Developing and sticking with healthy relationship boundaries – the people pleasers guide
Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. Whether we are thinking of relationships with an intimate partner, our children, parents, siblings, work colleagues or friends. They all have two things in common, the need for communication and boundaries. Developing healthy relationship boundaries is key; people pleasers can find this tricky. But it is possible, read on to find out how.
Boundaries and people pleasers
People pleasers consistently put the needs of other people ahead of thier own. When we give to others without a second thought, asking for help or support in the form of a boundary can feel very odd or uncomfortable.
People pleasers are great listeners but may struggle to communicate what they really feel or need help with. Changing and adapting themselves to suit the needs of those around them, can frequently lead to feeling overlooked or taken for granted.
Being a people pleaser can sometimes be driven by a fear of being rejected or losing the relationship.
But, the lack of boundaries keeps us fearful and lacking in confidence both inside and outside our relationships. Driving us further into a quiet place, putting others first and feeling pretty rotten emotionally.
Healthy, positive relationships feed and nurture us at our very deepest level. We are human, our need to connect with other people is hard wired into us (even for introverts like me!).
Boundaries play a key part in what makes a relationship feel fulfilling and uplifting.
When we feel that our boundaries have been overstepped or trampled on, relationships can start to feel out of balance, one sided, overwhelming, suffocating, uncomfortable or even toxic.
The flip side of this is that when our boundaries are upheld, it allows our self-esteem and confidence to flourish. It gives us a feeling of safety and security.
What is a boundary anyway?
A boundary is an invisible line that differentiates us from another person. It’s the point where you stop and the other person begins. Boundaries are the things that we will and won’t accept in a relationship. Often based on our view of ourselves and what we value in life.
Boundaries are not about controlling another person, they are a way of allowing each person the freedom to be who they truly are.
They enable us to say no without feeling guilty, allow us to ask for what we need or feel safe to disagree on something.
You are unique
You are unique and therefore, so are your boundaries. Unless you get clear about what you need or want and communicate it effectively, the door is left wide open to feeling stifled or neglected.
What sort of boundaries don’t work?
There are three main types of boundaries that just don’t work effectively within relationships.
- Loose boundaries
This might be by just not having any and perhaps telling ourselves we are just going with the flow. Or, we set boundaries but don’t stick to them.
This is a typical mindset for a people pleaser!
- Rigid boundaries
Those that include phrases like always or never. These are almost impossible to keep – even if you were Superman or Wonder Woman! When things feel impossible, we avoid or ignore them. We are setting ourselves up for failure from the word go.
- Manipulative boundaries
This might involve a trade off or a reward for doing or not doing something. In intimate relationships this is often around sex or money. This type of boundary makes relationships very one sided and unequal.
Here are 5 simple steps to follow to develop healthy relationships within your relationships:
- Get clear
Decide what it is that you really need or want to help you feel safe, secure, free and confident within the relationship.
Try to understand what scares you and what helps to remove this fear; for example, a fear might be around getting into debt, so boundaries around money in your relationship are going to be essential.
Define what it will mean to you when this boundary is in place and why it’s important to you.
- Say it
Say what you think, feel and need, what you want to happen and why it’s important. Explain the difference it will make to you.
You might need to practice and get comfortable with saying the words. How you do this is up to you but it could be saying it in the mirror, talking it through with a friend or even writing it down can be helpful.
Be prepared to listen to what the other person has to say too, otherwise it will come across as a list of demands, which is unlikely to go down well!
Show the other person that you are listening to them, their point of view and that you understand what they are saying.
Even if you don’t wholly agree, it’s important to show that you hear and understand them.
It allows you both to have a conversation rather than one person feeling attacked or defensive. Which ultimately, can create a cycle for a people pleaser, where you see the distress or frustration in the other, want to make them feel better, or just to keep the peace, so you put their needs first at the expense of your own.
- Own it
These are your needs. Be prepared to own them. By saying ‘I need ….’ instead of ‘you need to ……’ changes the focus and feel of the conversation.
It allows the other person to see where your boundary is and why, rather than them feeling criticised, which can often lead to arguments or conflict.
- Consider compromise
Healthy relationships are about balance and equality. Sometimes boundaries need to be worked out by discussion and compromise on both sides.
By having clarity on what you need and communicating it effectively, can really help to identify what you will and won’t compromise on.
It’s time to maintain those boundaries
You’ve set some boundaries. They aren’t too loose, too rigid or manipulative. It might have been really tricky getting to this point or you could be surprised at how much easier it’s been.
You’ve done it. You’ve had the difficult conversation. Now, it’s time to maintain those boundaries.
Reaffirm the boundary
If you feel that your boundaries are being pushed, it’s important to say so to the other person. Afterall, you worked really hard to set them in the first place.
Gently remind the other person of the conversation that you had and the agreement you made.
Explain again why it’s important to you and how it makes you feel when the boundary is pushed.
You might need to be firm and say no.
I get it, saying no can be hard; it’s the smallest word but one of the hardest for lots of us to say.
No wasn’t a word that came into my vocabulary for a long time. It was there in my head bu wasn’t something that I said very often if at all. Over time I’ve learnt how to say no in a way that feels right for me.
How? I practised saying the word. I found lots of different ways that I could say no. From ‘NO’ to ‘I can’t now but I can at this time’. The more I practised it the easier it became and the simpler life felt.
My boundaries remained in one piece and I avoided that anxious feeling of having agreed to something that I then had to undo. I realised that this feeling was worse than the ones I was experiencing around saying no!!
I recognised that sometimes being firm with my boundaries and saying no is essential for my own wellbeing at times.
Setting your boundaries and being able to communicate them to others is tough. Especially when you are used to pleasing others all the time. It can feel very strange putting yourself first but it is empowering.
After the first time you do it, gradually it does start to get easier (in my experience at least!). I hope that some of the ideas I’ve shared are useful.
If you are reading this and thinking, I have no idea where my boundaries are, putting myself first feels selfish or impossible and I can’t find the words to have the conversation, you are not alone.
It might help to talk to a counsellor. It can be helpful to untangle your thoughts, figure out what’s really important to you and discover the best way for you to let others know.
If you live in or near Lancashire and are struggling at the moment, get in touch with me to book a one to one session on 07305 621885 or email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading and see you next month
About the Author
Sarah is a qualified Counsellor, based near Chorley, Lancashire. She works with adults and couples who want to gain clarity, find new direction, figures out ‘who am I?’ and be less haunted by painful emotions. Sarah has a particular interest in working with people who have experienced change (such as redundancy, retirement or divorce), loss or bereavement.