want to care about your emotional and mental well-being, and maintain your values in relationships, examine your wants and needs and find a way to share them openly and clearly with others. Also, acknowledge the boundaries other people set without making them feel bad about it. Of course, pursuing challenging goals such as learning to set boundaries requires lots of effort. Nevertheless, the benefits you reap in the end make the whole journey worthwhile.
Start following Tawwab on Instagram where she offers tips for improving mental health and hosts weekly Q&As about boundaries and relationships.
Nedra Glover Tawwab is a licensed therapist, relationship expert, and author. She is the founder and owner of the group therapy practice called Kaleidoscope Counseling. Tawwab... (Read more)
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