Take a look at this intriguing post I saw the other day on Humans of New York. If you’re not familiar, or if you’re not one of the 18 Million people (18 M!!) who follow it on Facebook, HONY is the where we gain deep insight into the personal lives of everyday from people from New York.
These New Yorkers are are photographed and interviewed by Brandon Stanton– a true master when it comes to building trust and getting people to confess their most intimate, private selves.
What’s so fascinating about this particular post, is that it exposes some very hard-to-face truths about why most people can’t set boundaries.
Naturally, I love it. Zero fluff. Just the pure, hard-to-digest truth.
Take a look.
There’s not a single word spoken about setting boundaries here, but that’s exactly what this post is all about.
We can see how this young woman suffered because she wasn’t setting any boundaries around her work.
She didn’t set any standards (boundaries) around what her time and skills were worth, so it meant that others didn’t need to either.
THE ROOT CAUSE- WHY BOUNDARIES ARE ABOUT SO MUCH MORE THAN “SAYING NO”
Most mainstream articles on setting boundaries simply tell us that we need to “say no”.
This advice seems sensible enough but it’s deceptively shallow and unhelpful.
It creates the illusion of being insightful, but in reality we can just it toss aside with a host of other meaningless one-liners that people say, including;
Let it go! Believe in yourself. Follow your passion.
These are terrible pieces of advice because they’re so shallow. They don’t work because PEOPLE ARE DEEP.
We need to go beyond the surface and get to the core of what’s really going on in people’s minds, and their hearts.
In this HONY example, the real reason this woman can’t set boundaries is because of her own inner beliefs.
Look at the power and sad truth behind her words;
“I never thought I was in a position to negotiate. I’d become so small when discussing compensation. I’d shrink.”
But the next line offers the real clincher;
“I needed everyone to like me.”
If you struggle to set boundaries, this is the part you I invite you to pay attention to, reflect on and get clear about.
Why do you think that having a point of view, knowing your worth, expressing your needs etc. means that people won’t like you?
BOUNDARIES AND CONFIDENCE
I can see a huge similarity amongst people who struggle to set boundaries.
It doesn’t matter if someone struggles to set a boundary with their manager, their partner, with their children, or with themselves.
The common thread is a lack of confidence.
Most typically (though not always) this comes down to being a people pleaser, or a perfectionist.
PEOPLE PLEASERS & LOW BOUNDARIES
Like in the HONY example above, people pleasers lack confidence because they’re driven by the fear that “I must be liked”.
People who need to please others are good people! They’re caring, thoughtful people.
But they’re afraid to express their true needs for fear of being unliked.
They they don’t set boundaries with others because they “don’t want to seem difficult” or because they “hate confrontation”.
BUT THAT’S NOT THE TRUTH.
What they’re really avoiding is having to stand for their point of view.
They’re avoiding the courage that it takes to be honest.
They’re avoiding expressing their needs, because they feel that they haven’t got the self-confidence.
It’s MUCH easier to say “I hate confrontation” than to be vulnerable and admit- I’m not fully confident in myself and I’m scared of being unliked. That’s why I won’t rock the boat.
PERFECTIONISTS AND LOW BOUNDARIES
Perfectionists also struggle with setting boundaries, but they lack confidence in a slightly different way.
At the core of their perfectionism lies the fear that “I am not enough”;
I must do it perfectly, otherwise I’ll judge myself as not good enough.
I must do it perfectly, so that you can see I’m valuable, excellent and important.
Leaders in the workplace frequently tell me they’re not micro-managers, but in the next breath they tell me they’re drowning in work.
When I dig deeper, it’s easy to see their perfectionistic tendencies are a major bottleneck.
They don’t delegate effectively. They’d rather drown in deadlines and work than submit something they believe isn’t 100% exceptional.
Now guys, I LOVE excellence, but fussing over minutiae, or pouring attention on things that don’t really move the needle on your key goals or objectives isn’t useful or effective.
There’s absolutely nothing more ineffective in doing something perfectly, that doesn’t even need to be done in the first place.
“Perfectionism is a way of thinking that says; If I look perfect, work perfect, live perfect, I can avoid or minimise criticism, blame or ridicule.”
Perfectionists struggle to set boundaries because they never know when enough is enough. They just keep pushing. Relentlessly.
LOW BOUNDARIES CREATES BIG OVERWHELM
When I see anyone who’s overwhelmed at work or in life, chances are they have a total lack of boundaries in place.
Their sleeping habits, their diet or their exercise routine is often out of control.
Their calendar and how they manage their time is MOST DEFINITELY out of control.
They respond frantically to emails, calls, and demands from work, friends and family, when and as they come in.
They lack clarity around what their core priorities are, so they jumble everything together in one great big to-do list. And for some reason, they put themselves right at the bottom of that list!
This makes people feel anxious and totally out of control.
Without boundaries, there’s a deep sense of uncertainty in our lives.
Instead of being the bold CREATORS we ACTUALLY are, instead we become passive recipients of life.
We need boundaries, because if we don’t clearly know what we’re prepared to accept from ourselves, and from others, then we run the risk of accepting almost anything at all.
And that’s a very dangerous place to be.
BEING HONEST MEANS WE CAN START TO CREATE REAL CHANGE
As you can see, setting boundaries is so much more than just “saying no” to your manager when more work comes in (when you’re already swamped), or telling your friend that you’re happy to look after their dog while they’re away (when you’re absolutely maxed out and drained from your own endless to-do list already).
Let’s get real. Sometimes it’s just not easy to say no.
For people pleasers and perfectionists, it seems impossibly hard.
Like practically everything in life, it all starts with our mindset.
If I were to unpack the mindset of someone who sets clear boundaries, where’s what we might find;
MINDSET #1. Saying “I’m too busy” is an excuse. The truth is– that’s not a priority for me.
MINDSET #2. Saying “I’m too busy” is an excuse. The truth is– I could be more organised. I need to learn how to manage my thoughts, my decisions, and my calendar much more effectively.
MINDSET #3. I have needs, and my needs are important. It’s important for me to express my needs instead of hiding them from myself, and the world.
MINDSET #4. My needs shouldn’t always be at the expense of others. My needs deserve to be met too- especially my core, dealbreaker needs! They MUST be met.
MINDSET #5. I know what my priorities are in life, and I’m going to make sure I stay focused on what’s really important to me.
There’s a lot to digest here, so I’ll leave it there for now.
In next week’s post, we’ll unpack the HOW.
I’ll be sure to share my best strategies for how you can simply and effectively start creating clearer, stronger boundaries in your life.
If you’ve got any requests, as always, just let me know!
And if you know someone who struggles with setting boundaries, please consider sharing this article with them.
Thanks so much!
See you on Friday for The Re-Set, our private (subscribers only) end of week check-in to take your mindset and awareness habits to the next level!