“I can feel calm and happy in myself when I’m alone, but other people’s negativity can bring me down straight away.”
“I get so exhausted because I don’t know how to say NO to other people’s demands on my time and energy.”
“I’ve spent my life taking care of everyone else and now I’m realizing I need to take care of myself to be happy, but I feel guilty if I put myself first”
“I have a friend/boss/co-worker who is treating me in a way I don’t like, but I don’t know how to tell them”.
Do any of these sound familiar to you?
When I first started creating The Calmer Mind Course, I interviewed some of my readers to find out what they were struggling with in their lives. Along with the usual stress and busy-ness of modern-day life that I expected to hear about, I was surprised to hear how many of them were also struggling in some of their closest relationships – having to put up with difficult personalities and people that drained them or simply demanded too much from them. It became clear that for women especially, having strong boundaries with others is not so easy – especially for those kind, sensitive souls on a spiritual path who strive to be compassionate and giving.
(Compassion is one thing, not valuing your own time, energy levels and needs due to low self-esteem is another…See my article: Are You Compassionate, or Just a Doormat? for more on that!)
ARE YOU A PEOPLE-PLEASER?
In short, I realized a lot of these women were (like me!) people-pleasers. We were constantly doing things like:
- Rarely asking for help and trying to be a superwoman
- Holding ourselves to super high standards
- Hiding our true feelings
- Worrying people will dislike us or disapprove of us
- Doing anything to keep the peace and avoid confrontation
- Agreeing to things we don’t want to do because we can’t say no
One big clue that we were giving to people from an unhealthy place, rather than genuine generosity or compassion, was underlying resentment or guilt lurking behind our actions.
POOR BOUNDARIES: A MAGNET FOR TOXIC PERSONALITIES
What also became apparent, is people-pleasers with poor boundaries tend to attract overbearing or toxic personality types that can take advantage of this weakness. There are many different personality types but 3 of the most common are:
I know, it doesn’t sound very nice, but this really is the best way I can describe this personality. Energy vampires:
- Are very needy, negative and complain A LOT
- Often appear to want help with their problems but really just want sympathy and attention
- Have no intention of changing or taking responsibility for their problems in life
- Are very demanding of other people’s time and resources
- Never want to listen or help you with your problems
- Seem to thrive on drama and their life tends to be one crisis after another
These personality types, due to a very deep sense of unworthiness, overcompensate with an inflated sense of their own self-importance. They:
- Think their own needs and time are more important than yours (or anyone else’s)
- Are often late
- Can be very competitive and always trying to highlight how they are better than other people
- Can be critical, judgmental, demeaning or derogatory towards you
- Are not really interested in listening to you, and constantly steer the conversation back towards them, interrupt you or talk over the top of you.
Guilt-trippers are passive-aggressive people who try to manipulate other people into doing or giving them what they want by making them feel guilty. Examples include:
- Always blaming other people or outside circumstances for their problems in life
- Being martyrs: listing all the ways they have sacrificed themselves for other people or how hard or unfair their life has been compared to everyone else’s
- Often compare you negatively to others and tell you how you don’t measure up
Dealing with any of these personality types without strong boundaries can chip away at your self-esteem over time, and leave you feeling exhausted, drained, resentful, guilty and miserable!
JUDGMENT VS DISCERNMENT
“Be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” – Rev. John Watson
It may seem that labeling someone as having a toxic personality is harsh and judgmental. But there is an important distinction to be made between judgment and discernment.
When we are being discerning, we are being really honest with ourselves about how we feel in a certain situation or in someone’s presence without rationalizing or downplaying our own feelings.
When we are being judgmental however, rather than simply discerning if someone’s behaviour is appropriate or inappropriate, we tend to reduce the person to their behaviour…and fundamentally reject them as a person.
Judgment tends to label people in a very black and white way, seeing them as either good/bad, right/wrong, worthy/unworthy and this is when we can lose our basic goodwill and compassion towards them.
Having firm boundaries and even terminating a relationship can exist in the absence of judgment, you can set limits that protect you without making someone wrong.
Love and judgment cannot coexist…but love and discernment can.
BOUNDARIES: PROTECTING YOUR TIME AND ENERGY
So what are boundaries exactly?
Put simply, it’s knowing what is and isn’t ok with you when it comes to relationships…
“Boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits.” – outofthefog.net
Having firm boundaries means you can still give to others from a place of generosity and compassion, but without becoming a doormat, negating your own needs or exhausting yourself. In fact, having poor boundaries can lead to depression, anxiety and stress-related illness – it’s akin to leaving your door unlocked and letting anyone inside to take whatever they want!
When setting boundaries the first thing to do is identify where and with whom you need to set a boundary…hint: two key signs that your boundaries are being violated are situations or relationships where you feel discomfort or resentment.
You may also want to explore what your personal limits are in terms of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual boundaries, such as:
PHYSICAL: boundaries in terms of what is appropriate in regards to physical touch, closeness and safety
MENTAL: protecting your right to your own opinions, beliefs and thoughts without being made wrong, ridiculed for them or coerced into thinking differently.
EMOTIONAL: honouring your right to your own feelings, without being insulted, belittled or convinced that you shouldn’t or don’t feel a certain way.
SPIRITUAL/ENERGETIC: setting boundaries with people who suck your energy, or try to energetically dominate or overpower you.
Once you have identified a situation or relationship where you feel resentment or discomfort, examine what it is exactly that makes you feel that way…where or how do you feel like a line has been crossed? How do you want to be treated from now on?
After identifying what your new boundary is, it’s important to put in place a consequence if it is violated in the future – and to be prepared to follow through with your consequence if necessary.
When it comes to communicating a boundary for the first time, it will most likely feel scary and difficult, so start with smaller, less threatening situations and get a friend or loved one to support you.
You may also want to rehearse what you are going to say in advance, but be careful not to apologise, get angry or justify yourself, nor take responsibility for the feelings and reactions of the other person. Own your own feelings and avoid blaming and shaming words, simply communicate your new boundary in a calm, clear and respectful way, in as few words as possible.
Here are some examples of boundaries with consequences:
“If you are more than 20 minutes late again, and don’t call to let me know, I am not going to wait.”
“If you make a comment about my weight again, I am going to end this conversation.”
“If you continue to yell at me, I will walk away.”
“I don’t enjoy gossiping about other people, I’d prefer to hear how you are going and talk about positive things…so I’m going to change the subject if the conversation starts heading in that direction.”
If someone is asking you to commit to doing something or going somewhere you don’t want to commit to, again, don’t apologise, simply say “I can’t take that on” or “My plate is full at the moment”.
If you first start setting boundaries in a relationship where they were previously weak, it’s highly likely the other person will test them – expect this, and remain firm.
And most importantly, don’t ever forget that you have the right to your own schedule and protecting your own time and energy levels.
If you want more help with setting boundaries with difficult people in your life, download my free guide! Click here to get The Ultimate Boundary Setting Cheat Sheet
In the comments below, I’d LOVE to hear from you: are you a people-pleaser? Is there a glaring situation in which you need to set a new boundary, pronto? Let me know!
Know someone struggling with weak boundaries? Share this post with them now!