By Hande Walker, MA, LLP
It is not rare that I hear from my clients, “I don’t need to set boundaries with people around me because people around me are really nice to me” when I get curious about their ability to enforce healthy boundaries. There is a belief that we need to set boundaries with “ill-intentioned individuals who have wronged us in any way.” Setting boundaries is not just to prevent others from taking advantage of or manipulating us. To me, that is a clear indicator that you have already failed to set appropriate boundaries (for very understandable reasons) and that these people did not have any guidelines/rules in place to know how to treat you well. Sure, there may be people who are not respecting of these boundaries even when you are capable of setting them, because your boundaries have no place in their world; it is not fitting with their “self-centered view” of a relationship. However, as a therapist, it is not the egocentric, manipulative, patronizing, excessively demanding partner my clients are trying to set a boundary with. It is usually the relatively healthier partner who would be willing to respect a boundary in order to make their relationship work, because healthy people will respect and honor your boundaries. They will also be happy that you are working on yourself and developing assertiveness skills. For understandable reasons, it is more difficult to set limits with people who we know love and respect us dearly. We are quick to give them the benefit of the doubt they very much deserve, and we prioritize their wellbeing by mistakenly thinking our boundaries will hurt their feelings. To me, if I’m setting a boundary with someone, that means I love and care about them enough that I choose to invest in my relationship. I want them to be in my life so much so that I openly communicate about my physical, emotional, intellectual, and financial boundaries with them, with the expectation that they will respect my needs as a partner, friend, daughter, employee, etc. That way, I am not setting them up for failure by clearly communicating my expectations, and deepening my connection with them further in the process.
If you find yourself manufacturing one excuse after another by saying, “I do not need to set boundaries with people”, I encourage you to revisit your core values and beliefs and question whether you are living your life aligned with these crucial values. What does your day-to-day life look like? Is something or someone getting in the way, with all the good intentions? Are you feeling entitled (a word that may feel so wrong to people who struggle with boundaries) to request that alone time/space to pursue a hobby that you do not consider a priority?
It is possible to improve your time management skills/efficiency by reorganizing your life and being more mindful of the way you use your time. AND, you can also consider asking for the help/support of a partner to see if there is a way they can participate more in the household projects to help take the load off your shoulders. Assuming you have already asked for this need to get met, and the response was negative – here is an example of a healthy expression of needs and boundary setting:
“I really love spending my time painting. I feel that it gets me in that state of flow where I forget about the world, which is exactly what I need when I am so busy with work and responsibilities. When I am the only one completing chores/projects around the house, I do not get enough time to pursue my hobbies and I feel drained. When my needs are not met and I feel unheard, it makes me feel alone in this relationship. I want our relationship to be a place where we can both do what we need to take care of ourselves — so please, in the future, can you be more responsive to my needs by letting me know when you are not able to get a project/chore done and problem solve, so I do not have to worry about it? Perhaps we can assign tasks to both of us to ensure we know what is expected of us, etc.”
Again, in healthy relationships, people will respect that boundary and will work hard with you to improve your relationship without making you feel “too much” for expressing these needs. As long as you express a need constructively in an assertive manner, it is not your responsibility to manage the other person’s feelings if they feel hurt by this. You can, of course, be loving, caring, and compassionate in the process, and hold space for their hurt. The key is that you don’t have to choose between others or yourself; there is room for everyone’s feelings in healthy partnerships.