Between 12-hour days of classes, an internship, and trying to manage a relationship with my girlfriend I was stretched thin.
I needed to recharge in my introverted world. I had a conversation with my girlfriend at the time and asked for a week away from each other. It was my attempt at setting a boundary.
She responded, “It sounds like you could better prioritize your time instead of making excuses.”
I winced at her response. A wave of fear surged through my body. As soon as I set my boundaries with her I immediately buckled at the first sign of upsetting her.
Fuck. Am I an asshole? How could I be so inconsiderate of her?
“You’re right. I can better prioritize my time.”
You know that burn-out feeling you get when you become completely overwhelmed? I hit that. Putting her needs in front of mine was the nail on the casket. My attempt to be selfless turned into self-destruction
All because I didn’t set any boundaries.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are taking care of your emotional and physical needs, without putting the other person’s needs in front of yours.
If you come from a “nice-guy” people-pleasing background like me, chances are you’ve struggled with setting boundaries at some point in your life.
There’s also a correlation between setting boundaries and your level of self-esteem.
When I had low self-esteem I was willing to tolerate the world’s shittiest behavior from women because I was so excited just to have them in my life. This led to dramatic breakups, stupid games, and tons of emotional pain.
On the flip side, when I became a more self-compassionate man and developed the ability to set boundaries, not only did it attract higher quality women into my life, the stupid games magically disappeared.
How to figure out what your boundaries are
Your boundaries are your needs. They don’t have to logically make sense to anyone else.
If you’re an introvert, you likely have a need for alone time. Just like my example in the intro, I was trying to fulfill my introverted need to be alone. I didn’t honor that need and I paid a big price for it.
Here are a few other examples of needs:
- I need my alone time every now and then, regardless of how bad she wants to see me
- I need someone who is willing to commit to me
- I’m not willing to be in a committed relationship right now
- I need someone to clearly communicate their feelings with me
- I need my date to not use her phone while we’re eating
- I need to be treated with respect, regardless of who I am interacting with
If you aren’t clear what your needs are, here are some ways to think about it:
Think about the times you feel like you are self-sacrificing for others, or trying to control other’s emotions and needs. A few examples are:
- Staying late at work because your boss asked you to even though you had already made other plans
- A woman seeing other men when you made it clear you want to be exclusive
- Your date consistently being late even though you’ve clearly communicated for her to arrive on time
- Not breaking up with someone you are in a relationship with because you are afraid to hurt them
When I want to get clear on my needs I take some time to journal or speak with a friend. If I find any common themes in my journal entries or conversations then I know I am breaking my boundaries.
Here are some recent examples:
- I really need to stop working so much
- Every time I hang out with this person I always feel drained and in a shitty mood afterward
- She keeps asking me to hang out with her on Sundays when I’d rather take my alone time
Finding your boundaries requires self-monitoring. Next time you are doing your introvert recharge, reflect on the people you surround yourself with. Evaluate how you feel after being around them and decide if there’s room for setting boundaries.
How to tell if you are being too aggressive or passive with boundaries
In every problem, there is a portion that is in your control, or a “self-boundary.” Stepping outside your self-boundary is how guys often get confused as if they are being too aggressive or passive.
There are two ways to think about setting boundaries: self-sacrificing and or a gift of service:
A self-sacrifice is a refusal to set boundaries and full permission for others to take what they need from you.
Think of it as if you were the town well, and all of the villagers of the town took from you every single day without allowing the rain to come and replenish the well.
An interesting side note: The guys who have sent me emails concerned about how to stop being “just friends” with women always include language like, “I never say anything mean or rude to her. But I still end up as a friend.”
I’ve noticed this is the kind of guy who tends to struggle with boundaries and his identity around women. Not because he doesn’t “say anything mean or rude.” But because when I dig deeper, it comes from a fear of conflict or upsetting women. This means he will gauge his response and actions based off what he THINKS she wants to hear, instead of leading with what he believes is right for himself.
Think about that for a second… it’s what you THINK she wants. It’s not even a reality.
There’s also a passiveness to his behavior. He’s always looking to 100 percent guarantee she’s interested before making a move or constantly over-analyzing every scenario.
I know this because this was me (and still can be if I slip back to autopilot.) So, thank you for being the gift of a mirror for me.
This behavior can lead to others taking advantage of you, women not attracted to you, and you constantly feeling used and emotionally drained.
The reason why this is unattractive to women is because you are signaling that you aren’t reliable, and that you lack the ability to make decisions. These are two traits that women have highly valued in men throughout our evolution.
If this section made you fidget uncomfortably in your seat, don’t worry you’re not alone.
A popular book in the men’s personal development world is No More Mr. Nice Guy and goes into extensive detail about how to reclaim your personal power.
A gift of service
The difference between sacrificing out of fear and out of love is that when it’s done out of love it’s done unconditionally. You don’t expect anything in return. It’s a gift to the other person.
You are also in full control of your gift. Telling her, “I can’t hang out with you today because I need my own time,” is taking care of your needs, which allows you to be more present with her in the future.
A gift can only come from a place when your needs are first taken care of.
Setting boundaries is a practice
In my men’s group, we have a process that allows us to practice conversations with setting boundaries. Here is the framework you can use in your own life:
Am I owning only my needs in this conversation?
Frame the conversation from a place of owning YOUR needs. The cleanest and clearest way to do this is to make “I” statements. Avoid using “you” as much as possible.
- Example of poor boundaries: “You ask me to hang out too often. Why can’t you let me have some alone time?”
- Example of a strong boundary: “I need my alone time to recharge and refocus. I am going to take some alone time this weekend.”
Using “I” statements allow you to claim your needs without starting a fight.
Am I framing the conversation as a discussion for both of us, or am I trying to control an outcome?
I recently helped a friend with this. She is looking to get into a serious relationship and has a fear around being hurt and rejected. The guy she is seeing wants to get intimate with her, and she wants to wait until they are committed.
Here’s what she suggested at first:
“I want us to wait until we are both ready to be a couple.”
While she has every right to wait as long a she wants, framing the conversation this way feels like an ultimatum more than a discussion that creates a safe space for both of them.
We reworked it to be a discussion:
“I’m most comfortable when I’m in a secure relationship because that makes me feel valued and clear on the direction of the relationship. I understand we may have different opinions in this area. What feels right for you?”
This is getting the same point across but allows for the guy to feel included and get a better understanding of her needs.
Am I saying this from a place of neediness, or from a place of love and respect for myself?
How do you feel after seeing her/spending time with her? Do you feel like you need to do something because you are “losing control?” That’s a sign you are self-sacrificing and trying to manipulate a situation.
Or, do you feel happy and content knowing that you both had a great time together? That’s a good sign you both have a healthy amount of boundary-setting and respect for each other.
It’s ok to fuck up at setting boundaries. too. We all make mistakes and overextend ourselves from time-to-time. The key is to move forward with forgiveness and learn from the mistake.
Feature photo credit: Getty Images
Article photos: The New Man Within