Five Signs That You Have Trouble Setting Boundaries

Knowing how to set boundaries is necessary if you want to maintain healthy relationships. Are you able to do it or are you experiencing difficulties in setting them?
Five Signs That You Have Trouble Setting Boundaries

Last update: 04 May, 2022

Setting boundaries means showing people that you have your own desires and needs that are different from theirs. By marking them, you tell them: “You can’t cross this line”. It’s like delimiting the borders that separate one country from another. In fact, when you set boundaries, you reaffirm your identity, values, beliefs, and self-esteem.

By limiting the influence on you by others, you reinforce your feelings of security and protect yourself from abuse and manipulation. However, although setting limits is a necessary act of respect for yourself, it’s often really difficult for you to do. That’s because, in your relationships, you often prioritize the well-being of others over that of yourself.

Next, we’ll give you some keys to help you discover if you’re having trouble setting boundaries. If so, you’ll be able to change the way you relate to others. In fact, you’ll start seeing yourself as a subject worthy of being respected and valued.

How to tell if you’re having trouble setting boundaries

Your relationships are what construct you. Indeed, every interaction you’ve ever had with others -your parents, family, friends, teachers, strangers – has been the foundation on which you’ve created the view you have of yourself in relation to the people with whom you interact.

You’ve introduced a relational pattern and a series of schemas that have determined the place you assign yourself in your relationships and the way you understand them and feel in them.

This set of dysfunctional patterns and schemas of relating play a central role in setting boundaries. If throughout your relationships, you’ve learned that being submissive and accommodating is the way to maintain relationships, it’ll be extremely difficult for you to establish boundaries.

The problem of not knowing how to set boundaries arises from the narratives you’ve created from the way in which you’ve lived and interpreted the relational experiences of your past. Regardless of its origin, the problem manifests itself in your daily life, even if you’re not aware of it.

Let’s look at some signs that may indicate you have this problem.

Sad man at the window

1. You fear conflict

Out of fear, you avoid facing the conflicts of interpersonal relationships. This fear discourages you from setting boundaries since you feel that, in this way, you avoid confrontation. As a consequence, you avoid expressing your desires, opinions, and disagreements.

Fear of conflict isn’t a good friend to you in your relationships. That’s because it acts as an obstacle, preventing you from signaling the boundaries that others shouldn’t cross. This emotion leads you to be accommodating to others despite what you really feel or want.

2. You have a hard time differentiating yourself from others

Maybe you experience trouble setting boundaries because you don’t have a clear idea of who you are… of your identity. Recognizing your identity means you can differentiate yourself and mark the boundaries between yourself and others. When you know who you are and get others to recognize you as such and to respect your ideas, values, beliefs, and feelings, it becomes much easier to set boundaries. In fact, it’s a completely natural process.

If you don’t know how far the territory of your rights extends, it’ll be really difficult for you to set boundaries. In this context, the separation between you and others can become blurred.

In order to consolidate yourself, you seek in others what you don’t have in yourself: an identity. Then, they become frames of reference for you. Consequently, you let them exceed all boundaries because, in effect, you’ve become a part of them and, if you lose them, you lose yourself.

3. You have self-esteem issues

When you have a hard time seeing yourself as a worthwhile person and judge yourself unlovingly, setting boundaries becomes a problem. This is the case because your boundaries are indicators of appreciation toward yourself, toward what you believe, think and feel.

If you don’t value yourself, how will you make others respect and appreciate you? It won’t matter that they exceed your boundaries because there’ll be nothing of value to take care of. Indeed, boundaries are a method of self-care.

Low self-esteem can lead you to consider that you’re not in a position to define boundaries in your relationships. Consequently, you’ll have trouble in setting them. If this is the case, you need to work on your self-esteem so you can have healthier relationships, those in which you’re valued.

Sad woman with low self esteem

4. You find it difficult to make decisions

Setting boundaries implies making firm decisions. If you have trouble deciding and sticking with what you’ve decided, you may have trouble setting boundaries because you just can’t bring yourself to do it.

You’ll be filled with doubts. “If I do it, maybe they’ll… but if I don’t, maybe they’ll… I don’t know what to do!”. While you decide, the others exceed your boundaries. They don’t wait for you.

5. You like to please others

Always doing what others want is a clear sign that you have trouble setting boundaries.  Because you probably frequently end up wasting your time doing things you really don’t want to do.

When you’re only focused on the satisfaction and pleasure of others, it’s all too easy to lose sight of your own needs. This, in itself, isn’t the problem, but losing sight of them makes it more unlikely that you’ll satisfy them.

To set boundaries, you need to learn/dare to say no. After all, you’re completely within your rights not to satisfy a request -that’s the very nature of a request. However, systematically complying with the wishes of others may be related to fear of conflict, emotional dependency, low self-esteem, fear of loneliness, or losing the other person’s affection.

Boundary issues express themselves in different ways in your relationships. If you really want to have healthy relationships, in which respect for each other is a constant, you need to learn to set boundaries that allow you to develop and be free.

In what situations do you find it difficult to set boundaries? Are there people with whom you find it trickier? How might a lack of boundaries be affecting your relationships and well-being?

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  • Fierro, A. (1997). La identidad personal. M. Pérez Olvera (Comp.), Antología de Lecturas, 21-28.
  • Rojas, Q., & Milagros, V. (2007). La autoestima.