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Boundaries and Authenticity


In this article you will learn why it is important to set boundaries and live how you want regardless of other people’s opinions. You will learn ways to set such boundaries and communicate your needs affectively. I believe this is an important topic for discussion regardless of how old you are or which chapter of life you are in.

Why Boundaries are Important

Throughout our lives we are continuously learning how to balance our own desires and needs with the expectations of others. I am not sure if how to set and maintain boundaries is something people are taught explicitly or if they just wing it through life’s ups and downs until they figure things out on their own. May it be an adult child and parent relationship, romantic partnership, friendship, caregiving partnership, or professional relationship. In all scenarios it is important to communicate genuinely, respectfully, and assertively. Perhaps those of you reading this can resonate with this topic.

Saying yes with a smile when asked to do something, even if you didn’t have the time, energy, or mental capacity to do what was requested was equated with being nice, well mannered, and an overall good person. Growing up people might have called you kind or generous. Teachers at school and bosses at the workplace use you as the example student/employee. You are the one in the friend group who everyone calls when they need help. You became the person that said yes regardless of whether you wanted to or not. You became a people pleaser and lost who you wanted to be in the process. Maybe it was frequent positive reinforcement and praise for always saying yes. Maybe others shamed you or guilt tripped you when you disagreed, shared a different opinion, or declined to do what they wanted. Maybe your primary caregivers weren’t the best at maintaining boundaries and modeled such behavior to you.

Regardless of the reason, I am here to tell you that learning to say “No” is part of setting healthy boundaries. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Also, “No” is a complete sentence and you don’t always have to justify your reasoning. This doesn’t mean you should say no to everything simply because you would rather be doing something else. There are certain situations that require personal responsibility and self-discipline. You still need to wake up when your alarm clock sounds and get to work on time. You need to make sure your kids get to school and eat dinner when they get home. You might need to drive an aging parent to a doctor’s appointment in rush hour traffic. Some things cannot be avoided because it is a part of life.

My message to all of you is balancing caring for yourself and caring for others leads to a healthier, happier, and more authentic life. You can tell your friend, who keeps calling you to fix their mistakes, that you are done cleaning up their mess. You can decline joining a family event because you do not want to spend time with someone who will be there or because you would rather be alone or with friends. You can also set boundaries at the workplace. This includes both employees and bosses. It's okay to tell your coworker you aren't available to cover his shift. Having a discussion about workplace boundaries and expectations during the interview process is a good idea. In my opinion it is a red flag if the person interviewing talks about a favorite employee who never says no, stays late, and hasn't taken a vacation in 2 years. You can ask a family, friend, or neighbor to help your aging mother for the afternoon so you can have a few hours to recover from the stress of caregiving. You can reach out for support. You can take breaks. You do not have to give 100% all the time.

Steps toward creating boundaries and living authentically.

  • Have clear values and goals. This will help guide your decision making when someone asks you for something.

  • Prioritize what is important to you. This will help you decide if you have time to take on an extra task or do someone a favor.

  • Know that saying yes to one thing means saying no to another. For example, agreeing to work overtime on Friday means not being with family for dinner.

  • In some situations, you could say “Not now”, and suggest a different time to help.

  • Avoid over explaining why you are setting a boundary. This can leave the door open for others to convince you to agree when you do not want to.

  • Use a calm, polite, and firm tone when stating these boundaries.

Closing Words

If you are new to setting boundaries understand it will take time for yourself and others to get used to it. I guarantee you will hear things like “Wow, you have changed. You used to always agree with me. I can’t believe you aren’t going to help!” These things can be hard to hear especially if you care about the people saying this. Try not to let it set you back. They will get over it, find someone else to help them, or do the work themselves. You are not the caretaker of the world.

Have the mindset that you matter, you have needs, and you deserve a fulfilling life. This is probably the most crucial point. For many it is the most difficult. I can tell you all of this is true. But at the end of the day, it is your decision to believe it or not. It is your decision to unlearn certain beliefs you have held about yourself and your worth. We all have a limited amount of time on this planet to enjoy life how we choose. Do you really want to look back on your life and realize you have dismissed your needs, start feeling resentful, and regret that you didn’t stand up for yourself? Don’t you wish to not be bounded by societal expectations or fear of others not liking you? No matter your age, there is hope you can unapologetically live true to yourself. You must believe you are worth it!

With much compassion,

Jacqueline Ulissey, LMSW


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