Do you find yourself saying ‘yes’ when you’d really like to say ‘no’? Are you trying very hard to please others but not looking out for yourself? If so, then you may be struggling to establish healthy boundaries.

Boundaries are like fences – they protect us and keep people and things out of our lives that are undesirable. Without boundaries our lives can feel out of control and open to harm – dictated to by the excessive demands of others, or repeating unhelpful behaviour and thoughts that undermine our wellbeing.

But to establish healthier boundaries you will have to learn to say one of the smallest, but often the hardest words to say: no. Saying no might cause you to worry that people will stop liking you if you don’t agree to their requests. You might think this way due to not being taught assertiveness skills as a child, previous life experiences or demanding relationships. You could have faulty thinking that believes that somehow everyone else is more important than you. If these perceptions have been well established in your life it can be incredibly hard to think differently.

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Setting healthy boundaries begins with understanding that we are not meant to live as doormats and that each person – including us – has the right to be respected and that their time, energy and money are precious and not to be taken lightly. Just as we need to respect other people’s boundaries, so other people should respect ours.

We can have boundaries in terms of our time – ‘no, I can’t give you a lift to the airport at 3am because I have to go to work the next day’, our money – ‘no, I can’t lend you any more money as you never pay it back’, our relationships ‘no, I’m not letting you speak to me so rudely – if you want to spend any more time with me – treat me with respect.’ Our health – ‘no, I’m not going to eat so much chocolate because I want to lose weight.’

Just like fences, boundaries need to be maintained – if someone steps over them or tries to break them down it’s up to us to challenge them, ask them to step back and then put the boundary back up. If we don’t, then the person will get the message that it’s ok to break the boundary and we won’t mind.

If you’re finding that your life has become really difficult due to unfair demands, repetitive unhelpful behaviour, unable to say no and feeling that you’re out of control, then it may be helpful to explore this further with a counsellor to understand the underlying issues that maintain the problem. Or perhaps you’d like help developing some assertiveness – it’s a skill that can be learned and practiced – if so then please get in touch if you’d like to learn more in a safe and confidential space.

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