When it came to relationships, I hated the idea of boundaries.
A long time ago, I learned that the easiest way to get people to like me was to please them. All I had to do was trade “what I need” for “whatever you want.”
And I said those words often, reveling in their selflessness. After all, wasn’t that love? Putting someone else first?
Never comfortable with myself, most of my identity was wrapped in being a couple. Putting the other person first came easy for me. Everything from what to have for dinner, to where we spent vacations. Whatever you want.
In my pursuit of true love, I gave away everything I had until there was nothing left.
I remember feeling a certain uneasiness with my decisions. The distant whisper that something wasn’t quite right. I smothered that voice with a thousand good deeds.
Sometimes the issues were significant.
I’ll never forget the day my wife questioned me about an email from a female friend. It was innocent, but she didn’t like it. I wondered how she knew about it. That’s when I discovered she was going through my emails while I slept. She couldn’t help herself.
We argued. She said I shouldn’t care what she did if I had nothing to hide. I silently disagreed. Her anger shook me. I felt unsteady. I did the only thing I knew how to do—I told her she was right.
I felt the anxiety rush through me as I, again, put her needs ahead of mine. Then I let it go. And without knowing it, I lost a piece of myself that day. As I had every time I failed to set a boundary.
After years of struggle, I came to learn that boundaries are a reflection of our self-esteem. Do we value ourselves enough to ask for what we want? Do we risk saying “no?” Or do we stay silent and people please?
Setting boundaries scared the sh*t out of me. And the more intimate the relationship, the higher the stakes. And the more terrified I was to set them. I was afraid that someone I loved would leave if I said “no.”
Wrapped up in the shame of staying silent, I felt uncomfortable. Eventually, the seeds of resentment grew into disconnection and isolation…and I lost it all.
I’ve grown since then. I have a much stronger sense of self. I’ve learned that setting healthy boundaries is an important part of self-care.
There are always opportunities for us to set boundaries. I feel so much better when I take care of myself, making sure my needs are met. As it turns out, people don’t leave if we show up and set boundaries with compassion and kindness. It’s another form of self-love, and that love is contagious.
It takes practice. It’s still not natural for me, but I can do it. And it’s changed everything.
Here are four valuable things I learned about setting healthy boundaries:
We can put our needs first when we set boundaries.
Setting boundaries isn’t selfish—it’s self-care. We are taking care of ourselves, making sure our individual needs are met. This keeps us authentic.
We can choose what is okay for us and what isn’t.
Boundaries are an expression of what we will accept and what we won’t. They let others know how we want to be treated. We have to be honest and pay attention to our feelings. We can speak up when we need to.
Be brave when setting boundaries rather than choose what is comfortable.
We don’t like to disappoint people—it’s out of our comfort zone. But, we can remember that setting boundaries is more about saying “yes” to what we need than saying “no” to someone else. We can be brave enough to ask for what we need, trusting that our courage will be answered with respect.
Set boundaries with love and compassion.
When we need to set a boundary with someone, we can be honest and clear. We can take care of ourselves while considering the other person’s feelings. We don’t need to be hurtful. We can say “no” with kindness, and then move on.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brené Brown