You’ve gotten roped into staying late at work. Again. Or you’ve committed to something that you didn’t want to but felt you had to. Now you’re beating yourself up because you know you should have better boundaries, but you don’t seem to understand how to form them. What do you do?

First, you need to realize that having problems setting boundaries is normal. We have a lot of reasons why we don’t like setting boundaries:

1. Fear. The number one reason we don’t do anything is generally fear. When you don’t know what the outcome is going to be when you first set that boundary, it’s bound to be terrifying.

2. It would be selfish. After all, why should your needs come before anyone else’s?

3. Taking care of yourself is unusual. This point is an extension of the last one. Not only is self-care selfish, but it would take time and resources from caring for others. Forgetting of course, that we can’t take care of anyone if we don’t take care of ourselves first.

4. Someone’s going to get mad at you. Which of course will lead to conflict and maybe even a confrontation. You might find yourself thinking that setting a boundary in these situations is just not worth it. 

5. Doing it the other way is a habit. It might be that you’re used to being asked to stay late at work – every day. Now it’s a habit to stay. The problem is, habits are hard to break, which means setting that boundary doesn’t just involve putting your foot down but changing an entire way of thinking. 

6. There’s a price to pay for saying ‘no.’ If other people trample over your needs to get their own needs met, then when you do say no, you know there’s going to be a negative repercussion. And who needs that kind of commotion in your life?

7. It’s not all that important anyway. Is it? That has more to do with self-esteem than anything. And yes, your boundaries are just that important.

So how do you go about setting boundaries when that’s unusual for you?

  • Start by asking for what you want – and be specific.
  • Be open to compromise.
  • Have an exit strategy if they say ‘no.’ What will you accept?
  • Be ready emotionally for a negative response. Not everything will be a ‘yes.’
  • Don’t take rejection personally.  

Boundaries don’t have to be terrifying. Understanding why you don’t set them is the first step toward establishing positive change. When you use what you know to set solid boundaries for yourself, you will discover peace and happiness that you never knew was even possible.