4 Ways to Deal with Guilt When Setting Boundaries
So, you’ve worked hard to set boundaries, put yourself first, and practiced saying no. No, you can’t work late again tonight. No, you can’t drive your teenager to the bus stop. No, you don’t want to go out this weekend. No, you can’t lend them some money. You set some healthy boundaries, you politely stated your own needs, and you stuck to your guns.
But you don’t feel as good as you thought you would. In fact, you feel guilty. You might feel selfish or mean. You might even be tempted to go back to apologize and offer your help.
What if that person really needed your help? Maybe you shouldn’t have let them down. Maybe you were unreasonable in saying no. Maybe they won’t like you anymore, or you won’t get promoted if you look like a bad team player.
Society places a huge emphasis on sacrificing our own needs for others. Praise is often bound up with agreeing with other people, being ‘nice’ or ‘making an effort.’ We are programmed to please other people, and that’s not easy to overcome.
Here are four ways of dealing with ‘boundary guilt’:
- Acknowledge the guilt reflex
Accept that maintaining your healthy boundaries is likely to make you feel guilty, at least at first. It’s unusual for you to say no. It takes time and practice to build your boundary-setting muscles. So be kind to yourself and keep moving. See it as a reflex that you don’t need to continue.
- Look for the yes
If by setting boundaries you’re saying no, flip it the other way and work out where you’re saying yes. Maybe you’re on time to pick up the kids or having some much-needed downtime. Perhaps you’re saying yes to help someone maintain their boundaries and be more independent.
- Don’t explain
When you want to say no, you can keep it plain and simple. Just say no. You don’t need an excuse or a rationale. You don’t need to explain why you’re refusing. You also don’t need to apologize. Be polite and say, ‘no thank you,’ or ‘I can’t.’ Of course, you can soften the refusal by saying “I’m sorry I can’t,” just don’t be tempted into an apology which stirs any guilty feelings into life!
- Remember why you’re setting boundaries
Keep in mind that you’re setting boundaries not to be mean to other people, but to be kind to yourself. Weak boundaries don’t do anyone any favors. They give people unreasonable expectations and are a shortcut to you feeling overburdened, stressed, and resentful. People with stronger boundaries are happier, less stressed, and have better relationships. And wanting that is no reason to feel guilty!
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