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Why we don't set boundaries

Updated: Feb 1

How often have you been afraid to set a boundary because you were afraid of how the other person might react?


It's not surprising when we think of boundaries as something we only need to set when we have been pushed to our limits. The more we are able to untangle our needs from other people's reactions, the easier it becomes to get really honest with ourselves about what we need.


If we can anticipate the other person may have a less than encouraging reaction to us changing how we behave, but we do not take it personally, it becomes a little less intimidating.


“Cool, but how?” You may ask. Whichever side of a boundary we may find ourselves on, our brains are hard-wired to find change dangerous. Your brain thinks freaking out about it is a great way to get your attention. When we are aware of this, we are less likely to view it as something which has gone wrong. It's just a natural human response.


So when we apply that to the outside world, we may think, “Oh, John has just asked to borrow money again, and I'm going to have to say no this time, and he is not going to like that, which is a very human response.” That feels a lot lighter than “Oh my god, he's going to ask again, he's going to get angry when I say ‘no’, he's going to send angry texts in the family WhatsApp group and bring up that thing again....” Which one do you think is more likely to encourage you to practice setting clear boundaries again in the future?


The more we catastrophise about situations, the more our brain freaks out and persuades us to try and run and hide. The more we can neutralise situations and the way we talk about them and think about them, the more likely our brain could believe that making the worst case is not the only case.


In this situation, it is important because if we think that the other person's reactions are more important than our own needs, then we are training our brain not to listen to its internal barometer and to outsource its safety to other people, which is not only a very vulnerable place to be but utterly exhausting.


So the next time you're thinking about holding a firm line, you could exercise some self-compassion. What could be a more gentle way of expressing this for yourself? What do you need here? Some people will not like it, but ask yourself, what am I making their response mean about me?


In this way, even the hard stuff can become our compassionate teachers.





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