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Why Do I Struggle Creating Boundaries?

June, 2022

By Janelle Campbell, MSW, RSW

Owner and operator of Self Wellness Counselling and Mental Services

Whether you’re 25, 35, or 50 speaking up for yourself or saying no to others can seem daunting. Those who find it difficult may view themselves as being a people pleaser. These people tend to feel guilty, fear rejection, and become extremely anxious when saying no to tasks. They tend to believe that they are being selfish, mean, and worry that other people might get upset with them. Does this sound familiar to you? If so, this post is for you.

This post will discuss:

· What are healthy boundaries?

· Why do I have difficulty setting boundaries?

· I’m worried that others will be upset at me

· How do I maintain my boundaries?


According to TherapistAid boundaries are limits and rules we set for ourselves within relationships. It mentions that a person with healthy boundaries can say “no” to others when they want to, but they are comfortable opening themselves up to intimacy and close relationships. Boundaries are also based on our values. Think of core values as principles and standards for how to live your life. For example, you may have grown up in a Christian household and gone to church every Sunday. Your parents may have placed value on the principles of Christianity and how an individual is supposed to live their life. As an adult, you may extend those same values to your own children. Based on those values, a boundary might be not missing church every Sunday, being faithful and committed to your partner, marrying someone with a similar faith, or being around people who read the bible and have similar values to you.


As previously mentioned, creating healthy boundaries starts with core values. Before you can communicate your need and wants to others, you must first look inward and identify your values. A person’s lack of respect for themselves and not knowing their core values may blur the boundary lines. Furthermore, it determines how they allow others to treat them, what boundaries they need, and how to identify and implement those said boundaries. Values and boundaries start in childhood with the interaction and development we have with a primary caregiver.

For example, it might be difficult to set boundaries in relationships if you weren’t taught how to love and respect yourself. You most likely subjugated yourself as a way of coping with criticism in order to protect yourself from a parent who made fun of your weight. Growing up you’ve learned to internalize their critical voice as your own. As an adult you may call yourself names and lack empathy or compassion. The development of your core values and your need for safety have been compromised. Your core belief might be, “I’m not worthy” or “I’m not enough.” When it comes to romantic partnerships, it is easy to find yourself dating someone with the same critical voice as your primary caregiver. Some people may not be able to recognize the behavioural pattern right away, however, it appears familiar. It can be difficult to change deeply engrained patterns of behaviour, especially if it's rooted in childhood.


At this stage, you are engaging with doing the work to identify your needs and values. You are actively working on treating yourself with compassion, less judgment, and minimal criticism. You’re feeling good about the progress you’re making with your therapist and it’s time to put what you’ve learned into practice. This can be daunting for some people because they are nervous about “rocking the boat”, and, they don’t want others to be upset with them. This thought pattern is completely normal. Think back to my earlier example about being criticized by a parent in childhood. The thought of speaking up for oneself can be extremely triggering and uncomfortable. Trust me, nobody said this would be easy. Continue to be kind and compassionate toward yourself as you are navigating and implementing new patterns of behaviour.

People tend to have a fear response because the brain stores emotional memories, some buried deep into the subconscious. The emotion from that past memory may be triggered by a present-day event. Continue working with your therapist to have a better understanding of the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze) mode.

It’s important to note that you cannot control how people choose to respond to your boundaries. Some people may respond negatively to your boundaries because they are not used to you speaking up for yourself, they can no longer manipulate or gaslight you, they never respected you, they no longer have easy access to you, and they don’t like change. There are many reasons for why someone might get angry, however, that is not up to you. People pleasers have learned how to subjugate themselves to keep the peace. Depending on what the situation is, you can state to the person, “I’m not able to do what you’ve asked of me, I understand that you are upset but this is my boundary.” It is ok to walk away from a conversation if the person is becoming verbally abusive. You may have to re-evaluate the relationship if the person doesn’t want to respect you and your boundaries. Remember, you are missing out on a healthy relationship if people don’t respect you.


Start by reminding yourself that you are worth individuals respecting your boundaries. Most importantly, you are worth adhering to the values and standards you’ve established for yourself. Take it day to day and remember this process is not a race. Have patience with yourself and continue your self-compassion journey. I strongly recommend, “The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A proven Way To Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength, and Thrive.” This book is authored by Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer. If you don’t know what self-compassion looks like or where to start, this book is a great tool and is beginner friendly. Get to know yourself on a personal level. Take yourself out on a date and spend time alone. Don’t confuse this with isolation. Taking yourself out means you are reconnecting with your mind, body, soul, and spirit. You are creating safety, inner peace, and inner strength. Maintaining boundaries can be challenging, but remember this is something new. In order to get better it is important to practice and be consistent. Start by setting boundaries with close friendships and people you feel safe and comfortable with.

Reach out to a mental health therapist either through your workplace employee assistance program, psychology today, school wellness centre, friend referral, or Google. A trained professional will be able to further explore and identify unhealthy behavioural patterns and work through the subconscious mind. Seeking counselling can be expensive, it’s ok to ask your therapist if they offer a sliding scale. If they don’t, perhaps it’s worth starting off with one or two sessions a month as opposed to weekly. Most therapist offer a brief phone or video consultation to determine the proper fit. Although, identifying the appropriate fit will take a few sessions to determine, don’t be afraid to reach out and request a consultation.

If you can’t see a professional at this time, keep a journal tracking your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. At the end of the week, review your journal and identify your triggers by understanding your emotional response, thought process, and behaviour. This process helps to create awareness and reflection. Without awareness you won’t be able to consciously recognize unhealthy patterns and make changes. Be intentional and hold yourself accountable.


I am a registered social worker who provides psychotherapy in private practice. The above information provides you with brief psychoeducation on healthy boundaries. Consult a therapist for further information, resources, and treatment options.

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