3 Reasons Why Setting Boundaries are Challenging

By Krista Resnick, Master Life Coach & Boundary Expert

Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries…we hear about them all the time, so if they are so essential to our own well being, THEN WHY IS IT SO HARD TO SET THEM? Understanding why boundaries feel so challenging is important. Many people experience shame for struggling to set, withhold or even identify what their boundaries are. When we understand why boundaries are inherently challenging, it releases the grip of shame by using the gift of grace and self compassion, moving us toward what is empowering and healing…actually setting those boundaries from a place of truth.

In this article, I want to share with you three of the top reasons that I’ve identified why boundaries feel so hard (and NO there is NOTHING wrong with you for struggling to set boundaries).

1. We don’t understand the power of our hardwiring.

Our minds were not naturally created to care about healthy boundaries.

As humans we are hardwired for connection. We are not solitary creatures, we are quite similar to herd animals. If we go all the way back in our evolution, survival was dependent upon being a part of “the group.” We needed a hive or a pack because we were more powerful when we were together.

If we didn’t lean on our tribe, we were eaten by a saber tooth tiger. We were built to care about others, to rely on others, to let others watch out for our safety and for us to watch out for them too. Staying in our herd, our hive, our pack, our tribe is how we stayed safe. And it worked!!!!

Our ancestors were constantly scouring the environment, looking for safety. When they were threatened by danger, their system went into fight or flight mode. They literally were flooded with hormones designed to help them run, fight, flee, whatever they could do to stay safe. If they didn’t make it to safety, they were as
good as gone. Once they were able to recognize – ‘okay…saber tooth tigers are dangerous,’ this was wired into their brain as ‘bad news.’

This is our lineage. We are literally dealing with brains that are wired for our survival to run or fight saber tooth tigers (I am not suggesting here you ever try to actually fight a saber tooth tiger, word on the street is that you won’t survive).

Our brains are wired to focus on what’s bad and to stay safe from it. Dr. Rick Hanson has a quote that I love – it says…“Our brains are like velcro for negativity and teflon for positivity.”

This framework is really helpful when it comes to setting boundaries. To our brains, it’s as if boundaries are dangerous or unsafe. Because we are wired for belonging, we will fight that pull to be part of the crowd. Boundaries feel risky because we might lose relationship.

Part of what we are asked in our current evolution is how can we recognize that social connection is important AND simultaneously allow ourselves to differentiate at the same time?

Connection and differentiation (boundaries) are BOTH for our growth. The question becomes…How can I be me and stay connected with you? How can I share my needs AND stay in relationship with you? How can I express my feelings AND remain close to you?

Sometimes we do lose relationships after setting boundaries and I want to honor the fact that it can feel genuinely painful. However, we also have to get really serious about the relationship that we lose with ourselves when we aren’t willing to stand for ourselves and speak our truth.

So if you struggle with boundaries, I hope what you will understand from this is that we come by our people pleasing instincts naturally. They are part of our survival set up.

2. Our love tank is often drained.

Parents have a responsibility to provide an environment where children feel seen, heard and loved no matter what. They also have a responsibility to help children feel safe enough to express their big and often uncomfortable feelings. When children feel as if they matter, and if they are able to express themselves they learn that who they are is good. They learn that stressful moments only last so long and they can use those moments to build resiliency and empower themselves to deepen connection with themselves and with others. Home should be a supportive and safe system to really practice showing up and being held as the real authentic YOU.

Many of us were raised in homes that we believed we had to stuff and suppress our feelings in order to be acceptable. When parents are emotionally withholding or suppressed themselves, controlling or abusive -children learn firsthand that emotions just aren’t safe. The solution is to disconnect from themselves – to self
abandon. Disconnecting from our own needs, feelings, desires and sensations becomes the only option. It’s almost as if every negative interaction with a caregiver depletes our self love tank – one small drop at a time.

Because of these negative experiences, we may have subconsciously bought into beliefs such as:

  • “I hoped that by caring FOR THEM they might care for me.”
  • “I never showed my true feelings for fear of retaliation.”
  • “I was always walking on eggshells; I never knew when they would explode”
  • “I had to shapeshift myself depending upon their mood.”
  • “I had to be the good girl so I could keep getting praise for always being the easy one.”

All of this pleasing, acquiescing, placating and subordinating takes a hit on one’s self worth. Those of us who were raised this way, have spent years bypassing our own needs and our own identity for the sake of attending to the needs of others. Our self worth literally came from attending to the needs of others. So for those of us who have codependent/people pleasing tendencies, boundaries are completely contradictory to how we’ve been set up.

It’s also worth mentioning that it is also common to have a deep fear of abandonment that impacts our ability to set healthy boundaries. Learning to establish personal boundaries and to feel safe and secure with the boundaries you’ve established for yourself is an act of filling our self love tank back up…one drop at a time.

3. We don’t understand “The Feedback”

We know and understand boundaries from a mental level. We love coming up with our list of rules or expectations, “This is what I think should happen or this is what you or I should do in this situation.” But what we are not taught is how to feel and be with what is going on inside of us to really know our truth in any given moment. If we don’t know our truth, we can’t know whether or not we really even want or
need to set a boundary.

Over the years, due to trauma, wounding, and unmet needs, we can become good at disconnecting from the body to avoid being with those uncomfortable emotions. No one loves feeling those things.

Society and experts might tell us a lot about how we should or shouldn’t set a boundary, but quite frankly -that may or may not be congruent for us. When we understand how to read our body cues and emotions – they will tell us when to set a boundary and how to set a boundary. Our feelings and emotions guide us to what our boundaries, wants and needs in that particular given moment might actually be.

When it comes to boundaries, we have to be in touch with the feedback of our bodies (our emotions) – yes, the uncomfortable ones too!

You might be wondering, what is this feedback? Great question!

Typically when we go into an activated state – we start feeling agitated in the body. This might look like an increased heart rate, flush in the face, or feelings of aggression. We might become sweaty, or experience tension in the neck, jaw, chest. Perhaps you have a lump in your throat or in your hands and feet like they
want to run or fight. The bottom line is that the body begins to feel this activation. The other way it shows up is a shutting down, a collapsing inward – we may find that we go a bit numb. We might have a hard time being able to identify feeling anything or describing any sensation. We simply want to crawl into a hole and

Both of these states are KEY to let us know that there is something going on inside….and that something is -WOW! I am having a challenging time staying true to myself and staying clear about what I want and what I need.

What’s cool about this is that it is brilliant feedback for us to stop and pause and check in. This is where we get to ask ourselves…is this a moment where I need to set a boundary?

Once we get clarity on that, we can move forward and ask, okay-what exactly is the boundary? Do I simply need to pause and check in? Is the boundary that I actually need to say something out loud about what I’m experiencing in this moment? Do I need to simply validate myself or do I need to speak up and say something to someone? Is my boundary that I just need to walk away?

Whatever you come up with is based on what is true to you, but it’s a beautiful moment to pause, breathe, and feel what is going on-recognize there is feedback coming into your field and PAUSE.

Ask – What is this moment asking of me? What needs to happen in this moment right here in order for me to feel deeply authentic and connected to myself? And whatever the answer is from that level of connectedness will be the way.

By Krista Resnick, Master Life Coach & Boundary Expert. Learn more about Krista and how to set boundaries from your place of power by grabbing a copy of her workbook, Boundaries from the INSIDE OUT here: https://kristaresnick.lpages.co/boundaries-from-the-inside-out/

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