top of page

5 Reasons Why Setting Boundaries is So Hard

Updated: Apr 9

a yellow line on the asphalt
Photo by Jordan Graff on Unsplash

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services

Boundaries can be hard to develop, put into action, and sustain.

Whether you are the first person in your social network starting to think about this issue or you have been working through boundary setting for some time now, it’s important to recognize how hard it can be to implement boundaries. You may be met with lots of resistance and tension, especially if you expressed your boundaries recently. This doesn’t mean you should stop stating your boundaries – it just means that this is a tough adjustment period for everyone involved.

The relationship may improve over time, stay the same, or get worse. The hard part is deciding whether to keep going with your boundaries if you feel it’s the right thing to do for you even if others may not agree or support it.

This article goes into more depth about some of the familial, cultural, and societal factors that make boundary-setting so challenging in our relationships.

1. People--pleasing behaviour

Did you grow up in an environment, culture, or society where you were told to put others' needs before yours?

Here are some examples of experiences you may have gone through:

  • Did you learn that the perspective of the group was more important than the individual?

  • Were you told that you should feel guilty for thinking of what's important to you if this contrasts with what others (especially elders) want or expect of you?

  • Did you notice that you received more attention, love, and support the more that you followed others’ wishes and requests?

If one or more of these ideas rings true for you, then it sounds as though you are struggling with people-pleasing behaviour. This means you do what other people say you should do, rather than honouring what you want for your own well-being.

Being a people-pleaser can make it extremely difficult to start and maintain boundaries. Challenging scenarios may lead you to revert back to old patterns where you minimize your wishes for the sake of everyone else.

Identifying people-pleasing behaviour when it happens is often a good first step as any behaviour change begins with self-awareness. Once you start to recognize your people-pleasing tendencies and how this may not be serving you well, you will be able to start imagining how boundary setting could improve your quality of life and use that as motivation to get started.

2. Being shamed for speaking up

Another reason why setting boundaries is hard is because, once you take that scary step of defining and clarifying a boundary, you may be shamed, criticized, and ridiculed for prioritizing yourself.

For many people, going against a social norm is often met with disapproval, disappointment, and discouragement. Having your own voice, values, beliefs, and needs may be not supported or recognized by others around you.

Some of the phrases you might hear in your social group could be “you’re being rude”, “you’re being disrespectful”, “you’re being selfish”, and any other types of comments that bring you feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and remorse – to the point that you might second guess your boundary as the consequences might seem too great.

Learning how to deal with such complex feelings of guilt and shame and understanding that you aren’t doing anything wrong when you self-advocate is a vital part of becoming comfortable with creating boundaries.

3. Feeling unsure where to even start

Are you feeling lost regarding what your first step would be in setting a boundary? You’re not alone. It can be difficult to know where to begin, especially if this is new territory for you.

One suggestion is to consider what you want for yourself in setting a boundary. Is greater independence in terms of alone time or your own physical space important to you? Could more reciprocity in regard to emotional support or decision-making be crucial for you in your relationships?

Or might you want more of a balance with how you and the other person spend time together by alternating between both of your preferred leisure/recreational activities?

Taking some time to reflect on what is personally meaningful to you may support you in developing a boundary that aligns with your unique values and needs.

4. Worry about being isolated or shunned by others

Isolation, exclusion, and being ostracized can be a very real fear – especially in situations where there are rigid beliefs or norms that don’t allow for much variation or individuality.

The weight of loneliness can be heavy so it is crucial to think about the fact that this may be the outcome after you enforce your boundaries and how you would cope with it.

Take some time to also consider what life could be like if things remain the way they are if you don’t make any changes --- and what life could be like if you do.

If the potential improvements associated with sticking with your boundaries far outweigh the potential risks of being shunned by or isolated from your social group, then it may be a path you’re willing to take.

For others, the risks may feel too severe, and they may not be consistent with their boundaries since staying connected is more important to them.

This is a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong here; choose what you feel is best for you.

5. Not seeing others set boundaries

The previous point about feeling unsure about where to start could also be linked with not bearing witness to others who have set boundaries in their own relationships.

Not having a role model to draw on or seek mentorship from through your journey of developing boundaries can make it that much harder for you to feel confident about taking this step forward. You might question yourself, start and then stop, or have difficulty following through.

While you might feel like you’re on your own in this process, it might help to remember that you could be paving the way for others to do the same and this may be enough to help you keep going.

Change starts somewhere and -- sometimes -- it starts with you.

Final Thoughts

Boundaries are complicated, difficult to navigate, and can be outright stressful. They take a lot of effort, hard work, and dedication to implement.

When handled in a consistent and clear manner, it can be one of the most valuable things you do for your own mental health and for the quality of your relationships.

Indeed, boundaries show others how you want to be treated and help you figure out which relationships you want to invest your time and energy into -- those that make you feel heard, supported, valued, and respected.

Wishing you well on your mental health journey.

Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT

Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist

Read more blog posts about South Asian / BIPOC Mental Health.

If you are an adult in Ontario or Alberta seeking online therapy and would like to request a free 15 minute phone consultation, please Book An Appointment.


bottom of page