Set Boundaries, Find Peace - Critical summary review - Nedra Glover Tawwab

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Set Boundaries, Find Peace - critical summary review

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Personal Development

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: 

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN:  978-0593192092

Publisher: TarcherPerigee

Critical summary review

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!

Do you need boundaries in your life?

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:

  • feelings of resentment toward people for asking for your help
  • the need to avoid phone calls and interactions with people you think might ask for something
  • frequent comments about helping people and getting nothing in return
  • feeling burned out
  • frequent daydreams about dropping everything and disappearing
  • the lack of time for yourself

Setting boundaries is the root of self-care

 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.

Handling people’s responses to your boundaries

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. 

  1. Handling pushback. People will often try to disrespect your boundaries by saying things, such as: “This is not fair,” or: “I have things I need, too, but I’m not making you change!” If you face pushback, acknowledge that you heard the other person’s concern, and then restate the boundary you initially set by saying, for instance: “I understand that you don’t like my boundary, but I need limits because they help me feel safe.’’
  2. Handling limit testing. After you state your boundaries, many people will want to see whether your decision is firm. Say you tell your friend that you cannot help them move. If they decide to test your limits, they will ask: “Well, what about next week?” In this case, be open and tell them they are pushing your boundaries and explain how their behavior makes you feel. 
  3. Handling ignoring. If people pretend they did not hear you say ‘’no’’ to their request, restate your boundaries one more time and ask them to repeat back what you stated.
  4. Handling rationalizing and questioning. “Why can’t you help? You know I would help you in a similar situation!” This is the type of response you might hear after expressing your needs. Do not be tempted to answer this question, as it will likely lead you to offer excuses and apologies. Just respond shortly by saying something like, “This is what’s healthy for me.”
  5. Handling defensiveness. After hearing about your boundaries, many people will become defensive and try to make everything about them. To handle defensiveness, concentrate on your needs and feelings. Use ‘’I’’ statements and the following sentence pattern: “When you ____, I feel ____.”
  6. Handling ghosting and silent treatment. Ghosting is an unhealthy response to boundaries and includes not answering your calls or texts or canceling plans with you. A less extreme response is silent treatment—when a person does answer your calls but acts distant. Either way, you should let them know how their behavior makes you feel. Also, explain once again that you set the boundary because you felt overwhelmed, exhausted, anxious, and so on.

Types of boundaries

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. 

  1. Physical boundaries. Your personal space (the perimeter around your body) and physical touch represent your physical boundaries. Frequently, your preferences about them will differ from those of other people. Therefore, you should let them know whenever someone is standing too close or touches you in a way you find inappropriate. Here are a few examples of how you might set physical boundaries: “Please move back a little,” or ‘’It makes me feel uncomfortable when you rub my back.’’
  2. Sexual boundaries. Violation of sexual boundaries includes touching, making sexual comments, or engaging in sexual acts without consent. Always let the other person know what your sexual boundaries are by saying something like: “Move your hand off my leg,” or “Your comment isn’t funny; it’s sexually inappropriate.” Furthermore, you should report sexual misconduct whenever you experience or witness it.
  3. Intellectual boundaries. Whenever someone makes fun of your ideas and thoughts or forbids you to express your beliefs and opinions, they violate your intellectual boundaries. In these situations, you should make them aware of their behavior and explain how it makes you feel.
  4. Emotional boundaries. People are violating your emotional boundaries when they belittle or invalidate your feelings. To take care of your emotional boundaries, let them know their comments make you uncomfortable and hesitant to share your emotions. 
  5. Material boundaries. Have you ever lent something to your friend and they returned it in a worse condition or way after the deadline you set? Perhaps they did not return it at all? Well, in those cases, they violated your material boundaries. According to Tawwab, you have every right to tell others how they should treat your possessions. After all, you also have the right not to share your stuff with others if you don’t feel like it. 
  6. Time boundaries. Time boundaries consist of how you manage your time, and how you allow others to use it. To honor your time boundaries, you should, for instance, check your calendar before you say ‘’yes’’ to a request or turn your cell phone when you cannot or don’t want to respond. 

Work on your assertiveness 

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:

  • say ‘’no’’ to anything they don’t want to do
  • tell people how they feel as a result of their behavior
  • share their honest thoughts about their experiences 
  • talk directly to the person they have issues with
  • make their expectations clear upfront instead of letting others figure them out.

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. 

Final Notes

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.

12min Tip

Start following Tawwab on Instagram where she offers tips for improving mental health and hosts weekly Q&As about boundaries and relationships. 

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Who wrote the book?

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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