No one enjoys being walked all over… The feeling of powerlessness it leaves you with – being taken advantage of.
But here’s the thing: you’re not powerless.
People only walk over us if we allow them to. We set the limits around what we’re prepared to tolerate and what we’re not.
If you feel like you’re constantly being walked over – whether that’s in your personal or professional life – you might be struggling with boundaries.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the signs.
Signs you need boundaries
If you’re someone who struggles with boundaries, you might not even recognise your own needs.
Maybe you have the horrible feeling that you’re getting walked all over but you’re the type of person who avoids conflict at all costs. You’re worried that if you assert yourself the other person is going to be angry – or that you’ll come across as demanding or selfish.
Here are some more signs to look out for:
- You feel like you’re constantly getting walked all over
- You have a history of codependent relationships
- You struggle with feelings of guilt and anxiety
- You say ‘yes’ even when you want to say ‘no’
- Instead of asserting yourself you use passive aggression to get your point across
- You avoid conflict at all costs
- You try to do it all – which leaves you feeling exhausted a lot of the time
- Other people’s opinions are really important to you – even more so than your own
Why are people walking all over me? Being a parent pleasing child – the link
People who struggle with boundaries are often people-pleasers, placing the needs of others before their own.
It’s a coping mechanism – usually learnt from childhood.
At the root of most people-pleasers is the child who didn’t feel worthy of love – who had to chase it by “fitting in” and pleasing others (typically, a parent).
The parents of people-pleasers often have one thing in common: an inconsistent parenting style. And this can be for any number of reasons (often not intentional). Maybe they had a lot going on in their lives (going through divorce, working a lot), struggling with mental illness, addiction etc.
Whatever it was, they were not able to sufficiently tune into their child’s needs.
A child needs connection. When these needs are not met naturally by a parent, they’re going to do their best to maintain whatever connection they have – at any cost.
Choosing connection, the child learns to mold to their parent’s emotional state, trying their utmost to be as well-behaved as possible so as not to burden the parent – and bypassing their own needs along the way.
Sadly, the people-pleaser starts to believe that love is something that needs to be earned (rather than given, freely). They believe that the more they give, and mold to the needs of others, the better their chance of earning love and connection.
Whilst this may have been a way of maintaining connection as a child, this coping style can land us in a lot of trouble in later life.
If we’re boundary-free, always aiming to please, we leave ourselves wide open to being taken advantage of.
What are healthy boundaries?
Healthy boundaries are all about knowing where you end and another person begins. It’s about having the self-awareness to know your wants and needs, and also having the courage to ask for them – to make sure they’re met.
Boundaries are essential to every relationship – with partners, friends and co-workers.
People only know how to treat us by how we show them.
Most of the time, people don’t set out to intentionally violate your boundaries – they just don’t know what they are.
Setting boundaries isn’t about being demanding. Often they can be made clear in subtle ways, using a gentle assertiveness.
Let’s look at some examples below.
Types of personal boundaries – some examples
An emotional boundary is the ability to separate your own emotions from others. You know that friend who keeps on dumping on you and you feel like you never get a word in edgeways? That’s an emotional boundary (or lack of).
Setting emotional boundaries is all about knowing how much emotional energy you can safely give out to the world – and then get in return. It’s about validating your own emotions as much as you do others.
Here’s what setting an emotional boundary sounds like:
“I’m so sorry you’re going through a difficult time at the moment but I’m not able to talk right now. Can we speak about this another time?”
Physical boundaries are about knowing your limits when it comes to personal space – your physical needs.
An example of a violation of a physical boundary: a parent walking into your room and going through your things without knocking.
Here’s what setting a physical boundary sounds like:
“Please do not enter my room without asking my permission”.
Time is valuable – and it’s limited. It’s good to be out and about socialising and helping friends but it’s also important that we take time for ourselves.
If you’re a people-pleaser, you might feel the need to be constantly available to people. Maybe a friend asks you to go to a party and you don’t feel like going – but you go anyway because you don’t want to let them down.
Here’s an example of setting a time boundary:
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to come today”.
Being walked all over in a relationship – what are healthy boundaries in a relationship?
The first step when building healthy boundaries is to get to know yourself really well… What you like and don’t like, what you’re prepared to tolerate and what you’re not prepared to tolerated… And most importantly, how you want to be treated in a relationship. Therapy is a great place to start building this self-awareness.
Here’s what healthy boundaries might look like in a relationship:
1.You express your needs (even if it feels weird or uncomfortable at first) – a lot of boundary violations are not intentional and stem from misunderstanding. Once you know your needs, don’t be afraid to voice them.
2. You and your partner respect each other’s time boundaries – some people like texting all day long, others prefer to be left alone during working hours so they can focus… Healthy boundaries sometimes means finding a middle ground.
3. You resolve conflicts well and respect each others needs – disagreements are inevitable in any relationship. After a disagreement, some people need space to process what’s happened whilst others need to connect to feel safe. A healthy boundary might involve deciding how you want to handle these situations so both of you get what you need.
4. You don’t use accusatory statements – instead of blaming each other you express how you’re feeling in healthy, constructive ways. For example, instead of saying “That’s really annoying” you say, “when you do that it makes me feel…”
5. You practice time boundaries – spending time with your partner is great but it’s also healthy to have moments apart from time-to-time (as they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”). How much time do you want to be spending together? The answer’s going to be different for everyone, and there’s no right or wrong – only what’s right for you as a couple.
If you find it difficult to stand up for yourself and set boundaries, be kind to yourself – this isn’t your fault. In fact, people-pleasing was probably what helped you get many of your needs met growing up. So first and foremost, practice self-compassion.
If you’ve spent a lifetime always taking the backseat, focusing on yourself and your needs is probably going to feel a little bit uncomfortable at first. Working with a therapist can help you navigate this change – identifying where this first stemmed from and supporting you to build healthy boundaries that enable you to take back control of your life.