• If you have a tendency to people-please, you might struggle to say no – as a result, you might end up tired or resentful

  • Life coach Michelle Elman shares her 4 starter tips for setting boundaries

  • Relationships are a key component to feeling well – if you're struggling in yours, we have therapists to help here

Life can get overwhelming, especially when you have no boundaries and you are unable to use one very important word: no. Boundaries are something that we hear being discussed a lot nowadays, but what actually are they? They are what we use to teach the world how to treat us. They are the line between who we are and who the world wants us to be. Setting boundaries is sometimes a decision between being liked and honouring your own needs. 

When you first start setting boundaries, it can be a really daunting task so here are some quick tips to get you started.

1. Ask yourself what you actually want

When you are so accustomed to being accommodating, no matter what, you often won’t even ask yourself what it is you would like out of the situation so you respond with a knee jerk yes. 

Instead, pause for a moment. Ask yourself what you are actually feeling and come up with a way to communicate that. You are allowed to set boundaries in your own time. Just because someone asks you a question doesn’t mean they are owed a response in that instance.

2. It starts with no

No is the first boundary we learn and usually the first we unlearn too. People pleasing means that we lose our no and as a result our yes has no meaning. Our yes becomes a default and as a result we will experience anger and resentment out of not honouring our own needs. 

How you start using this word differs between each person. Some people find it easier to say it to the people we know best and some find it easier to practice on strangers. So, whether it’s telling your best friend that you don’t want to go to that party or telling the hairdresser that no, you aren’t happy with your haircut, the only way to get better at saying no is to actually say it.

3. Notice where you are most exhausted

You can set boundaries in so many different areas of life so it can be difficult to know where to start when you feel like you have no boundaries at all. Pick the area of life that is causing you the most frustration and the one that is depleting your time and energy the most. 

Which is the area of your life that you feel takes up more space than it should? Let’s say it’s your work life taking more space than you would like. This is your sign to create some changes, whether that be turning your phone off when you clock out, no longer responding to messages out of hours, or getting a different phone for work communications so that you can truly switch off

4. Look at your relationships

Boundaries are all about treatment and the boundary that changed my life the most was being more conscious of how I was being spoken to. Bluntly put, if people talk to you like rubbish then you can’t build self esteem. When I noticed people raising their voice, swearing or being hurtful in conflicts, I would set my boundary, ask them to stop and if they persisted, reinforce the boundary by stating that I would be leaving the conversation and they can come find me when they are ready to speak to me in a respectful manner. 

No matter how upset someone is, you are in control of how you speak to others and I want to always conduct myself in a way I would be proud and therefore I expect others to do the same. There will be times people will be human, but it’s your responsibility to reinforce your expectation on how you deserve to be treated and protect yourself in that instance.

Michelle Elman is a life coach and the author of The Joy of Being Selfish

Further reading

How to say no politely and get your time back

Dear Therapist..."I'm a people pleaser and I feel undervalued"

Setting boundaries will set you free: beating codependency

How to keep healthy boundaries with a friend in need

What's the cost of being too nice?