Why is setting boundaries and sticking to them so hard?

March 24, 2019

You did it again.

Said “yes” to that request when you vowed not to. Took on that extra project at work or church. Caved in on a program of restrictions to a child. Rushed in to rescue that family member — again.

Why is it so hard for us to set boundaries and stick with them?

First of all, there are more elements to the equation than you. Other people are involved, and that’s where the wild cards come in.

You teach people how to treat you. We all do.

And when you change the course, others won’t get it. At least not at first. People do what works. And you’ve trained them to respond in certain ways.

That’s why it takes so much time to set healthy boundaries and stick with them. As human beings, we’re resistant to change. So, the key to establishing any new pattern is found in “The Three R’s”: Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

Remember... you’re retraining yourself as well. It’s just as easy for you to fall back into the old patterns.

That’s why you said “yes” to that request.

The good news is that we get lots of times “at bat” in this living laboratory of life. So, dust yourself off, and realize you just need to reboot.

Boundaries are hard — especially for really nice people. When you’re a compassionate person, there’s a tendency to want to give second chances — and thirds and fourths.

If that’s making you miserable, though, listen up.

Why boundaries are good

First of all, boundaries are essential to healthy relationships. They create safe spaces for trust.

“Boundaries set the ground rules for how people can argue, feel angry, get hurt, express their true feelings and still love each other and laugh together,” says researcher and writer Isabel Beecher. Sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it? Easier said than done, though.

Most definitions of the word “boundary” include a reference to setting limits. And that’s really what you’re doing when you set boundaries in relationships.

Boundaries are internal understandings that help us love each other better, says Beecher. I love that take on the concept. It acknowledges that both people involved have a responsibility.

The trouble is, a boundary is often set by one person — and the other person is pulled along. So, it’s healthy to think about both parties when setting up the boundary in the first place.

If your intention is to “get to a better place” in the relationship, you could look at framing the boundary in this way. And communicating the positive side of the equation, not just the part that may seem punitive.

Direct communication

For a lot of folks, it’s hard to say what you mean — and mean what you say. You end up tiptoeing around delicate situations or going to a third person to complain about it.

You may attempt to sweep things under the rug or come on like a bulldozer. Neither of these is a healthy approach.

The hardest part is breaking the ice. So, if you’re looking at setting a boundary, give a lot of thought up front to your intention — and the way you’re going to communicate it.

Set the stage by picking a time and location that will allow both of you to focus and not be distracted. Introduce the concept in advance with some neutral phrases that don’t put the other person on the defense. “We need to talk” is not one of those phrases.

Here are a few you might like to consider:

“Right now my platter is overflowing, and I have some ideas to run by you.”

“I need to catch up with you. Are you available to get together on Friday — or over the weekend?”

“My bandwidth is really low right now, and I need to make some adjustments.”

Yours and mine

We all have our own issues to deal with. Confusion is caused in a relationship when you think someone else is responsible for your feelings. And vice versa.

If you’re lonely anxious or in pain, that is your problem to solve — not anyone else’s, says Beecher. Your friends and family can support you. They can love you, and they can remind you who you are.

However, they cannot fix it for you. They can’t make the hurt or anxiety go away. “They are not responsible for saving you from your negative feelings or problems,” explains Beecher. “That’s on you — not them.”

On the flipside, it’s unhealthy to abandon your own needs or happiness in an attempt to fulfill another person. An important skill is asking for what you want or saying what you need. There’s nothing heroic about not mentioning your own needs — because they don’t just vanish.

Be accountable. If you aren’t communicating what you feel, you’re expecting the other person to figure it out. And that’s not their job.

Getting into the flow

The more you practice these techniques, the easier it will be to address those conflicts in your life. It definitely takes time, though.

Consistency is the key. When you see the peace that can come from setting — and sticking with — boundaries, though, the return on your investment will be evident.

No more playing “out of bounds!”

©2019 Linda Arnold Life 101, all rights reserved. Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and Founder of a multistate marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at linda@lindaarnold.org For information on her books, go to www.lindaarnold.org or Amazon.com