Just how “free” do you feel in your relationships?
My work centers on people who are in some form of emotional pain – anger, anxiety, sadness or guilt. This is due to either current circumstances or past emotional injuries that have not healed. Most often, my clients seek help for what is ultimately a relational issue – marital, family, close friendship, or work. It’s easy and natural for us to focus on the ways others have wronged us or not been sensitive to our needs. And while that other person has a role, it’s also useful to look at how we might be contributing to the problem. One way might be a lack of healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries comes down to being comfortable with saying one word: No.
Why is it so hard to say this word to those we love? Most often, the root of this issue is fear:
•Fear of the other person’s anger
•Fear of being seen as selfish
•Fear of hurting the other person’s feelings
•Fear of no longer being loved/liked (loss of the relationship)
Do you feel like your life is not your own because of all the mental energy spent trying to please other people? Those with a pleaser personality style often end up feeling powerless, infringed upon or even victimized. It’s important to remember that we don’t have the ability to control how the other person responds to our no.
Signs that you are beginning to develop healthy boundaries:
•You have a sense of self that is free to be apart from the other person. I can love you and be connected to you without trying to change you. You are free to have your own thoughts, feelings, and make your own choices.
•You take responsibility for your own life and allow others to take responsibility for theirs, without trying to rescue.
•You are able to say no appropriately, and also respect someone else’s no
Please hear that I’m not suggesting that you go out today and alienate everyone with whom you have a boundary problem. Start with an honest internal review: in which relationships do you feel most frustrated or resentful? A small action step could be as simple as not answering your phone before/after certain hours in the day, if that’s needed. Eventually, you might need to have a difficult conversation with someone (see my previous post, The Art of Healthy Confrontation: 8 Steps).
What areas do you need to begin setting limits in? Do you find yourself often saying yes out of guilt? What is it costing you emotionally each time you say yes when you really mean no? Check back with the site as we continue to explore this in an upcoming post on boundaries with family members.
This article is intended for general education purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional counseling or medical care. If you are interested in seeking professional counseling, please call The Stone Foundation at 410-296-2004.
Elicia McIntyre, a licensed clinical social worker, and graduate of Smith College School for Social Work, has 15 years’ experience providing counseling to adults, children and families in the Baltimore-Washington metro area. She has helped clients navigate life transitions, depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties. Elicia helps couples increase emotional intimacy, and foster healthy connections among family members. She has spent the past 3 years traveling nationally and overseas, providing education and intervention to military service members and their families on communication, stress management and building healthy relationships.