So many people struggle with boundary setting. Often times we struggle because of feelings. That’s right, we either don’t feel comfortable with our own feelings, want to induce a feeling within ourselves, or we don’t feel comfortable with the feelings of others, or want to induce a feeling within them.
I love talking with my Atlanta therapy clients about boundaries, because so many of us struggle in this area. Myself included. Just think about it. If I set strong boundaries with myself I would workout as much as I know I should, eat clean all the time, and achieve my daily goals rather than veg out in front of the TV.
Now, as an Atlanta therapist, I’ve done a lot of work on setting boundaries with myself, and others so I’m in a good place. But, it could definitely get better.
What’s the reason I don’t set the best and strongest boundaries with myself? Well, I like how unhealthy food makes me FEEL in the moment when I’m indulging. I don’t like how a grueling workout FEELS so rough. I enjoy how relaxed I FEEL when I zone out and watch TV. You get the gist. I’m either trying to avoid or trying to promote a feeling, in that moment.
And then there’s the concern about other people’s feelings. I may not set a boundary with my dad when he calls five times a day because I’m worried he’ll FEEL isolated. I may not set a boundary with my spouse when he expects me to drop my plans in order to participate in his hobby because I’m worried he’ll not FEEL supported.
Ooh, and then there’s the combo. I may not want to set a boundary with my friend because she’ll FEEL rejected and think I’m a bad friend which will cause me to FEEL shame. I may fail to set a boundary with a co-worker because he may FEEL uninterested in the conversation and I may FEEL lonely. Whoa. All these feelings on both sides.
So, what do we do about this? We’ve got to work to rewire our thinking and really take a look at what’s going on. Try these questions and see if they help.
- Am I avoiding a feeling? How come? How would I benefit if I chose to face the feeling?
- How could setting this boundary with myself or someone else help our relationship?
- What damage am I doing by allowing this to go on rather than setting a boundary?
- How can setting this boundary protect me or protect the relationship?
- How am I hurting myself or someone else by not setting this boundary?
- Could I benefit from feeling uncomfortable for a bit?
- How is staying comfortable hurting me or hurting someone else?
- What can I do to help myself while I feel uncomfortable?
- What can I do to help the other person when my boundary causes them to feel discomfort?
Boundary setting isn’t always easy, and there certainly is a level of tolerating uncomfortable feelings when we initially set boundaries. But, there’s something beautiful about it if we just hang in there. Although setting the boundary with ourselves or with someone else might initially be uncomfortable, in the long run the discomfort is way less severe than the discomfort that comes from not setting boundaries with ourselves or others. So, looking back at my examples for a second we can see how this works.
If I force myself to eat healthy, I may not feel quite as great in the moment because I’m eating healthy vegetables as opposed to addicting sugar snacks. But, in the long run I have more energy and am a lot more healthy. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t uncomfortable to eat healthy. It certainly takes sacrifice! But, the sacrifice is worth it if I want to stay healthy for my family and make the most of my life.
Let’s look at another one. When a coworker is being inappropriate in conversation it might feel slightly uncomfortable to say something simple like ‘Hey, I’ feeling uncomfortable in this conversation. Can we agree to keep it appropriate?’ But, let’s say I choose to say it anyway. Maybe the coworker responds with something like ‘I apologize. I totally didn’t mean anything by it’ and stops being inappropriate. That’s so much greater than if the coworker continued being inappropriate for the next two months. Or, maybe the coworker decides to avoid me because they’re not ready to change. It might hurt a little, but I’ve got the skills to connect with friends. I’ll be okay, but I wouldn’t have been okay with the coworker continuing in that direction.
Boundary setting is tricky when you’re dealing with unhealthy people or if you are unhealthy. If it feels tricky to you, why not talk to a therapist? We’re great at helping people navigate boundaries.