The Nice Person's Guide to Setting Boundaries

Yeah, ok. You keep hearing about "the importance of setting boundaries" and you kind of have an idea of what people mean by that. (It's just saying no a lot more frequently....right?)  

How do you set limits without hurting people's feelings? Especially when you don't even intend to be hurtful, but people take it the wrong way? Sometimes it feels easier to just give in and hope the other person notices that they're asking too much.

Newsflash: They won't. 

Not unless you tell them! But it's OK. Here are some guidelines for setting healthy limits and not feeling guilty about it.

What's your problem?

No, I'm really asking. 

Next time you have that uneasy, resentful, withdrawn, or angry feeling, it might be because your boundaries are being crossed. (OMG stop saying "boundaries.")

So what does that really mean? Maybe someone is taking advantage of you. Or you've agreed to something that you don't actually agree with. Or you're waiting for an apology that isn't coming. Sound familiar? Yes, those are all annoying things, but what is underneath them?

Did you get surprised, or put on the spot?

Are you feeling steamrolled or dismissed by the other person?

Is it that you're being asked to spend more money/time/energy than you actually have?

Did this happen one too many times?

Ask yourself what's really underneath your anger. Is it sadness, hurt, shame, or fear? When you know what the problem is, you can more easily decide your bottom line.

 

Offer options. 

You know your bottom line. Now find out theirs.

(Oh, by the way, you don't have to do this one. You can just say no to whatever the request is. But you're a nice person, so you aren't ready to do that.)

For example, you could say, "I'll do it this time, but next time can you either run this by me first, give me more notice, or at least offer to help?"

"I don't mind you asking, but can you ask me in private? I felt like I had to agree because I was put on the spot."

"Well I wanted to do this instead. Which one should we do first? Can we do that next time?"

This way the other person has an option, instead of just "take it or leave it." People respond positively when they feel like they had a choice in the matter. Even if they don't get what they wanted.

Bonus: This also teaches the other person how to treat you in the future. Instead of just saying no, (which I promise, you could still do instead), you're explaining why. Now they know how they should bring this up from now on, how much time you need, or that you hate surprises. 

 

Give lots of positive reinforcement.

If you notice that someone did respect your limits on time, energy, emotional labor, or money, especially without asking, point it out! "I really appreciate you offering to help. I can do it this time, but I might ask for your help next time." 

"Thanks for checking with me first! Sure, let's go." 

"Thanks for checking with me first! Now that you mention it, I was thinking that it might be better if we did this instead."

The key to this one is being honest about what works for you. If you practice getting in touch with what your limits are (see #1 above), you'll notice them with enough time to actually speak up. 

Now you're being nice but also not over-extending yourself. 

 

Bonus round: Negative reinforcement.

This is actually my favorite one, but it's a little bit less nice. Negative in this case just means "taking something away," not doing "something negative." You're not giving the person what they were trying to get from the situation. When someone does or says something that I don't want to happen again, I simply don't acknowledge it.

Person interrupting you? Ignore. Then keep talking. 

Person telling a shitty joke? Just let it hang over the dinner table like the embarrassment that it is. Maybe change the subject. 

Person saying something condescending, offensive, or straight-up objectifying you to your face? Do the nice-lady-pursed-lip face and say nothing. 

When they don't get what they're looking for, the hope is that they'll eventually stop. (Although, some people can't be helped.) Perhaps this one is reserved for people that don't deserve your energy. It still works, though.

 

Notice how you can do these without attacking the person, bringing up the past, or shaming them? And you're still getting your needs met? AND hopefully encouraging them to remember this for next time? Try these for a few weeks and see if the way people treat you starts to change. 

 

If you're struggling with setting limits and are feeling friendly but over-extended, call (562) 704-4736 for a free consultation about how therapy can help you become an assertiveness-ninja in your relationships. Prospect Therapy welcomes individuals and couples of all genders and orientations in Long Beach, Seal Beach, and surrounding areas.