You can’t be all things — or do all things — for all people.
A life without limits means rarely saying “no” and considering everyone else’s feelings before your own. Not only are these people-pleasing habits wholly exhausting, they put you on the direct road to burnout, a major health hazard in its own right. They disregard how much work or effort you can handle on a regular basis.
That’s where boundaries come into play, according to researcher and public speaker Brené Brown. In a video posted on the subject last month that’s continuing to go viral online, Brown explains how establishing your own personal fences can do wonders for your wellbeing.
“I’d rather be loving and generous but very straightforward with what’s okay and what’s not okay,” she said.
In other words, boundaries aren’t a way to keep people out. They make life as enjoyable as possible for you and for your loved ones as a result.
We consulted boundaries expert Chad Buck, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University’s Work/Life Employee Assistance Program, on the life-changing power of establishing a clear-cut view of what you’re willing to tolerate. Below are a few great things that happen when you learn to set your own limits:
1. You’re more self-aware.
Self awareness is the art of recognizing your needs and feelings as your own, and not tied to any person or your environment. Creating your own limitations is an inherently self-aware act — and that can be incredibly beneficial for your own welfare.
“To set a boundary is to recognize the need for a healthy separation between your thoughts and feelings and the thoughts and feelings of others,” Buck told The Huffington Post. “Boundaries aren’t barriers or walls.”
2. You become a better friend and partner.
Boundaries make it possible to allow yourself to recharge. And when you’re not totally tapped out, you have more energy to devote to the ones you love. You’re also more respectful of their own needs as a result, Buck explained.
“If you don’t set the limit, then others will set it for you or just ignore that you have limits,” Buck said. “Research has shown that people with less effective limits or boundaries are more likely to violate the boundaries of others, as well.”
3. You take better care of yourself.
Boundaries help you prioritize your own well-being — plain and simple.
“It is not selfish to take care of yourself and your needs while also considering the needs of others,” Buck said. “It makes you more effective and less burned out from helping if you set some limits.”
4. You’re less stressed.
“Constantly allowing the needs of others to dictate your behavior is exhausting because everyone has problems or stress of varying degrees,” Buck said. “Without a boundary, we absorb the stress around us and our own psychological resources get drained.”
In other words, without establishing your own limits, you open yourself up to the risk of taking on everyone’s problems in addition to your own. Or worse, you ignore your own happenings entirely. If you have a reasonable boundary, you don’t take on additional stress.
5. You’re a better communicator.
In order to really establish limits, you have to state what you can or cannot tolerate, Buck said. That means being clear and concise. Expressing your own needs will also allow you to be more transparent. All of these characteristics are elements of good communication.
“Communicate rather than anticipate or expect that other people will respect or understand your limits,” Buck advised. “Setting a boundary doesn’t require a long, convoluted justification.”
6. You start trusting people more.
“People worry that they will hurt or upset people by setting limits or boundaries. For many, love and approval are tied to pleasing others, and setting limits means you are taking a risk that you will not be loved or accepted,” Buck explained.
But by engaging in this type of behavior, you’re actually acting out of a place of control or fear. Expressing your limitations to others means you’re trusting them to handle those emotions you’re conveying, Buck said. And more trust means better relationships.
7. You’re less angry.
When you don’t have set boundaries, Brown says that gives other people the power over your own life — and that can lead to anger. “We let people get away with things that are not okay,” she explained in the video. “Then we just become more resentful and hateful.”
According to Buck, there are ways to establish limits without being abrasive. The most important thing is to be strong in your conviction.
“Be assertive without being aggressive,” he said. “Aggression dilutes the message. Assertiveness means you are reasonable and direct without forcing it.”
8. You learn how to say “no.”
“No” may be a small word but it’s certainly powerful. The most basic way of establishing a boundary is declining anything you don’t have the capacity to handle.
In a blog on her 2016 resolution, actress Lena Dunham detailed how her life started to change once she expressed the two-letter word more often in order to overcome her people-pleasing habits. (Spoiler: It became more fulfilling.)
It was a slow process, but a polite ‘no’ soon entered my vernacular … And something miraculous happened: my personal life followed suit. … People respond well to honesty, to reality. They understand. And so with those no’s, YES sprung back up everywhere. Funny how that works.
9. You end up doing things you actually want to do.
Imagine your life without unnecessary obligations all because you started exercising your right to say “no.” Limits free you up for more opportunity to do the work and activities that you actually desire to do.
“Boundaries open up the possibility for many life-changing benefits,” Buck said. “They help you respond more effectively to demands on your time and energy.”
10. You become a more understanding person.
“One of the most shocking findings of my work was the idea that the most compassionate people I have interviewed over the last 13 years, were absolutely the most boundaried,” Brown said.
And it makes sense: When you’re compassionate toward yourself about what you can tolerate, you’re better able to express that to other people who have their own boundaries they want to follow.
A more fulfilling life, a warm personality and better relationships all because you set up healthy limits for yourself? Doesn’t sound like a bad deal.