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Is fear preventing you from setting healthy boundaries?

By The Health News Team | July 11, 2024
Two women having serious discussion

Boundaries are limits that we place on certain aspects of our lives. And according to Olga Hays, a behavior change specialist and American Council on Exercise-certified health coach at Sharp HealthCare, they’re important and necessary.

“Whether at work or in our personal relationships, setting boundaries can help us take control of our life and protect our mental and emotional well-being,” says Hays.

Setting healthy boundaries, Hays says, can give you the ability to live your life on your own terms. Healthy boundaries help protect your personal sense of space and identity. In addition, heathy boundaries can help build better self-esteem, confidence and improve relationships.

Most importantly, healthy boundaries enable you to live with integrity and truth, Hays says.

Why is setting boundaries important?

By not setting healthy boundaries, you may feel overwhelmed and stressed, experience conflict and burnout, face exhaustion and overcommitment, and have negative emotions and resentment.

There are many reasons why you may struggle to establish boundaries in your life, including:

  • A sense of discomfort

  • Low self-esteem or self-doubt

  • Feeling guilty about asking for what you want or need

  • Fear of hurting someone’s feelings

  • Caring too much about what others think or having people-pleasing tendencies

  • A history of boundary-crossing, betrayal, violence or trauma

Why is it difficult to enforce boundaries?

Setting boundaries is often challenging due to internalized fear. This can be a fear of upsetting someone, losing a relationship, feeling uncomfortable, reliving previous trauma, or being seen as “lesser-than” by another person.

If you struggle to set boundaries, Hays recommends the following exercise:

  1. Identify your fears.
    Ask yourself: What fears and concerns are preventing me from setting and enforcing this boundary? What will happen if I set this boundary? Write down your thoughts.

  2. Evaluate the fear.
    Ask yourself: If I am being honest with myself, is this fear realistic or just in my head? Write down your thoughts.

  3. Accept it as a real fear.
    Ask yourself: If I establish this boundary and my fear comes true, what do I need to feel supported and better? Write down your strategies for coping.

By examining and identifying your fears, you can begin to look for ways to address them — either by quieting the unfounded ones or facing and preparing for the realistic ones. But either way, Hays says this will empower you to start putting yourself first, acting from the place of truth and integrity without losing who you are.

“Setting and enforcing boundaries may not come naturally to many of us,” says Hays. “It is an ongoing process to train that boundary muscle, yet well worth the effort, and your future self will thank you for cultivating this vital skill.”

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