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Set Boundaries And Protect Yourself

As Christmas approaches and everything gets hectic, the demands on you increase. It’s especially easy to say ‘yes’ to too many things. Learn how to set personal boundaries for strength and safety.
Find out about:
  • Sharing isn’t always caring
  • Respecting your needs
  • Communicating
  • Deciding boundaries
  • Saying yes can be a habit
  • Playing for time
  • Answering in your own way




From the time you were tiny you were told to share your toys. It’s all very well to become a considerate social being but if you are a sensitive, caring person you may have learnt to suppress your true needs and feelings.
However, we all have needs, and these are legitimate and healthy.  If you consistently ignore your needs you can become irritable, depressed and have outbursts of temper. All of this probably makes you feel guilty – so you try to please even harder, setting up a vicious cycle of frustration.
Learn to be kind to yourself first. It’s no cliché to learn that’s the only first step to giving from the heart to others is first to be kind to yourself.


If you think about it, who are the nicest people you know? Are they the doormats who cooperate but don’t have much of a spark? People who are always trying to impress by their do-gooding attitude and making everyone else feel guilty? The martyrs who have no time for themselves and wear a pained expression? Or are they the people who give in a moderate way, enjoying life, often helpful but sometimes not able to, and who are generally fun and comfortable to be near?
The latter sort are the people to imitate. After all, what’s the point in giving, giving, giving if you’re exuding an atmosphere of resentment? Start respecting yourself and think of it as cleaning the psychic pollution around you – a favour to you and the world.


It can be hard at first to say how you feel and what you want. Start with very simple things, like food. Many of us were conditioned not to listen to our own stomachs and told to clear our plates otherwise we’d be rude and wasteful. Now you are an adult. Consider your ‘waist’ not ‘waste’ – what could be worse than treating your body like a dustbin? So state your nutrition needs gently and clearly.
Be clear about your other basic, physical needs, such as rest, sleep, exercise. It is easier for people to accept such needs because they can see them and they are undeniable. Learn to be firm and follow through what you say with actions.
Start small when communicating your needs and note every success, however minor it may seem.


Maybe you are so used to fitting in with the wishes of others that you’ve lost sight of your own. You will need to think about this. Write down your thoughts, including the parts of your life where your boundaries are being invaded. Where do you want to draw the line and how are you going to do it?
It needs courage to say ‘No’ and put people off, but why are their feelings more important than yours? Won’t they get over it? The answer is yes, and you will feel better in the end.
Setting boundaries doesn’t have to mean a total No. For instance, if a friend phones you to offload and complain every night, explain that you can’t be available all the time but you can promise to give her your full attention on Saturday morning, for half an hour. It often helps to offer something positive, and to give others compliments, such as telling them you value their friendship. But you can’t be on call 24/7
People will soon get used to your new way of behaving – even you! Forgive yourself if you give in sometimes. Just get back on the wagon, until self-care becomes second nature.


You know the saying ‘old habits die hard’. It’s true that if you do something often enough it gets hardwired into your brain and you do it automatically. Breaking such habits needs a lot of effort. You are fighting two forces – your own wish to please and the familiar rut that is so easy to slip into.
Tell yourself you will break that habit. This doesn’t mean that you create another habit of saying ‘No’ – it means you get in the way of thinking first. Maybe a close friend who has your best interests at heart can act as a mentor. A gentle ‘Hey, are you doing it again?’ can work wonders.


It’s easy to be bounced into agreeing to things that aren’t really right for you. You want to be nice, and you may be feeling mellow at the time. Or you don’t have time to think the situation through. You may answer on impulse and then feel committed.  
There’s one simple way round this and one helpful habit to get into. It’s playing for time. Always say ‘Maybe’, ‘I will if I can’ and/or ‘I’ll let you know. This gives you time to reflect – is this really right for you or is it one job too much. Perhaps it’s a task or event that you truly don’t fancy.
After you’ve had an in depth chat with yourself and become clear about your feelings, answer accordingly. Of course make sure you do answer, quickly and clearly. Your refusal shouldn’t offend any reasonable person, but messing people around isn’t going to help you feel good about yourself.


If you are a natural ‘pleaser’ it’s going to be hard to say ‘No’, at least at first.  There’s no need to set yourself the challenge of looking people in the eye unless you want to.
Make your views known by phone or text (although choose your words with great care!)  It may be best to say as little as possible, be clear, firm and pleasant – and set yourself free.



Now you know about the need for boundaries, respecting your needs, defining your limits, how saying yes can be a habit, playing for time and answering in your own way.  Personal boundaries make life so much more pleasant and rewarding, so if you’re having a struggle call our team of supportive Readers to see things clearly and be strengthened.



PUBLISHED: 14 December 2017

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