Setting Healthy Boundaries

Do you find yourself saying “Yes” to just about every request that people ask of you? How is this impacting your productivity and accomplishing what’s most important for you? If you have difficulty saying “No”, you most likely have a boundary problem.

Difficult co-workers, needy family members and pushy friends may require you to tune in to the feelings that come up for you when you are once again asked to do something you really don’t have the time or desire to do. Notice if you feel irritated or aggravated.

A lot of people have trouble saying No because they don’t want to seem unhelpful or they don’t want to upset the other person. They often say to themselves, “This is going to be the last time I get taken advantage of!” That bold statement often is quickly forgotten the next time they are asked to do something.

A client recently shared with me that a neighbor would ask her to do varied favors for her such as, take or pick up her kids from school, pet sit her dog while she was on vacation (without compensating her!) or just talk her ear off when my client was out trying to walk her dogs. She really wanted to say No, but a wave of guilt would always wash over her and she would ultimately say, “Yes, I would be happy to do…” This started to create feelings of resentment and avoidance of this person as much as possible.

After listening to my client describe her experience and feelings about this situation, I asked her, “What are your non-negotiables?” This question caused her to stop and really think about what were the things that she was not accomplishing due to her accommodating nature. Once she got really clear on her non-negotiables, she was able to start saying No more often without feeling guilty about it. She has since told me that she still helps her neighbor out from time to time, but it’s when it fits into her schedule and doesn’t interfere with what’s most important.


Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries Listen to your feelings. Notice where a line is consistently being crossed by someone. Identify your needs. Think through your priorities, what you’re willing to put up with, and the feasible terms of the relationship. You can set a boundary, but if you’re not able and willing to stick with it, it doesn’t really become effective.
Acknowledge shared goals. Identify shared goals, communicate an understanding of the other persons perspective, and at the same time, set your boundary.
Be clear and direct. There’s no reason not to be polite, but always stay firm. Repeat as necessary!
Practice self-care. If setting a boundary leaves you with a negative taste in your mouth, turn to your broader support system of healthy relationships to ride it out.

Adapted from the Johns Hopkins Health Review

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