A couple of weeks ago, I had a friendship that was bringing me immense anxiety. I wasn’t sure where exactly this feeling was coming from, but something felt wrong. After a period of serious self-reflection and deep conversations, I realized I needed a boundary.
Of course I had heard of boundaries, but as an intense people-pleaser, I have a hard time setting them. I don’t like the idea that I could possibly make people upset by setting boundaries and harming our relationship.
What I didn’t realize was that I was doing further damage by not saying anything at all. I was building up resentment and anger toward this person when a simple conversation would solve all of our problems. That conversation, while slightly uncomfortable in the moment, opened our friendship into a whole new realm of stability.
Once I had that conversation, I felt really stupid. I wasted all this time feeling negative for no reason. That’s when I decided I needed to be better at forming boundaries—and being less of a people-pleaser. I picked up a book, “The Book of Boundaries” by Melissa Urban, and it's really changing my life.
In her book, Urban tells her story starting from 20 years ago when she was a recovering drug addict. She describes how she decided to stop using, but that was the only thing that changed in her life. She still had the same friends and the same life patterns and routines. All that was keeping her sober was pure willpower. She knew that way of life could only last so long before she relapsed, and she was right.
After her relapse, she realized she needed to make major changes but wasn’t exactly sure how. One day she was at a party with her friend surrounded by people doing drugs and drinking. This was a very unsafe environment for a recovering drug addict. Her friend offered her a drink and she just word-vomited.
She explained that if they were to stay friends, he could never offer her another substance again. And that's how she set her first boundary. From then on, it became easier and easier, and she knew what she needed. She knew her limits and how to recognize the discomfort that called for a boundary. That’s what I needed to learn from reading her book.
There have been several times throughout my life that I felt extreme anxiety toward a person for what I thought was no reason. It turns out I just needed a boundary. After I read that book, I slowly felt my people-pleasing tendencies undo themselves. It was freeing to realize I didn’t exist just to make other people happy. I should be the only one who has control over my emotions.
So I urge you to do this, especially if you are in a situation like mine. Think of what you need. Not what your friend needs, not what your parents need, not what the random person at the coffee shop needs, but what you need to make you happy. Once you figure that out—and it might take a while if you are as entrenched in these beliefs as I was—use your words to ask this from others.
Once you can clearly state what you need in your relationships, you’ll feel a huge weight lifted from your shoulders. As miniscule as it sounds, it is life-changing. You will look back at that one time you didn’t speak up for yourself when you were harassed at work because you didn’t want to make that man uncomfortable—that really happened, as I said I was a debilitating people-pleaser—and you’ll laugh at how stupid it was.