Hands up if you’re a woman who finds yourself constantly giving to others, putting others needs first, placing your priorities down the list?

Hands up your commitment to giving, pleasing, and bending to others needs eventually leads to a wall of rising resentment? Emotional reactivity. Annoyance. Frustration. Feeling unseen and unheard. Soon you find yourself spiralling toward a state of fatigue, resentment and depletion.

Setting boundaries sounds easy doesn’t it? Simply learning to say no in order to prevent that downhill slide into that exhaustion.

But how many of us actually are able to set boundaries without feeling guilty or without adding an underlying tone of resentment into the mix?

The problem is we often leave it too long. We give and give until we arrive at that depleted state, only then to react from an emotional place of anger or resentment.

Perhaps the resentment is directed at others who have not perceived our needs.

Or perhaps the resentment is actually directed at ourselves for not listening to the call from within. 

Either way and action plan is required. A step-by-step guide of sorts.

It takes practice to set boundaries in an open hearted way without guilt, without shame and definitely without resentment.

So here goes, your step-by-step guide to setting boundaries.

Number one. Press pause.

Often, when we feel that we have finally reached the place where we need to set boundaries with someone, we have already arrived that place of emotional reactivity. This is not a great place to start a “boundary conversation”.

Pressing pause helps give you the space needed for your emotional brain calm down. It also allows time for the objective clear and executive part of your brain to catch up (it’s always a bit slower!). Pressing pause to allow your brain to catch a breath, means you can start a conversation with a fresh open mind and heart and less volatility.

Pressing pause might sound likeCan I press pause on this conversation and get back to you tomorrow morning on this? I would like the opportunity to talk this through and at this point in time I think the conversation will be rushed. Let’s meet tomorrow at 10 am and work it through together”

Pressing pause might feel likeI can sense my heart racing, I am feeling flushed and my mind is reminding me of all the scenario’s you have done the wrong thing by me. I am mentally rehearsing my revenge and snappy conversation I can cut you down with. But I am going to close the door, go for a walk, breathe until this feeling has the chance to calm down and diffuse. Then I will come at it with a clear mind”

Number two. Get curious.

Ask yourself the questions am I seeing all sides? Can I see the big picture? Do I really have the story right?

When we feel that our boundaries have been stepped on by others it can be easy to react quickly with judgement, assuming the worst in others. This is often not the case. Simply pressing pause and asking yourself some valid questions can help calm your emotional reactivity meaning that you can start a boundary conversation from a place of calm.

In addition, asking yourself the question “Is this person doing the best they can with the tools and resources they have at hand?”

When we assume that others are simply doing the best they can, we can come from a place of empathy and understanding. This reduces the judgemental polarised part of our brain that can contribute to a “you versus me” battle-ready approach to conversations. Assuming someone is doing their best with the tools and resources they have at hand, is a great way to lower your own weaponry and approach a conversation understanding all sides. This does not mean you don’t have a boundary or an opinion. It simply means you can start to understand theirs. This opens the doorway to a reasoned conversation rather than a barrage of accusation and blame that gets you nowhere.

Number Three. Get clear on your values.

It can be a very common scenario for us to reach a point of depletion when we have neglected to set boundaries, simply because we have not been living congruently with our values. Placing other people‘s needs and values first, prioritising them over us habitually and consistently.

Your values can be divided into value areas (such as family, finances, career, health, friendships, learning, spirituality).

Your values can also be linked to traits (such as integrity, trust, sincerity, adventure, charity, kindness, open communication, respect, reliability to name a few).

When you have not been living concurrently with your value traits and not been living congruently with your value areas, soon we feel depleted. This is largely a result of us not setting boundaries or dedicating the time to live within our own values. It can take time to understand and really get clear on what it is that you value, especially if you have been ignoring them for a while! But being clear on what you value means you are more able to sit out a clear boundary line. A place where you need to consistently live. Like to learn more about values? Listen to this podcast here

Number four. Start a conversation with an open heart.

Conversations with others that involve you setting boundaries can start to feel aggressive, demanding and reactive if you don’t start from a place of open heartedness. Openhearted conversations acknowledge the joint effort it takes. Open heart of conversations acknowledge mutual challenges and understanding.

Sentences that start with “I agree this has been a stressful period for us”. Or “I understand the challenges that we have been navigating”.

Starting a conversation acknowledging the joint challenges can help our brains operate from a place of togetherness in finding a solution, rather than a you versus me approach.

Once you’ve acknowledged the mutual challenges, you are then able to start to outline your boundaries which will include what’s okay and what’s not okay.

This might sound like:

“I agree this is been a stressful period and appreciate that you are doing your best. It’s okay that (insert acceptable behaviour/experiences). But what’s not okay for me is this (insert unacceptable behaviour/experiences). If this continues this is not sustainable for me. I need us to work together as a team and I need you to (insert desired boundary change). If this is not possible we need to (insert outcome/part ways). “

Be prepared for that person to also state some of their own boundaries and needs. Be open to what you can give, and clear with what you can’t.

These four easy steps can form a formula for you in a variety of circumstances and situations. A step by step guide to be able to set boundaries with the people around you, in order to help you maintain a healthy place of fulfilment and the ability to continue to give out your best without sliding into a resentment filled place of depletion.

Like to learn more from Niky?

Don’t forget she runs resilience retreats and programs for women who are navigating life challenges or grief.

Find out more about her Rise UP women’s retreats here!

Find out more about transforming grief here.