Some people struggle to create boundaries --  here's why it's important to learn to say 'no'

  • Learning where your boundaries are can be tough.
  • But they are really important for maintaining healthy relationships.
  • Without initially having boundaries, you’re likely to build up resentment.
  • Instead, you should be honest about how you want to be treated right at the start of a new relationship, even if it feels uncomfortable.
  • The more you’re honest about your boundaries, the easier it will become to communicate them.

Boundaries are essential to have healthy relationships with romantic partners, friends, and even colleagues. But so many people struggle with saying “no,” and communicating where their limits actually are.

According to doctor of psychology and therapist Perpetua Neo, sometimes we feel like we don’t deserve to have boundaries. If you’ve never tried to build your boundaries up, it feels really strange to try, and this can be enough to put people off. Neo told Business Insider it can be a little bit like going to the gym for the first time.

“Going to the gym feels a lot more natural than growing boundaries,” she said. “It’s more talked about, like how you’re going to feel this lactic acid burn. Nobody tells you about the equivalent lactic acid burn when you’re growing boundaries.”

Essentially, boundaries are our “hell no”s in life, Neo said. You may have a good idea of where your lines are, or you may not. Sometimes, if you were in a relationship with a toxic person like a narcissist, you may have found your boundaries were eroded away if you had them in the first place.

Some people don’t like the term “boundary” because it sounds too rigid. But you don’t have to think of yourself as being stubborn. Boundaries simply show people how you want to be respected.

“You’ve got to be aware that if you don’t communicate your boundaries nobody will know how to treat you, and what you don’t want,” Neo said.

For example, it’s common in relationships to just go along with things at the beginning that you aren’t keen on. For example, your new partner may speak to you in a way you’re not comfortable with, or spend too much time on unhealthy activities. This may be because your partner is going through a tough time, so you think to yourself that if you’re kind and supportive, you can always bring up issues later.

But this often doesn’t work out as planned. It’s how resentment builds up, Neo said, because you may start to think your partner is ungrateful for the sacrifices you’ve made to your happiness. Unfortunately, without initially putting boundaries in place, your partner is likely to think you’ve been fine with everything all along.

“That’s why boundaries need to be communicated early on, because people are not mind readers,” Neo said. “Good people will know how to adjust, bad people won’t, and that’s when you know to kick them out.”

In a sense, knowing your own boundaries means you can trust yourself more too, Neo said. For example, if you tell yourself you don’t want to sleep with someone until you’re in a committed relationship, it removes a lot of anxiety about your interactions. You know that you can have fun without questioning yourself all the time.

That’s not to say that your boundaries are set in stone, though. While you’ll probably feel guilty that you’re being tough on people at first – especially if you’re a people pleaser – it won’t last. Once you start to get comfortable with your boundaries, you can bend and adapt them. It’s a bit like when you start a diet, or learn a new skill.

“When you start to draw, you don’t break the early rules until you master them,” Neo said. “Then you can learn to play with those rules. It’s the same way when you’re growing boundaries. You’re going to be tougher on people at first, but that’s just you finding your own feet. People need to be aware of that, because they beat themselves up about it.”

When you start to draw your boundary lines, Neo said there are a few important things to remember:

  • You don’t need to preface your boundaries with a reason. You don’t have to come up with excuses for what you’ve decided, and anyone who demands you do isn’t worth your time.
  • You will get pushback. Not everybody will be happy about your boundaries, but if they’re not willing to respect them, then they’re not respecting you.
  • It’s not just about being tough. Neo said it’s also important to handle your boundaries with grace. Communicating where your lines are doesn’t have to be a stubborn, aggressive affair.
  • Make sure you keep them in place for people you are close to. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can let them treat you badly.
  • Just because you can put up with something, doesn’t mean you should. Some people think their problems are minuscule in comparison to others, but that doesn’t mean your boundaries are invalid.
  • You might mourn your old self. At first you might think your boundaries will push people away, or make you seem like a different person. In reality, if you think people preferred you the way you were before, it’s probably because they knew they could manipulate you.
  • Reward yourself when you stick to your boundaries. If you congratulate yourself when you’re strong, dopamine is released by the brain and you’re more likely to do it again. You’re basically conditioning yourself to behave differently.
  • Let people do you favours. If you’ve never had boundaries before, you might find you’re bad at receiving. This could be in the form of gifts, favours, or even compliments. “Let people do you favours, because your karma bag is very rich,” Neo said. “So you’re just cashing out the interest, that’s all.”

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