How can I say no and get control over my life again – 5 methods to successfully create healthy boundaries

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Dear Lauren.

I have a friend that has been majorly fighting with her long term boyfriend all the time. She really does not have any other friends besides me so I know that there is no one else for her to go talk to. As a friend I am always happy to be there for her but lately I have been feeling that her life is taking over my life. She has been calling me in the middle of the night, and she expects me to drop my plans on a dime when she needs me. I even got in trouble at work for taking her calls. When I try to say I’m busy she cries. I feel so bad when she begs me to come over. I feel like such a lousy, selfish friend. I just have to do it. She is such a sweet person she doesn’t deserve to be as miserable as she is. But constantly being there for her is affecting my sleep, my job and I am just so exhausted from this whole thing. I feel so stuck. What should I do?


Dear C.G,

I understand that you are in a difficult situation. Your friend is important to you so you want to be there for her. However, being a good friend doesn’t mean you have to constantly self-sacrifice or put your life on hold to meet the needs and desires of your loved ones. Putting your needs aside for hers is not only unfair to you but it is also unrealistic to be providing this amount of support on a regular basis. Something is bound to be affected, whether it is your health, career, social life and even your self worth. Your life is important too and if she is a good friend like you are saying, then she will want your happiness and be understanding that you have needs as well.

Do you feel that you can have an honest conversation with her regarding your needs, feelings and how this is negatively impacting on your life? If you don’t tell her how you feel, she will never know that what she is doing is harming you. This can be done by setting boundaries. Having healthy boundaries means being self aware to know and understand what your limits are. They protect you from expending too much energy on relationships that aren’t mutually reciprocated . Without boundaries, relationships break down. We also can become overwhelmed and over time resent one another. Setting clear boundaries allows us to remain connected and have open communication to ensure that the relationship stays strong and safe.

I understand that having a conversation about your limits can be uncomfortable, but it must be done to help you gain the emotional stability and strength you need to gain your life back and for your overall emotional health.

Below this response, I have provided a list of 5 methods to successfully create healthy boundaries. Please look it over as it may provide some insight on how to better prepare and execute what this conversation on boundaries might look like.

It is important to keep in mind that while creating boundaries will help you personally, you may still feel guilty and obligated to help your friend decompress from the emotional stress by listening. However, because this is something that is ongoing for her, what she really needs are tools that can help her cope with the issues that she is experiencing. By being there for her on a regular basis, it sounds like this has created a reliance and emotional dependence on you which will encourage her to perpetually reach out to you in the future. The disadvantage for her is that this limits herself from finding other outlets and tools to help her cope/emotionally manage her life. The best coping mechanism one can have is finding the strength to help themselves independently. By doing this she can find the peace and happiness that I know you are seeking to give her.

She also may benefit from ongoing help from a trained professional who can assist her with gaining these tools and working through her challenges. They may have more resources and time than you can provide your friend with. Also, if you are not in an emotionally healthy state you may not be as effective in helping her.

If you are not the person to always provide her with this mental health assistance, that doesn’t make you selfish or a bad friend. You are building a healthy sense of self that strengthens and protects you from emotionally extending and harming yourself. That is a necessary element for you to live a healthy life.

If you feel that you would like further assistance helping you build effective boundaries and explore the reasons that are preventing you from implementing them, please feel free to contact me and schedule a session. I am here to support you.

5 Methods to Successfully Create Healthy Boundaries

1. Become aware of what you are feeling and identify what boundaries need to be set and why

What are your goals and priorities in life and in this situation? Knowing what is important to you will help bring you clarity to what your needs are. Identify what makes you feel uncomfortable in a situation, when does this happen and what behaviours can you not tolerate. Listen to your instincts. What are the red flags that are being presented?

One way of achieving this is to create a scale of 1-10 on how uncomfortable the situation makes you feel. Consider the following:

     a) What factors are causing this situation?
     b) What is the situation eliciting that’s making me resentful or stressed?
     c) What is it about this interaction, or the person’s expectation that is making me uncomfortable?
     d) What I am doing to perpetuate this behaviour?
     e) Identify what kind of boundary is best for you to set? For example:
        Hard boundaries – non-negotiable boundaries that must be set for your emotional wellbeing and safety
        Soft boundaries – compromise with the other person on ways that you can work together to create a win-win situation
     f) What I am doing to perpetuate this behaviour?
     g) Review your options: What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over?

Once you have the answers to your questions, specifically name the boundary that you want to set and the change that you wish to achieve.

It is also important to look within yourself to analyze if there are some benefits that you are receiving from this situation that you are not ready to let go of. For example, by being in this situation are you in a hero role? Will you be better liked? Are you preventing conflict in fear of feeling abandoned. The answers to these questions might also be playing a role in perpetuating your choice to leave things as they are.

2) Understand your fears, guilt and self doubt

Understand how you feel about the repercussions of setting boundaries both real and imagined. When thinking of setting boundaries, look within yourself to see what feelings come up from the thought of setting boundaries. What is stopping you from setting these boundaries? Thoughts such as “they won’t like me if I do this,” “I don’t want to let my friend, coworker or loved one down,” or “I’m not able to do this,” may start to bubble up.

It is important to consider Not everyone may react favorably to you setting new boundaries. You are not going to please everyone when you set boundaries, however it is vital that you honor your feelings and not have to tolerate something that makes you feel uncomfortable or taken advantage of.

If someone doesn’t respect you and your boundaries you can choose the path of self-respect, self-care, and leave relationships that do not serve you. Don’t stress. Take a deep breath, look at the bigger picture, imagine yourself moving passed this moment, Think about how setting this change can impact your life. Visualize what this conversation might look like and the benefits that can arise from these boundaries.

3) When confronting another, be direct about your expectations

When you are communicating to others about your boundaries, be clear about what your needs and expectations are. In a respectful way, let the other person know what in particular is bothersome to you and how this problem has been affecting you. Brainstorm on ways that you can work together with the other person to address it.

Don’t let people talk you into or out of things. You can still be kind yet firm at the same time. Your loved ones may be upset that you no longer are doing as they wish but if they are important to you, they should be able to get over it and respect your decision. If people cannot respect your decision then that says more about what the other person needs to work on and less about you.

4) Make self-care a priority

Give yourself permission to set boundaries and respect yourself. Adhering to your boundaries increases your self-esteem, self-worth, and gives you the time you need to take care of yourself. Acknowledge how these vital needs are integral to your self care. By recognizing the importance of your feelings, you honour yourself. Make some time to reassure yourself about why you are setting boundaries. You are honouring a promise to yourself, a commitment to your self-care, to make improvements to your wellbeing and to move forward with your life. You are worth it and deserve to be happy.

5) Start practicing with creating smaller boundaries

One way to help you achieve a better sense of comfort and ease around the idea of putting boundaries in place is to practice setting boundaries in a safe manner that can produce minimal consequences. A way this can be achieved is by setting is by keeping small promises to yourself. This can be by saying no to a social event, or choosing to do something that you want to do and not letting anything interfere with it. After you have completed this, notice how you feel? Do you feel strong or proud? Accomplished? Maybe anxious? These insights can provide clues of any additional changes that need to be implemented in order to successfully set future boundaries.

Remember to be easy on yourself and have compassion for your journey. Setting boundaries takes courage, practice and time. Reward yourself for all your small successes and try to surround yourself with positive people who do respect your needs.