When boundary setting feels super scary

Today, we’re looking at the second reason setting boundaries can feel mega challenging and how to make it easier. 

Let’s say you’ve been noticing mounting resentment toward a friend. 

When you hang out, you feel like she dominates the conversation, rarely asking how you’re doing, or, even if she does ask, she quickly turns the conversation back to herself.

You might find yourself having imaginary arguments in your head where you’re finally telling her how you feel, detailing how selfish she’s been, and proving to her how one-sided your conversations are.

Or perhaps you vent to someone else, telling them all of the things you wish you could say to your friend. 

It might even feel good in the moment, blowing off some steam, but then you’re right back where you started: feeling frustrated and resentful toward your friend.

If we know what’s bothering us, why does it feel so incredibly hard to speak directly to the other person?

Well, in my own experience, the most effective way for me to get to the bottom of this is with Internal Family Systems (IFS). 

Using a very simple inner-exploration exercise, I can speak directly to inner child parts who are kicking up all kinds of anxiety, fear, and looping thoughts that keep me paralyzed and frustrated. 

Here’s the nutshell version:

IFS helps us work directly with thoughts and feelings that are preventing us from making the changes we want to make. 

And it does this by healing the inner child parts who carry those thoughts and feelings and who believe we won’t be safe if they let those thoughts and feelings go. 

When we don’t know how to work with our parts, we try to white-knuckle willpower our way through situations, or we attempt to reason with ourselves (“Just do x! How hard can it be?”)…

…perhaps getting increasingly frustrated or ashamed when this “logical” approach doesn’t work. 

If you grew up in a wounded family where setting boundaries and directly stating your needs wasn’t modeled or allowed…

…it’s a safe bet that you have inner child parts who carry beliefs that boundary setting is bad or wrong, as well as intense feelings around breaking those “rules.”

And as long as those parts are activated (which often happens outside our conscious awareness), it will feel damn near impossible to say something to your friend even if, logically, you feel like you should be able to. 

Expecting ourselves to somehow “get over” our early programming, especially when the people around us are still invested in that programming, is setting ourselves up to fail.

Even if we learn the nuts and bolts of boundary setting, as long as those inner child parts are feeling unsafe, actually using those boundary-setting tools will feel inconceivable. 

For example, let’s say you have a five-year-old part who learned to scan your childhood environment, trying to figure out what mood the adults were in so you could conform to please them. 

If you were bubbling with excitement about a picture you painted in art class, but then you got in the car and saw your parent’s withdrawn, gloomy demeanor, maybe you tamped down your excitement and made yourself very small and quiet so you wouldn’t be “too much.”

In the present, when that five-year-old part gets activated, you might find yourself anxiously scanning to see how other people are feeling so you can take care of them. 

And going back to the hypothetical scenario with your friend…

…it might feel impossible to speak up about your own life if you’re noticing that your friend is wanting to vent or share about her stuff. 

When that five-year-old part is activated, it will feel like objective truth that having needs of your own is selfish and not permitted, and your job is to make sure your friend’s needs are being tended to, just like you did with your parent. 

Visualize yourself for a moment in this scenario with a friend, but as your five-year-old self. 

Can you picture yourself sitting across from your adult friend with your cute, little head barely able to see over the tabletop?

Maybe your feet are swinging back and forth in little velcroed sneakers. 

Now, can you imagine asking this five year old to say something like, “Hi friend, I’ve been feeling like our conversations are a bit one-sided. I’d like to share about my life as well.” 

I mean…what?!

But this is precisely what we’re doing when we have inner child parts that are (unconsciously) activated, and we’re expecting ourselves to do adult things, like set boundaries. 

No wonder it feels so hard!

Learning how to work with those inner parts through IFS, which is what we’ll be doing in the course, completely changes the boundary-setting landscape. 

Instead of feeling ashamed that you’re struggling to do a challenging thing…

…you can support yourself from the inside-out, making it feel waaay more manageable to actually use boundary-setting tools and strategies. 

On Tuesday, we’ll look at our third and final obstacle to boundary setting, and you’ll get a special early-bird discount for Get Free: A Course in Setting Boundaries.

See you then.

Scroll to Top