4 Ways to Deal with Guilt When Setting Boundaries

So, you’ve worked hard to set boundaries, put yourself first, and practiced saying no. No, you can’t work late again tonight. No, you can’t drive your teenager to the bus stop. No, you don’t want to go out this weekend. No, you can’t lend them some money. You set some healthy boundaries, you politely stated your own needs, and you stuck to your guns.


But you don’t feel as good as you thought you would. In fact, you feel guilty. You might feel selfish or mean. You might even be tempted to go back to apologize and offer your help.


What if that person really needed your help? Maybe you shouldn’t have let them down. Maybe you were unreasonable in saying no. Maybe they won’t like you anymore, or you won’t get promoted if you look like a bad team player.





Society places a huge emphasis on sacrificing our own needs for others. Praise is often bound up with agreeing with other people, being ‘nice’ or ‘making an effort.’ We are programmed to please other people, and that’s not easy to overcome.


Here are four ways of dealing with ‘boundary guilt’:


  1. Acknowledge the guilt reflex


Accept that maintaining your healthy boundaries is likely to make you feel guilty, at least at first. It's unusual for you to say no. It takes time and practice to build your boundary-setting muscles. So be kind to yourself and keep moving. See it as a reflex that you don’t need to continue. Remember, you are building new behavior and that takes time.  Expect some resistance from the people in your life and they will try to make you feel guilty by reminding you of all of the things you “used” to do for them. Stand your ground and remind them why this change is important to you.


  1. Look for the yes


If by setting boundaries you're saying no, flip it the other way and work out where you're saying yes. Maybe you're on time to pick up the kids or having some much-needed downtime. Perhaps you're saying yes to help someone maintain their boundaries and be more independent. Don’t automatically assume that drawing boundaries for yourself has to be a win-lose situation. Take a look at the situation and see how you can create a win-win situation for everyone. Sometimes asking yourself how to create a new situation will bring you different options that you would not have seen otherwise.


  1. Don’t explain


When you want to say no, you can keep it plain and simple. Just say no. You don’t need an excuse or a rationale. You don’t need to explain why you’re refusing. You also don’t need to apologize. Be polite and say, ‘no thank you,’ or ‘I can’t.’ Of course, you can soften the refusal by saying “I’m sorry I can’t,” just don’t be tempted into an apology which stirs any guilty feelings into life!


For quite a few years I was working as a computer consultant and running my martial arts school, which lead to the average 14 -16 hour days and working weekends. I even had some computer customers who did not work on Saturdays, which would require me to work on Sundays.  Needless to say, my husband and family began to feel neglected and I decided that I had to draw some lines.  So, I made Friday nights my time with my husband and I completely took Sundays off.  When I say off, I mean when I finished work on Saturday and I did not go near my phone or my computer and completely did whatever my husband and family wanted to do.  At first, my customers complained and I did feel guilty like I was not providing good customer service, but the time away from work helped me approach the calls and issues more calmly.  So now I have no problem telling people “I don’t work on Sundays”.


  1. Remember why you’re setting boundaries


Keep in mind that you’re setting boundaries not to be mean to other people, but to be kind to yourself. Weak boundaries don’t do anyone any favors. They give people unreasonable expectations and are a shortcut to you feeling overburdened, stressed, and resentful. People with stronger boundaries are happier; less stressed, and have better relationships. And wanting that is no reason to feel guilty!


Although, the person may not understand and may even get angry in the moment, they will respect you for taking the stand and defining your boundaries.  Eventually, as long as you stand your ground and maintain that boundary, you will find that you will not be put in those situations as often.

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