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A People Pleaser’s Guide to Setting Boundaries

I have the disposition of an over-eager golden retriever. If someone so much as misinterprets a text in a negative light, I will tear the plates off my car and drive into the night. But where did this desperation for people to like me bloom from? I don’t know, jeez. I’m figuring it out. Kindness is great, yada yada, but you should not please others to the detriment of yourself. Pretty crazy, huh? That’s free info right there, bby. You’re very welcome. I live to please. Shit.

So how do you advocate for yourself if it’s in your disposition to be a people pleaser? You set boundaries! Boundaries make the world go around. From the workplace to family life, to friendships and romantic relationships, I promise that by establishing and maintaining boundaries your happiness will increase tenfold. And not just that, the quality of your relationships and your emotional closeness will also thrive. Drawing boundaries doesn’t distance you from someone; it establishes a language of mutual trust and respect that ultimately brings you closer.

Here is a people pleaser’s guide to setting boundaries. Think of it as a reverse Yes Man, where Jim Carrey says no to everyone and everything. (Note: If I were to cast the No Man movie, it would definitely star a severely timid Eddie Redmayne).

How To Establish Boundaries

1. Notice Your Bodies Reaction to Things

“But Emily,” you say, “I haven’t let myself feel personal needs since She’s the Man was in theaters. How do I even know what’s good for me?” Even if we don’t actively know what our body needs, usually our body knows what feels good and doesn’t feel good. Does the pit of your stomach do the Time Warp when you take on an extra assignment at work? Do you feel like you’re in a sixth grade locker room when your friend asks you to sleep over? That probably means something. Notice your physical reactions to circumstances and put a name to what you are feeling. This part will go something like this: “I’m overwhelmed at work because I’ve taken on too much” or “I don’t want to sleep over because I just want to watch Grey’s Anatomy and go to bed at 8 p.m.” Those feelings are reflections of your needs and desires.


2. Take Responsibility For Your Own Wants and Needs

Now comes the hard part. You recognize what you want and now you have to advocate for yourself. In the same way that your happiness is your responsibility, filling your wants and needs also rests on your shoulders. This isn’t someone else’s job. And here’s a secret – it works in reverse too. It’s not your job to fill anyone else’s wants and needs. Even if you think they’ll hate you if you don’t (they won’t) and even if you want to meet those desires (you still can).

Put your oxygen mask on before you help someone else put on theirs. Even if he’s three years old and has asthma. Let that kid cough a bit. Because, here’s the hot take, we can’t sustainably support those we love if we are running on empty. I promise you that you will be able to give more and love deeper if you redirect energy back into yourself. Giving less may actually put you in a better place to give and receive love. An unequal relationship dynamic is not sustainable. And whether or not you believe it, you deserve long-lasting, fulfilling relationships.


3. Establish Your Boundaries

Okay, so you’ve signed up for this whole filling your own wants and needs thing. What now?

Now you get to establish your boundaries by understanding your wants and needs and choosing to advocate for them. Draw lines in your life. Decide the things you are comfortable with and the things you aren’t. Boundaries come in many forms: they can be in sexual encounters, in workplace etiquette, in favors to friends, in emotional labor, etc. Explore yourself in all of these situations to develop a list of boundaries that best suits you. Then hold yourself accountable for staying true to your boundaries. If something makes you uncomfortable, value yourself and your comfortability over pleasing others. Placing trust and value in yourself is one of the most powerful gifts you can receive.


4. Communicate Your Boundaries

Now it’s time to take the internal work and make it external. As a people pleaser, this part literally punches through me like the lab scene in Alien. Whenever I get this feeling, I have to step outside of myself for a moment and look at the situation from an outside perspective. Is my partner going to leave me if I don’t drive to Veggie Grill at 11 p.m.? Rationalize your fears and try to understand where they are coming from. Or better yet, communicate your fears to your loved one. Thinking your friend is going to key your car if you don’t want to have a Magic Mike night is a disservice to the friendship you’ve built together. You’re operating from a place of imposter syndrome. You are believing you are undeserving of love and waiting on edge for the moment your friend/partner will realize it. So how do you overcome this feeling? Here’s the secret: trust in the people you love. You’ve put years of love and effort into these relationships. Take a step back and see what you’ve created together. Don’t discredit your loved ones. Trust them. Allow them to show up for you. And they will.

How To Maintain Boundaries

1. Assess Your Energy

Wow, look at all the work you put into establishing your boundaries! Good job! Now you have to do that every day for the rest of your life in order to maintain them. I’m being dramatic but some days it feels like that. So pace yourself and treat yourself with kindness. This isn’t a phase, this is a lifestyle – like your brother’s Green Day obsession. So take it slow and check in with yourself when new situations arise. Always assess your energy levels. Sometimes boundaries can differ day-to-day depending on how you are feeling. It’s not set in stone. Once you’ve advocated for yourself over a period of time, your body will trust you and those awful physical reactions will slow. I promise.


2. Love Yourself

Remind yourself that you deserve to feel comfortable and safe. Consciously putting energy into meeting your wants and needs is the most poignant way you can show yourself you are deserving. Take it a step further and practice self-love by listening to Marina and the Diamonds until you have a God complex.


3. Respect Other People’s Boundaries

Treat others the way you want to be treated. We love the word “no” here at Outspoken! It’s a wonderful word because it means someone trusts you enough to be vulnerable and communicate their needs. Wowza! We love emotional closeness! Now that you are an emotional giant, you can advocate for the safety of yourself AND others. That’s some next-level shit.

–Emily Powers, Content Creator

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