3 Expert Tips to Confidently Set Boundaries

Written By

Jess VanderWier
August 24, 2021

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Do you find yourself constantly saying yes when you want to say no? 
Do you often find yourself feeling bitter about the things that you are doing? 
Do you find yourself in situations where you are doing something simply for the praise of someone else? 
Do you find yourself in situations where you aren’t acting in a way that aligns with your values because it serves someone else?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you very well might be a people-pleaser. You probably feel like it’s always your responsibility to keep the peace. You have a hard time setting boundaries. You find yourself doing more of the things other people want you to do and less of the things you enjoy doing. 

I’ve been there. I am a recovering people-pleaser. I have worked hard to be able to set boundaries confidently. I learned how to be strong and assertive. 

It Can Be Loving to Say ‘No’

Before I share three life-changing tips for people-pleasers, I want to share a story. 

Someone asked me if I could watch their cat. I didn’t want to watch the cat, but I felt bad, so I did. The next time this person went away, they asked me to watch the cat again. 

Wanting to be a nice person and watch the cat, I did. At the time, I was working late nights, and I was in school full-time. I began to feel resentful as I spent my minimal spare time going to the person’s house. Why was I watching this cat?

The next time they asked me, I felt angry. How dare they keep asking me to watch this cat? This time I aggressively agreed to watch the cat but was angry at the person the whole time. 

Here is the thing though, it was not this person’s fault at all. 

They are allowed to ask me to watch their cat, and if I don’t want to, I should say no. It is totally up to me to decide whether or not I watch the cat. Telling them yes when I was just going to become bitter and resentful was not the loving thing to do. It would have been more loving to say no. 

Around this same time, before I broke free of my people-pleasing habits, I had a friend going through a difficult time.

I loved her so much and wanted to be there for her. She wanted to vent to me. What started as a phone call a week became a phone call a day. This turned into multiple phone calls a day. If I’m gut-level honest with myself, at first, it was all about caring for my friend and wanting to help her, but eventually, it was about not wanting to look like a bad person – because a good friend would never ignore a call, right?

I Had No Boundaries, and I Became Bitter

I quickly got pulled into her chaos. I would answer the phone as soon as she called. I would drop everything to rush to her side. I would do what it took to support her – even though no changes were being made on her end. I had no boundaries, and again, I became bitter. 

“How dare she call me all the time! What kind of friend only relies on me and never gives anything back?”

I became resentful towards our relationship and angry at her. 

This was the breaking point in my relationship with pleasing people. I sat down with a counsellor and poured my heart out to her. I told her how I was struggling being sucked into these situations repeatedly where I was living a life that wasn’t in line with my values so that I would be seen as a good person.

3 Life-changing Tips

I was expecting my counsellor to validate my feelings and sit with me in my pain. Instead, she told me three things I was not expecting to hear, and although these things were tough to hear, they changed my life. 

1. Boundaries Are Loving

Boundaries are the most loving thing you can have in a relationship.

2. I’m Not Responsible for Other’s Feelings

How people respond to those boundaries is not my responsibility.

3. I Can Change the Pattern

I get to decide how I let other people treat me. If I am not comfortable, I don’t need to continue to get sucked into the drama. I am allowed to change the pattern.

She encouraged me to start setting boundaries with my friend. 

I didn’t have to answer the phone if I was busy when she called me. I could set the stage for success by letting her know how much time I had available to talk. I could encourage my friend to go to a therapist and let her know what topics I couldn’t discuss with her. 

I could let go of the saviour complex that I had. It wasn’t my job to save my friend, and in feeling like I had to, I was sending myself down a path for burnout. 

Along my journey of recovery from people-pleasing, I have continually reminded myself of a few things: 

I don’t need to over-explain my boundary. 

I don’t need to be angry or sad about setting my boundary. 

I can practice setting the boundary in the mirror if I need to. 

Boundaries are loving both to the other person and myself. 

Boundaries are protective. 

When you are ready to start setting boundaries in your own life, remember that boundaries should come from a place of love. You can acknowledge the person’s feelings while setting boundaries. Boundaries are strong, not angry. If you want to learn more about setting boundaries and breaking cycles of people-pleasing, check out our Setting Boundaries course,  

Boundaries say: “I love you AND I can’t let you.” They protect you and the other person.

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    Article By

    Jess VanderWier
    Jess is a seasoned Registered Psychotherapist with a deep commitment to enhancing emotional well-being in children and families. Holding a Master's in Counselling Psychology, Jess has extensive clinical experience in guiding parents through their children's intense emotions, sleep struggles, anxiety, and other challenges with empathy and understanding. In addition to individual sessions, she is known for her work educating parents on social media through @nurturedfirst. Outside of her professional life, Jess enjoys the peace of nature hikes and spending as much time as possible enjoying her family.