You know I talk about boundaries a lot, right? I’m obsessed.
Mostly because I’ve spent my whole life learning how to *get* some.
The thing is, when you start setting boundaries (after a lifetime of people-pleasing and putting everybody else’s needs above your own) people DON’T LIKE IT.
When you stop ignoring your feelings, masking your truth, and putting up with people’s shit… it confuses them.
They say you’ve changed. You’re not who you used to be. You’re different—and not in a good way.
They want to know when the “nice” version of you is coming back.
The answer? Never.
I used to be “nice” at all costs. I wanted to be liked. This meant I sacrificed my time, energy, and self-esteem to make others happy.
But I was miserable.
So I quit.
It was time to redefine what being “nice” meant, to include being kind and compassionate to myself. I gave myself permission to say no (a lot). I decided my time and energy are worth protecting… and that my needs are just as important as everyone else’s.
Here’s how I did it.
1. I said no without apologising.
The amount of times I (still) say sorry is ridiculous.
I apologise for speaking, for being bumped into, for letting people down. I basically spend my days apologising for existing.
Most often, I used to apologise for saying no.
I’d anticipate it’d be a problem for the other person. Saying sorry was a way of softening the blow so they wouldn’t react as harshly as I was expecting they would.
In the past, I’ve had people argue with me, aggressively question my reasons, and make me feel guilty about my “no”.
Eventually, I realised their reaction isn’t my responsibility.
My only responsibility is to myself.
The fact is, people benefitted from me not having boundaries. It made their life easier. So when I started to say no, I got pushback.
In response, I started saying, “this feels like the right choice for me”. That’s it. No apology necessary.
2. I shared my thoughts and feelings.
I’ve always been one to keep the peace—even if that meant staying silent (and it often did).
But over the years, I’ve learned that in most situations it’s better to clear the air when there’s a problem… rather than letting stuff stew and remain unspoken.
Most people appreciate honesty. It helps them know where they stand without having to guess.
Tone makes a huge difference here, since your voice can be kind while you speak your truth. It’s not necessary to go in guns-blazing.
You can be heard *and* be polite.
Plus, if you have a problem but never tell anyone about it, they can’t DO anything about it. If you ever think, “they should know that”, or, “it’s obvious”, or, “surely they could tell from my reaction”, there’s an issue.
People aren’t mind readers and we can’t expect them to be. Not everyone has empathic superpowers like us, after all.
In general, it’s best to focus on ‘I-centred’ language when sharing your thoughts and feelings, such as:
- I feel…
- I need…
- I’d like…
- I want…
- I was thinking…
- I’d love to know…
- My thoughts are…
- My view is…
- In my experience…
Nobody can argue if you focus on *you* and your experience.
You’re entitled to your opinions. Your feelings and needs matter. You are important. You deserve to be heard, so let people hear you.
Get used to saying what needs to be said.
It might be uncomfortable at first, so start small.
Answer questions like, “how are you?” more honestly, especially with loved ones. If someone asks what you want to eat for dinner, think about your preferences and make them known. Then work your way up from there.
Honesty has the power to improve your most important relationships… and release the ones that weren’t really serving you in the first place.
3. I stopped caring so much about what others thought (yes, this was hard).
My sister is the most assertive person I know. She only really cares about what SHE thinks of herself—and people automatically respect her.
I’ve always been in awe of her natural ability to not give a shit about what people think.
I, on the other hand, would mould myself into someone I’d hope others would approve of, still not get the approval I was seeking, then feel horrible for faking it instead of just being myself.
I’d forgotten that my opinion of myself is more important than anyone else’s.
The same goes for you.
If you can look in the mirror and respect the person looking back at you, that’s all that counts. To me, that looks like acting with integrity, listening to my intuition, and advocating for my needs.
I let go of other people’s opinions by reminding myself every single day that I’m the only person who has to—and gets to—live my life. I also:
- Worked on building my self-esteem with an amazing psychotherapist
- Started listening to my whispers of intuition (and doing what they told me to)
- Got out of my head and into my body with yoga, dance, and walks in nature
- Pursued hobbies I’d let atrophy over the years, like painting and drawing
- Took baby steps towards my big dreams
Slowly, I started remembering who I was. And that I was enough.
There’ll always be people who don’t vibe with me. Who criticise, judge, and reject me. Who tell me what to do or think I should change everything about myself.
But there’ll also always be people who think I’m awesome. Who want to hang out with me no matter what. Who love and accept me for who I am.
Still, none of those people can make me feel whole. That’s an inside job.