Tell me if this sounds familiar…
“I know exactly what I want to do!”
“Yes! I’m finally going to commit to my biggest dreams. I know it’s a stretch, but if not now, when?”
“I’m saying yes. I’ve wanted to do this for years. I’m finally going to start this.”
I’m sure you’ve thought something similar to this before.
You feel something deep in your bones. Every cell in your body is cheering you on. You feel excited and a bit nervous, but you finally know what it is you want to do, and you’re ready to commit to it.
Everything in you says, “Woo hoo!”
But then what happens?
Maybe a few weeks, days or even hours later, ‘reality’ hits.
You realise that your choices have implications for other people.
And you start to think about how your choices will impact those around you.
You might not be able to help out as much as you’d previously done.
People have come to rely on you.
You don’t want to disappoint anyone.
And then… you find yourself questioning the clarity you had.
Perhaps your own dream can wait?
Perhaps there’ll be a better time to say ‘yes’ to yourself?
After all, you wouldn’t want to inconvenience other people or come across as selfish.
It’s okay, you can follow your dream later, when the time is right for everyone.
And then… just like that, the sparkle in your eye, the passion in your heart and the thrill of possibility dim.
And once more, doubt begins to creep in and suffocate the excitement you’d been feeling.
Where does this doubt come from?
Doubt creeps in when you’ve not been taught how to have healthy boundaries.
Think about it – were you ever taught how to set healthy boundaries? Were you taught how to:
- ask for what you need?
- confidently say, “No”?
- disappoint others, so you could be true to yourself?
- tell people to stop doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable?
Were any of these behaviours modelled to you when you were a child?
If so, you’re incredibly lucky. Most of us were never taught any of these things.
Instead, we were taught to:
- be agreeable
- be helpful
- be nice
- be seen and not heard
- sacrifice our own dreams and desires to support others
- work hard.
And we were taught to do all of this without making a fuss.
So we never learnt how to create healthy boundaries that made us feel safe and confident in expressing ourselves and asking for what we wanted. Instead, we learnt to create patterns of over-giving and people-pleasing.
The people around us probably rewarded us with recognition and praise for prioritising other people’s needs over our own.
There’s a difference between recognition and love
Especially when we’re young, it’s easy to confuse recognition and praise with love and acceptance.
If you were anything other than agreeable, helpful or selfless, you may have found all that ‘love’ being withheld. You may have even been called a troublemaker, or selfish or inconsiderate.
Recognition and praise are received for what you do.
Genuine love and acceptance are received for who you are.
Genuine love and acceptance are given regardless of what you do, even when what you do may upset or inconvenience others.
Recognition and praise gets confused with love and acceptance because it feels good. It can feel great to have someone tell you how much they love you / how helpful you are etc, not relaising that this ‘love’ and praise came with conditions – conditions on your behaviour.
So at a young age, you learn to compromise your boundaries, express yourself a little less, speak out a little less often, and be more accommodating, so that you receive positive affirmation and attention from those around you.
This compromising very quickly becomes a habit. And as you go through life, it may even be second nature to many people, who many not even notice that they’re doing it.
Assessing your boundaries
Your boundaries probably need strengthening if you notice yourself:
- constantly anticipating other people’s needs
- unable to say “No” (or unable to say it without feeling guilty)
- feeling unsafe about expressing your true thoughts and feelings
- struggling to clearly communicate your needs, or even to know what you need.
The first step is to recognise that there are different types of boundaries, and then ask yourself how you respond when people cross each type.
Emotional Boundaries: Your emotions and feelings
How do you respond if someone tries to tell you that your feelings aren’t valid? Maybe they dismiss you as being ‘too emotional’ or ‘on your period’?
Physical Boundaries: Your physical body and physical space
How do you respond to someone getting too close and making you feel uncomfortable, or being overly tactile in a way that you don’t like?
Material Boundaries: Things that you own or that you’re looking after
How do you respond when people ask to borrow your things and you’d rather they didn’t? What about when people just help themselves to your things and don’t return them, or return them damaged?
Mental Boundaries: Your thoughts, opinions and values
How do you respond to people dismissing your values, talking over you or not honouring your requests?
Look at each of these four boundary areas and be honest with yourself about how you communicate what’s acceptable to you and what’s not. Ask yourself:
- Is it easy for you to assert your boundary?
- Do you even have boundaries in all of these areas?
- How could your boundaries in each area be stronger?
How to strengthen your boundaries
Start by choosing one area, and consciously focus on what you can do to strengthen your boundaries in that area.
Think about who or what pushes that boundary, and create a plan to support yourself in holding the boundary.
This will probably involve practising how you want to assert your boundary, so that maintaining it when you have to becomes easier and more natural.
Perhaps you could practise phrases such as:
- “We’ll have to disagree on this topic.”
- “I’d like to ask that you don’t xyz around me anymore.”
- “Please step back. You’re making me feel uncomfortable.”
- “Please ask before you take xyz again.”
- “You’ve already asked me that, and I’ve given you my answer.”
These phrases may initially feel uncomfortable, but saying them will become easier.
Need help setting stronger boundaries?
The clearer your boundaries are, the more you learn to trust and validate yourself.
And the more you trust yourself, the less you seek external validation – which means you doubt yourself less and become more confident in all areas of your life.
For more information on how to set stronger boundaries and stop allowing doubt to hold you back, check out my book: Ditch the Doubt: The Modern-Witch way to create clarity and feel great about your decisions… every time. Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.