When you have a fawn trauma response, setting a boundary with someone can be hard and I mean really really hard. Most likely you were taught as a child not to set boundaries or you would damage your relationships with the important adults in your life. The first step in setting healthy boundaries is to have some compassion for yourself. This doesn’t always come easy, but self-compassion is necessary alongside some patience and perseverance. Go easy on yourself and understand that being good at setting boundaries with other people can take some time. Once you have made a commitment to yourself, you will eventually be able to look back and see how much your wellbeing has improved.
Setting healthy boundaries is a way to care about yourself and the relationships you value. Yes, you might lose some relationships along the way, but you may strengthen some. When you set a boundary with someone you are giving them the opportunity to have a healthy relationship with you. You might feel guilty, but this will pass, and you may be left with a more satisfying relationship. Gabor Mate says ‘always choose guilt over resentment…a refusal saddles you with guilt, while consent leaves resentment in its wake, opt for the guilt. Resentment is soul suicide’. Resentment eats away at us and we have no way of alleviating it without instilling boundaries or becoming avoidant of the person. Resentment lives in our bodies and can weigh us down.
Here are some tips to start setting boundaries…
Give yourself permission not to be helpful
Do you jump right in and offer your assistance before you have even been asked for help? Do you feel responsible to be helpful if someone is experiencing a problem that you know you could help with? Try pausing and listening to your needs before you put your hand up to help straight away. It’s not your job to fix other people’s problems. When you naturally give to other people it can feel strange not to help, especially when you know you have the capabilities. However just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If you need to take time out for yourself, give yourself permission not to be helpful.
Understand not everyone has to agree with me
Not everyone is going to agree with you and that’s ok. You are allowed to assert yourself, set boundaries and put yourself first. Some people are not going to like this but sometimes you need to set boundaries to protect yourself and your wellbeing. Remember people with toxic behaviours usually have the most difficulty accepting other people’s boundaries. If you are setting a boundary and you know the person you are setting the boundary with is going to be difficult about it, plan some self-care and look after yourself.
Take responsibility for your own happiness
You are responsible for your own happiness just like other people are responsible for theirs. For us to be happy and healthy we need to have the freedom to be ourselves, have free self-expression and take care of our own needs. This becomes hard if we are taking care of everyone else’s emotions and needs. Healthy boundary setting is part of taking responsibility for your own happiness.
Approach boundary setting with the goal of improving meaningful relationships
You can be kind and still set a boundary with someone. If you are feeling nervous about setting a boundary with someone you love you can still approach boundary setting from a place of kindness. If you genuinely care about the person you are setting the boundary with then think about how setting a boundary is taking steps towards taking care of that relationship rather than building resentment and tension where you haven’t given the other person the opportunity to find a good place.
I recently had a client who was feeling stressed about a close friend where the relationship had been taking an emotional toll on her. She was always there to support her friend emotionally hardships, always arranged their meet ups and always ended up getting the coffee. Her friend was also asking for inappropriate requests during times of her own emotional difficulties. She was beginning to realise the relationship had become unbalanced and she was giving a lot more than she was receiving.
A large hurdle to get over was the fear her friend would react negatively and do something drastic like end the relationship. She had seen her do this with other people in her life and wanted to avoid this outcome. However she made a conscious decision to choose improving the relationship because she loved and cared for her friend very much. She choose to potentially improve the relationship over avoiding her friend and/or possibly losing the friendship. In being courageous she had a good outcome and her friend was understanding. Now they can both work together to shift some of the dynamics.
You can still be kind and set boundaries, you can still let down other people by saying no. It’s ok to speak up for yourself, be assertive and refuse disrespect. It doesn’t make you a horrible person, it makes you someone who is setting healthy boundaries and giving the people you have relationships with the opportunity to meet your needs too. Unhealthy people tend to be the ones that are unable to accept other people’s boundaries. If you experience intense conflict from setting a boundary, maybe it is an indicator that it’s time for you both to have some individual growth away from the relationship.