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Setting boundaries without feeling like a jerk

Updated: Jun 27, 2018

I used to hate the word boundaries. For the longest time, I thought of the people who talked about ‘setting boundaries’ as uptight assholes. Why the hell would I want to do things to push people I cared about away? Just thinking about the idea of setting boundaries with other people made me feel mean, selfish and guilty.

When I eventually learned more about boundaries - what they are and aren’t - I came to realize that, rather than pushing people away, healthy boundaries can actually strengthen our connection in relationships. Boundaries are not an arbitrary border that comes between people, they’re a container that keeps a relationship together. Boundaries are important for everyone, but women, in particular, often have a hard time setting them. Knowing when to set boundaries and how to enforce them is key to starting to overcome that feminine conditioning urge that tells us to accommodate others and give more than we’re comfortable with giving.

Knowing When You Need A Boundary

The first step to setting a boundary is knowing when you need one. Paying attention to how you feel in various situations is the best indicator. When you find yourself starting to feel SHITTY (shamed, humiliated, irritated, tense, terrified, or just “yucky”) it’s probably a great time to think about what YOU need and perhaps think about setting a boundary. Make sure to get your emotions in check before having a conversation about boundaries, it’ll go probably go more smoothly if you can communicate calmly.

Overcoming Obstacles and Guilt

If you’re setting a boundary to change something that’s already going on with someone, you might find that you get some push back. The important thing to remember and communicate is that you’re setting boundaries to take care of yourself. This might mean a big change in how things are done for other people, so acknowledge that. In some cases, for example deciding that you’ll leave work at 5pm every day no matter what, you may have to communicate well ahead of time or make the change incrementally. The important thing is to honor your own boundaries once you’ve set them.

When you first start to set boundaries with the people around you, you might feel guilty or uncomfortable - that’s OK. The important thing to remember is that you have the right to have preferences. You also have a right to prioritize your own needs in your own life. It’s not your responsibility to please others. Don’t ignore your guilt - no emotion ever goes away because we squash it - just notice how you feel and set the boundary anyway. Eventually, if you stay consistent, this process will get easier.


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