Establishing boundaries for everyday happiness

Do you sabotage your happiness by failing to establish boundaries or trying to be likeable at the price of your own needs? Learn how to nip that in the bud.

Like most women I know, I’m quite an accommodating person. I like to help out when I can and I really want people to like me. If I suspect someone is thinking badly of me or my actions, I will fret about it for ages and do my damndest to make it better. My best friend – a man – thinks I’m a neurotic nutter who needs to be stopped for my own good.

There is something to be said for having a bloke as a best mate: you get the other gender’s perspective and, through that, come to realise how very differently we think about so many things. Now I’ve studied feminist perspectives on this and I know that there is a danger that some boffins can set up infuriating obstacles for women by claiming that we are over-emotional or less rational than men, a scholarly equivalent of ‘she must be on her period’ which makes you want to use PMT as a defence for murder. However, I also know from experience that the way I (and my female friends) deal with something is significantly different from the way that men deal with it. Most men would be shocked at how much some women can dwell on things and cause themselves stress by caring so much about others. My bessie is straightforward: if he feels he’s done something wrong, he’ll apologise and move on. If someone else has done something wrong, he’ll ignore them until they apologise and they can move on. He only needs the apology, not a long explanation of the whys and wherefores.

Establishing a way of dealing with conflict or ensuring you have enough consideration for your own needs and preferences before you agree to things is an important part of boundary-setting. Boundaries are what we refer to when we realise that we have an energetic egg around us and too much putting others before yourself causes that egg to become porous and infected by others, exhausting you and making you vulnerable to feeling like your life is not your own.



Letting go

Think about the last time you had a row or disagreement with a friend. What did you do? I suspect you felt awful about it until you sorted it out. You probably sought advice from other friends and your partner. Then you probably had a long talk where you both got to a place where you felt that you had aired your differences and made peace. There may even have been some tears. Then you could continue with your relationship.

What if you’d not bothered? What if you’d either acted like the row never happened or you just decided not to see her any longer? Most women I polled said they simply couldn’t do that. Audrey Hepburn once said, ‘People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.’

Having ‘thrown out’ some people in my life over the years I have to say that, as beautiful as Audrey’s words are, I don’t agree with them. My life has been made more peaceful, pleasurable and worthwhile having excised those who bring drama and pain into it. After all, you have your family for all that without needing pals getting in on the being a pain-in-the-ass act. Of everything I’ve learned about boundaries, the disengaging from those who aren’t doing you good is the lesson I have found most helpful.


Setting ground rules

  • Don’t play email tag: women often think they will be perceived as rude if they don’t reply to every email, even one that doesn’t need an answer. If the other person is just saying ‘have a nice weekend’, you don’t need to reply with ‘you too’!
  • Don’t plan too far ahead or too meticulously. Leave room for spontaneity.
  • Never apologise and never explain: well, not ‘never’ but stop saying ‘sorry’ when it isn’t your fault and stop feeling the need to explain yourself.
  • Stall for time. If someone asks you to come to something or to do something, tell them you’ll get back to them. Then decide whether you want to go there or do that. While you may have to do reports at work, you don’t have to spend an evening in the company of a bore.