Are You a People Pleaser? How to Set Personal Boundaries

April 06, 2017

Does your colleague show up at your desk and begin to chat without asking if you have time to spare? Do your parents show up at your home unannounced and expect you to drop everything for a visit? You may recognize something has to change, but how do you appropriately set boundaries with someone in a manner that does not harm your relationship?

“Boundary setting can be challenging, particularly with people that are close to you,” explains Dr. Courtney B. Johnson, a clinical psychologist with Indiana University Health. “But, explaining the rationale behind boundaries can help others improve their ability to understand your perspective and why you made that decision, even if they don’t agree with it.”

Regardless of your connection to a person, setting boundaries can feel intimidating and be difficult to follow through on at first, but, like any habit, it gets easier with practice. When possible, it’s always best to set boundaries through a face-to-face conversation as it helps decrease the likelihood of miscommunication. This also allows for quick resolution of any unforeseen problems.

“You will be more successful in setting boundaries when you communicate in an assertive – clear, direct, but respectful – fashion,” Dr. Johnson advises. “It’s important to consider the reason behind the boundary. For example, if the boundary is related to improving time management at work, then it may be important to explicitly state to collegial coworkers that choosing not to eat lunch in the workroom isn’t because it isn’t enjoyable, but it’s to help increase the odds of leaving work on time. With close friends or family, it can be helpful to discuss the parameters of boundaries together, with input from both parties, as values may be mutually beneficial.”

How do you know when it’s time to set a boundary? As a general guideline, it is about your personal values, such as respect, timeliness or kindness to others. If someone’s behavior conflicts with one of your values, then it’s time to have a talk. Setting a boundary will help clarify for others what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable.

Setting a boundary with someone depends on the context. For those we trust and who are close to us, our boundaries tend to be a bit looser, while we insert tighter boundaries around people where there is a less personal relationship. In your personal relationships, such as with a romantic partner, setting boundaries depends on the relationship itself as well as your own personal limits of when you feel respected or not. With a parent or child, boundaries will change as the roles and dynamics between parents and children shift. When children are young, the parents will likely set the boundary. But, as children age, they may need to set boundaries with their parents, or parents may need to set different boundaries with their children. As a parent, modeling good boundary setting is valuable for children to witness.

While it’s important to set boundaries with others, it is also important to recognize when you may have crossed a boundary with someone else. If you fear that has happened, ask for direct feedback and be receptive to honest responses about whether a boundary was crossed. When crossing your own boundaries, you may feel an emotional response such as anxiety, discomfort, regret or dissatisfaction.

“Emotional feedback is helpful information to indicate when our behaviors are inconsistent with personal values, such as boundaries,” Dr. Johnson explains. “By setting a boundary, you will not only help regulate the behavior of others, but it can also help you make decisions and say yes or no to opportunities with better clarity.”

-- By Gia Miller

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