End the struggle, speak up for what you need, and experience the freedom of being truly yourself. Healthy boundaries. We all know we should have them--in order to achieve work/life balance, cope with toxic people, and enjoy rewarding relationships with partners, friends, and family. But what do "healthy boundaries" really mean -- and how can we successfully express our needs, say "no," and be assertive without offending others? Licensed counselor, sought-after relationship expert, and one of the most influential therapists on Instagram Nedra Glover Tawwab demystifies this complex topic for today's world. In a relatable and inclusive tone, Set Boundaries, Find Peace presents simple-yet-powerful...
Publisher: TarcherPerigee (March 16, 2021) Pages: 304 pages ISBN-10: 0593192095 ISBN-13: 978-0593192092 ASIN: B08JYHDK89
About the Author: Nedra Glover Tawwab is a New York Times bestselling author, licensed therapist, and sought-after relationship expert. She has practiced relationship therapy for 14 years and is the founder and owner of the group therapy practice, Kaleidoscope Counseling. Every day she helps people create healthy relationships by teaching them how to implement boundaries. Her philosophy is that a lack of boundaries and assertiveness underlie most relationship issues, and her gift is helping people create healthy relationships with themselves and others. Nedra has been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, Self, and Vice and has appeared on numerous podcasts, including The School of Greatness, Therapy for Black Girls, and The Skinny Confidential. She runs a popular Instagram account where she shares practices, tools, and reflections for mental health and hosts weekly Q&As. Nedra currently lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband and two children.
Having healthy boundaries has changed my life in ways that I didn’t know were possible. This book is dedicated to those of us who are gaining freedom through unapologetic, healthy boundaries.
My life before I had healthy boundaries was overwhelming and chaotic. I, too, have struggled with codependency, peace in life and at work, and unfulfilling relationships. But setting expectations for myself and others gives me peace. Inventing a life with healthy relationships is an ongoing practice, but it gets more comfortable with time and practice.
The moment that I let up on setting perimeters, my old problems resurface. Because of this, I’ve made healthy boundaries a part of my life practice. Consistently, I am practicing assertiveness and self-discipline to create the life that I want. In the past, I carried around a lot of resentment, hoping that others would guess my mood and wishes. Through trial and error, I’ve learned that people will not guess my needs. They went about their day while I suffered in silence.
The things that I once found hard to say, such as “I won’t be able to help you move,” now come out more firmly. I was scared, I didn’t want to make anyone mad, and I didn’t know the right words. I feared that standing up for myself would cost me my relationships. All the while, the personal cost was much higher.
When I first learned about boundaries, I was confused about how the concept applied to my life. “Boundaries” can be such a broad and intimidating term. This book will break down the many aspects of having healthy boundaries and offer insights into how we can honor the boundaries set by others. It took me years to not feel as guilty setting limits with others, because I didn’t know that guilt was normal when you’re doing something that you believe to be mean. This book will teach you how to manage the discomfort (guilt) that stops you from having the life that you want. Hopefully, it will give you the confidence and courage to create healthy boundaries in your own life.
Boundaries will set you free.
I’ve been a therapist for fourteen years. People don’t come to therapy knowing they have boundary issues. When they walk in the door, boundary issues are disguised as issues with self-care, conflicts with other people, trouble with time management, or concerns about how social media impacts their emotional state.
Once they finish their tales of resentment, unhappiness, feeling overwhelmed, and codependency, I say to them gently, “You have an issue with boundaries.” With that, we begin the work of uncovering boundary violations, learning to communicate boundaries to others, and dealing with the aftermath of setting boundaries. Yes, there’s aftermath when dealing with the discomfort and guilt that comes from asserting yourself.
Instagram has become a space for me to post a lot of what I see as a result of boundary issues. My Instagram post “Signs That You Need Boundaries” went viral.
Signs That You Need Boundaries
• You feel overwhelmed.
• You feel resentment toward people for asking for your help.
• You avoid phone calls and interactions with people you think might ask for something.
• You make comments about helping people and getting nothing in return.
• You feel burned out.
• You frequently daydream about dropping everything and disappearing.
• You have no time for yourself.
The overwhelming response I see to these posts online shows me how much people relate to the need for boundaries. My direct messages overflow with notes like “Boundary issue, please help!” Weekly, I host Instagram Q&As, and 85 percent of the questions pertain to boundaries.
I receive questions like
“My friends get drunk every week, and it makes me uncomfortable when I hang out with them. What can I do?”
“I can’t stop saying yes to my brother, who constantly asks to borrow money.”
“My parents want me to come home for the holidays. I want to go to my partner’s family’s house instead. How do I tell them?”
Answering all the questions I get on Instagram is impossible. Week after week, people have more questions about their struggles with communication in relationships. I’ve uncovered a bottomless pit of boundary issues! I knew that the only way to help more people sort through these problems was to compile the strategies I’ve learned into a book. And these don’t come just from my online and client work—I’ve had my own troubles with boundaries nearly my entire life. I continue to work on this every day, so I personally understand the deep importance of establishing healthy limits.
On most days, I ask a poll question on my Instagram Stories. Taking polls has been a fun way to learn from my community. At times I’m shocked by the results. Like the time I asked, “Are your expectations of your father different from the expectations you have for your mother?” Over 60 percent of people said no. I was shocked, because moms (I’m one) talk about expectations weighing more heavily on mothers. But the people of Instagram seemed to believe that both parents are equally as important. Sprinkled throughout this book you’ll find my Instagram polls and results.
Like most people, I have found that my family relationships have been the most challenging for me in which to set boundaries. Family systems have unspoken rules of engagement. If you want to feel guilty, set a limit with your family.
Last year, I received a text from a relative calling on me to help them fix someone. I knew I’d grown when I wrote back, “This is not my job. And it’s not your job either.” After many years of trying to save the same person, I quit. It’s not my job to save people. It’s not my job to fix people. I can help people, but I can’t fix them. At that moment, I was proud of my boundaries and how far I’ve come in my ability to honor them. Through trial and error, I’ve learned, “If you don’t like something, do something about it.” I had assumed that I had to accept things and help people, even if it harmed me. I did not want to disappoint others. This reflects the number one reason that people avoid setting boundaries: fear of someone getting mad at them.
Fear is not rooted in fact.
Fear is not rooted in fact. Fear is rooted in negative thoughts and the story lines in our heads. Over the years, I learned that when people need my help, they have to recognize the issue and request assistance. And I have to be able and willing to help them. It took years for me to realize that I wasn’t helping people by “fixing” them. I was getting in the way of them doing the work that they needed to do for themselves.
Throughout this book, you will learn about more of my boundary fails and triumphs.
It isn’t easy to set limits, especially with the people we love. It may seem far worse to risk making someone mad than to have an uncomfortable conversation. But oh, the relationships I could have saved if only I had said something! Sometimes those things were big: “I will not be around you when you’re drinking.” And sometimes small: “Please take your shoes off when you come in my house.” But they all mattered.
Clarity saves relationships.
People don’t know what you want. It’s your job to make it clear. Clarity saves relationships.
This book presents a clearly outlined formula for knowing when you have a boundary issue, communicating the need for a boundary, and following it up with action. This process isn’t always pretty. Communicating what you want and need is tough at first. And dealing with what comes after can be downright uncomfortable. But the more you do it, the easier it gets—especially.
Reasons People Don’t Respect Your Boundaries
• You don’t take yourself seriously.
• You don’t hold people accountable.
• You apologize for setting boundaries.
• You allow too much flexibility.
• You speak in uncertain terms.
• You haven’t verbalized your boundaries (they’re all in your head).
• You assume that stating your boundaries once is enough.
• You assume that people will figure out what you want and need based on how you act when they violate a boundary.
For fourteen years, I’ve been honored to help people make sense of their relationships and find the courage to create healthy relationships. In these pages, you will read stories to help you curate a deeper understanding of how boundary issues appear in real life. They are fictionalized versions of my interactions with clients. All names, identifying facts, and details have been changed to maintain anonymity. I hope you find yourself in these stories of others and learn how to shift your relationships.
Sometimes we know we need to set boundaries, but we have no clue how or where to start. This book serves as a guide to the benefits of limits and the hard work of setting expectations as you maintain your values in your relationships. Because we often don’t know exactly how to express what we need, I’ve included wording suggestions. Feel free to use mine or practice your own phrases. Each chapter offers reflection questions or exercises to help you develop a deeper understanding of the material.
Understanding the Importance of Boundaries
What the Heck Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are the gateway to healthy relationships.
“I feel overwhelmed,” Kim said, burying her head in her hands. She had started seeing me two weeks after she had returned from her honeymoon. Newly married and excelling in her career, Kim prided herself on being the best at everything she did, but her worries about getting it all done had become all-consuming. She was depleted and dreaded getting out of bed in the morning. She not only was determined to be the best for herself, but she also always showed up as the “best” for others: the best friend, best daughter, best sister, best coworker. Now she wanted to be the best wife. And someday, the best mother. Being the best for Kim meant always saying yes. Saying no was mean. Saying no was selfish. She came to me hoping to figure out how to do more without feeling so exhausted.
On my couch, Kim went down the list of things she had agreed to do for other people in the coming week. She insisted that her friend needed her help to move. Her coworker would not be able to manage his project without her assistance. Kim was eager for solutions. She was trying to create more time to do all the things she’d signed up for.
As she rattled off everything she was trying to figure out, I asked her to pause. I gently pointed out that it was impossible to create more time. She looked a bit stunned at first. “Don’t worry,” I said. “I can help you lighten your load instead.” From the look on her face, it seemed as though this approach had never occurred to her. I wasn’t surprised. I meet so many people—especially women—who give and give so much, only to feel exhausted and even depressed as a result. This is why we live in a culture of burnout.
To start, I encouraged Kim to make a list of everything she needed to do at work and home that week. She already had her week completely mapped out (of course she did). She sketched a schedule for completing each task. She quickly saw that there was simply not enough time to do all the things she had planned.
I asked her, “What do you really have to do, and what can you delegate? Do you think your friend might be able to find someone else to help them move?” She mulled it over and said yes, but insisted that she wanted to help. At that moment, I could see that Kim had an issue with setting boundaries around how much and how often she’s willing to help others and that this was contributing to her anxiety. She meant well, right? All she wanted to do was help people! But her level of willingness to help was impossible to sustain. She desperately needed to do less . When I mentioned delegating, Kim dismissed the idea immediately. She knew only one way to help others, and that was to say yes to doing it herself.
Kim’s refusal to say no had led her to my office and was the root of her worry, stress, and crippling anxiety. According to studies, anxiety is rising. Complicated relationships are among the leading causes of increasing rates of anxiety, and anxiety and depression are the two most common reasons people pursue therapy. Just like Kim, people enter therapy when anxiety is starting to impact their daily life.
I worked with Kim to unpack her need to be present for everyone. I helped her see that saying no would give her the time she was seeking. Saying no would give her the freedom to settle into her role as a wife. Saying no would reduce her worry so that she could get out of bed and face the day without immediately feeling overwhelmed.
My Definition of “Boundaries”
Boundaries are expectations and needs that help you feel safe and comfortable in your relationships. Expectations in relationships help you stay mentally and emotionally well. Learning when to say no and when to say yes is also an essential part of feeling comfortable when interacting with others.
Signs That You Need Healthier Boundaries
Kim’s ability to function was impacted by her constantly replaying her thoughts, planning, worrying about having enough time, and dreading getting started. In short, she was stressed out.
Mental health issues such as anxiety can be prompted by our neurological response to stress. When we are stressed, our brain has difficulty shutting down. Our sleep is affected. Dread sets in. As a therapist, I observe poor self-care, feelings of being overwhelmed, resentment, avoidance, and other mental health issues as common presentations of boundary issues.
We’ve all heard the analogy from airplane-safety language: “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.” Simple, right? Nope. Neglecting self-care is the first thing to happen when we get caught up in our desire to help others.
I can’t tell you how many people show up in my office lamenting, “I don’t have time to do anything for myself.” After a quick evaluation, it becomes apparent that these people are not making any time for themselves. In fact, it often seems like they’ve forgotten how to take care of themselves. They can’t manage to carve out time to eat a healthy meal or find five minutes to meditate, but they spend hours volunteering at their kids’ school every week. This type of imbalance is an immediate sign of boundary issues.
Self-care is more than taking a spa day, and it isn’t selfish. Saying no to helping is an act of self-care. Paying attention to your needs is self-care. And like putting on the oxygen mask, you’ll have more energy for others if you apply it to yourself first. If you think about it, the root of self-care is setting boundaries: it’s saying no to something in order to say yes to your own emotional, physical, and mental well-being.
The root of self-care is setting boundaries.
Kim sought therapy because she was feeling chronically overwhelmed. This is one of the most common manifestations of boundary issues. Overwhelmed people have more to do than the time required for their tasks. They are drowning in thoughts about squeezing more into an already packed schedule. This type of busyness is endemic in our culture. Everyone is striving to do more and more. Time is an afterthought. But our well-being is the price. Understanding boundaries is a proactive way to gauge what is truly manageable, and it also allows you to give 100 percent to the task at hand without that nagging sense of feeling overwhelmed all the time.