How Do I Set Boundaries With My Family and Friends?

I’m not sure how to start one of these! Ok, so it seems like my friends and family only treat me like a commodity. Sometimes I feel like I’m an old doll put on the Shelf. Then when someone can use me for a purpose that’s when I’m taken off the shelf. It’s only when I can be used do I feel like I’m an important person to them. It really hurts me. I’m not sure what to do about it. I don’t know if I should talk to them or find other ways of setting boundaries. Advice would be helpful. Thanks!

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I’m sorry to hear that you are feeling used and hurt. This is a feeling I can relate to because I’m a chronic people pleaser, and it has taken a lot of self-reflection and therapy to move away from the need to always please others and put myself first instead. In the worst of my people-pleasing days, I would do anything that was asked of me, and I never expressed my own needs. As a result, people walked all over me and I was stewing with a heart full of resentment. I had to change my self-perception and start clearly communicating expectations, not only for my own mental health, but to save these relationships. It’s something that I still struggle with, but I have turned a corner and am the best at expressing my emotions and needs than I ever have been, and my relationships and personal happiness have been reaping the benefits.

It could be that you have surrounded yourself with a bunch of users, but my rule for any scenario when it seems like everyone is treating you in a certain way is to look at what is in common in all these relationships: you. What is more likely than them being a bunch of dill holes is that your friends and family treat you this way because you haven’t communicated that it hurts you. Perhaps you are that friend who will always let someone rant about their day with no expectation of them returning the favor. People tend to think these types of friends have an endless supply of kindness and generosity for them, or more realistically, they don’t think about their feelings at all. This doesn’t mean they are any more self-involved than the general populace. Keep in mind that everyone is walking around in their own world, consumed with whatever is going on in their lives. It takes perceptive and sensitive people who are genuinely interested in your inner world to put themselves in your shoes, and even these people are caught up in their own stuff. You cannot expect anyone to read your mind; you have to clearly communicate your needs and you have to tell them when they hurt you.

Vocalizing these feelings can release you from the burden of them. I suggest you do talk to some of your friends and family about how you have been feeling, but keep a couple of things in mind. Some people will react better to this conversation than others. Some will get defensive, and some will try to minimize your feelings to make themselves feel better about hurting you. Others might be horrified that they have made you feel this way and feel very guilty about it, which, if you are like me, may make you feel terrible, too. There are some people who are going to be receptive to this conversation and will immediately take steps to ease this burden on you, but others are not going to be that emotionally intelligent. So yes, have conversations about it with the people you can trust to listen nonjudgmentally and validate your feelings, but with the people who aren’t going to be so kind, you can skip it if it is going to be more trouble than it’s worth. For both of these groups, however, you will have to actively set boundaries.

The first step in setting boundaries is to define them. You know what certain people always ask of you, so reflect on which of these things makes you feel used and drained, which you don’t mind doing so much, and which you actually enjoy. Know where your limits are so you can make them very clear. I would suggest you journal at this topic. Not only this is a great way to process emotions, it will also serve as a reminder of why you need to set these boundaries, which will be helpful when you are tired and feel like it would be easier to just give in. Write down certain go-to phrases for setting boundaries that specifically apply to scenarios in which you feel used. Some that have worked for me in the past:

“That isn’t convenient for me.”
“Now is not the right time.”
“I don’t feel comfortable doing that.”
“I can’t make that a priority.”
“I am not the right person for that; please ask someone else.”

The trick is to remain strong and always keep in mind why you are doing this. You might find that a mantra you can return to again and again will help you keep your conviction. If you are a visual person, you might write down an empowering phrase on a post-it note next to your mirror. Continuing to journal can help you keep in touch with your emotions through this process, and allow you to see where you have improved and where you still need work. Try anything you can do to help you remember that this is worth it. YOU are worth it.

There will be people who truly are using you for your generous nature, and once you start putting up boundaries, they may disappear from your life. This can hurt, but take this as the blessing that it is; you don’t need them. The added bonus is that you will find out which people truly love, care for, and respect you. These are the people who are on your team. Hold them close and appreciate them for the valuable role they play in your life. Foster these relationships by yes, helping them when they need it and you have the emotional resources, but also asking for their help. Keep these relationships as balanced as you can by leaning on them as much as they lean on you; you can trust the people who really care to be quite content with this arrangement.

It won’t be an easy journey, but it will be worth it. Keep your head up and give yourself a pat on the back for doing some important emotional work. Best of luck!

Ginzo

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