How To Set Boundaries: 5 Steps + Tips To Make It Less Uncomfortable
Raise your hand if you ever tolerated someone’s unacceptable behaviour and made excuses for them because you didn’t know how to react, or you were afraid that, by saying something, you would be seen as rude or selfish.
Raise another hand if you repeatedly did something for someone out of obligation, and then resentment toward them grew because you felt taken advantage of.
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It’s okay, many of us experienced such situations at some point. But if it keeps happening over and over again, if you feel resentful and taken for granted in relationships, if you repeatedly feel like others don’t hear or respect your wishes or needs, maybe it’s time to learn to set some boundaries.
In therapy and coaching, but also in general, we can often hear people say that they would like to learn to set boundaries but have difficulties with it. One part of the reason why they are struggling is that setting boundaries is, simply, uncomfortable. It often triggers feelings of guilt and shame, and it can be especially hard for people who identify themselves as people-pleasers.
Related to this, sometimes, they don’t know how boundaries are supposed to feel like. What is my responsibility and what is not? Is it inappropriate if I tell the other person he or she crossed my boundary in this situation? Do I have the right to set boundaries for this thing?
The third reason is that they don’t know how to set boundaries – practically. What to say to set a boundary? How to maintain it?
Let’s deep dive into all three and learn how to set healthy boundaries, so we can show up for ourselves and for others more genuinely and authentically.
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are physical and emotional limits you create to define what are reasonable, acceptable, safe, and permissible ways for others to behave toward you. Healthy boundaries help you define where you end and the other person begins, what you will and will not hold yourself responsible for, and teach others what is and is not an acceptable way to treat you.
Boundaries can be about various things, for example: what are appropriate times for others to call or text you, can they come to your house unannounced, how much time or money you give, how others speak to you, how physically close you are comfortable to be with someone, discussing different topics like sex, politics, religion, personal experiences, etc.
In a way, boundaries are like rules. We all know that there are different rules in life, like having to stop at a STOP sign or waiting in line at the store, etc. Those rules are easy to follow – usually, there are big signs communicating the rule, like a bright red STOP or “Wait in line” sign at a cash register. Rules are clear. Not following them results in some sort of penalty, like a fine or social disapproval. These rules are in place to prevent chaos. Our boundaries have the same purpose – to prevent overwhelm and chaos in our relationships and protect our well-being. However, they are not so clear. We don’t have signs taped over our foreheads listing what we consider to be appropriate and inappropriate. We need to communicate this. And when someone violates these boundaries, we can set consequences.
Lack of boundaries:
- Feeling like you’re not appreciated
- Resentment in your relationships
- Lack of awareness of your needs, which leads to burnout
- Always saying yes to avoid disappointing others or feeling guilty
- Feeling obligated to immediately respond to others and meet their needs
- Feeling like you’re being taken advantage of
- Being aware of your needs and communicating them clearly
- Saying no to things that you don’t feel comfortable doing
- Connecting with others when you feel emotionally open to connect, not when others expect it
- Having the confidence to speak up about how you want to be treated and placing consequences if that is not respected
- Believing you have the right to preserve your well-being
Why Are Boundaries So Important?
Boundaries are necessary for the health and quality of our relationships. Without them, our relationships cannot thrive. Poor boundaries lead to resentment, guilt, anger, frustration, disappointment, and burnout. They indicate that we are not honest in our relationship because we are not free to communicate how we feel or what we need but, instead, act from the fear of disappointing others. So, boundaries are kind. They allow other people to understand how to best engage with us, and that is nourishing for our relationships.
Even more importantly, boundaries are crucial for our physical and mental health. They keep us safe and help us fulfill our needs. They give us a sense of agency over our physical space, our time, and emotional resources. Without them, our energy quickly gets depleted, leaving us exhausted, stressed, and hopeless. Poor boundaries can lead to other problems as well, such as having difficulties with decision-making or confusing our own wants and needs with others’ wants and needs. We may end up spending so much of our life doing what others want that we lose a sense of self, finding it difficult to identify what it is that we authentically want or don’t want.
Boundaries are an expression of self-care. Self-care is not just about how you eat, how much you exercise, or how much you rest. It is a much broader concept, referring to how you treat yourself, how you find balance, joy, play, and kindness toward yourself. Self-care is how you take care of your physical and mental health; setting and maintaining boundaries is an essential part of it.
How to Set Boundaries Effectively
Even though personal boundaries can be challenging to navigate, recognizing our limits and communicating them well is essential for our own well-being and for building healthy relationships with others. Here are 5 steps that can help you set healthy boundaries.
1. Understand that you have the right to set boundaries
Not only it is your right to create boundaries, but it is also your responsibility. You can’t control other people’s behaviour, you can only control your own. Hence, what you feel and need and how you want to be treated is not up to the other person to figure out, but up to you to communicate. Personal boundaries allow you to take ownership of your own life and shape your relationships.
Knowing your basic rights and also what is your responsibility and what is not can help you feel a little less awkward for setting personal boundaries. When you choose to fully accept and believe in these rights and responsibilities, it becomes much easier to set boundaries and let go of the guilt surrounding them.
- It’s not your responsibility to make other people happy all the time
- You are not responsible for others’ poor decisions nor is anyone responsible for your decisions
- It’s not your job to rescue people from their big uncomfortable feelings
- You don’t need permission to be who you are, think what you think, or care about your needs
- You have the right to feel your feelings, whatever those are. Behaviours and feelings are not the same things
- It’s okay for others to get angry or feel uncomfortable
- You have the right to say NO
- It’s okay to spend time alone without explaining yourself
- Other people have every right to disagree with you or don’t like your decision
2. Identify what you need
In order to create boundaries, it is important to clearly define what you want and why. To set good boundaries, it’s often necessary to get in touch with your needs and personal core values. Sometimes, especially if you ignored them most of the time to cater to others’ expectations and demands, this can be challenging. Still, don’t give up. Small steps lead to big results. Here are some questions you can ask yourself that may help:
What is important to me?
How do I want my relationships to look like?
What are my goals?
So, it’s important to be clear about what exactly you want to change, why, and how. This will help you communicate your boundary clearly and stay the course when it gets through. Writing this down can also be helpful.
3. Communicate your boundary
Now comes the hard part – you need to communicate the new boundary you want to set. You don’t need to apologize for your boundaries – there is nothing wrong with saying no or asking for what you need. Many people worry that communicating their boundaries clearly and not apologizing for them will seem rude, selfish, or inconsiderate. However, you can communicate your boundaries with a sense of softness, compassion, and kindness, and still stand your ground. The key is to communicate your boundaries without criticism or contempt. Take ownership of your boundaries, without blaming the other person. Use “I statements” – keep the focus on your needs.
For example, instead of saying:
“You keep calling me at inappropriate times when I’m at work. Stop bothering me during business hours.”
you can say:
“I am really busy during the business hours and answering calls at those times distracts me. If there is nothing super important, please don’t call before 5 pm, or I won’t be able to answer.”
One trick that can make kindly communicating boundaries easier is to replace “but” with “and”. This small language change implies that both things that you are communicating can exist at the same time. For example: “I love spending time with you AND also I need some space for myself” sounds different from: “I love spending time with you BUT I need some space for myself”, doesn’t it?
If needed, you can explain why you find it important to set this boundary, and frame it as a positive step for the relationships and/or for your well-being. However, avoid overexplaining, because 1. it may sound confusing, and 2. it may start looking like apologizing and imply that you don’t have the right to determine what you want and don’t want to do. But you do have that right, and you can own and honour it.
So, in short, how to communicate your boundaries:
- Be direct and clear. Say exactly what you need and what you want to change.
- Be warm in your communication. Replace “but” with “and”
- Don’t criticize or blame. Instead, focus on your needs and use “I statements”
- Explain why this is important to you. Don’t overexplain or apologize for it
These are some general rules about how to communicate your boundaries, but they will vary depending on the person you are communicating with and the nature of your relationship. Whatever approach you choose to use – gentle, firm, compassionate, short – knowing what you want as a result of setting the boundary is the most important thing.
4. Be prepared for resistance
Sometimes, people will acknowledge your newly set boundary and respect it. Other times, unfortunately, things won’t go so easy. They may try to argue, oppose, guilt-trip you into withdrawing your newly set boundary, get angry, or ask questions. In a way, it’s expected – they are used to one kind of interaction with you and now they are facing change. This kind of reaction is especially common with people who benefited from your lack of boundaries – you are now revoking that privilege, so it’s expected that they get upset. But if they had this privilege at the expense of your needs or well-being, they were never meant to have it in the first place.
Others reacting poorly to you setting boundaries is not proof that you shouldn’t have set them. Setting boundaries can be an uncomfortable process (for both sides), so be prepared for it. We’ll talk about this a little bit more in the last section of this post. What’s important to remember is that setting boundaries, however uncomfortable, is a valuable skill that you build over time and is absolutely worth the effort.
5. Execute your new boundary
Boundaries include an action. Stating boundaries is a big step; however, it’s the follow-through that makes them effective. If you have set a boundary – asked the other person to change their behaviour, and communicated how you’re going to behave – make sure to stick to it. This way, you are showing consistency – to the other person and to yourself.
Of course, we all want others to respect our boundaries. However, we have to accept that, sometimes, it won’t be the case and we can’t make anyone behave the way we want. Boundaries are there to communicate and protect your needs, not to control someone else’s behaviour. This is why you need to set consequences for violating your boundaries, and give yourself permission to execute them. If someone is repeatedly crossing your boundaries despite multiple warnings and clear communication from your end, you have a range of options. Ask yourself: “If things stay exactly as they are right now and never change (and it seems like they won’t), what can I do to protect my well-being?” Maybe to distance yourself physically, work on emotionally detaching yourself, end the relationship…? Weight the benefits and risks and choose the next steps, just make sure that your mental health is your top priority.
Of course, your boundaries don’t have to be set in stone – you can change them or make an exception, it is your choice. However, if you bend your boundaries for some reason, make sure it’s serving your well-being. And no, “I feel bad pointing out someone’s unacceptable behaviour toward me again, so I’ll just adapt and put up with it somehow” is not a good enough reason.
Why Do I Feel Bad For Setting Boundaries? Help!
Setting boundaries comes with tremendous benefits, both for you and the people around you. But the reality is – it requires tolerating uncomfortable feelings.
Most of us really want other people to like us and don’t want to disappoint anyone. Boundary setting can be especially challenging for people who try hard to please others, or who come from families where boundaries were not encouraged nor respected.
In some families, boundaries = disconnection, disrespect, or lack of love. This becomes a model an individual carries into adulthood.
If you grew up in an environment where there were frequent breaches of privacy, if you were punished for speaking up or saying no, if sacrificing your own needs and pleasing others meant being a good kid, you may be having troubles with setting boundaries as an adult. If you learned that taking care of your needs is selfish and always putting others first is selfless and compassionate, it’s natural that, when you stand up for yourself and set boundaries, however healthy they may be, guilt arises. Guilt doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing something wrong; it often means that you are conditioned to feel it in certain situations. Such as, for example, when you take time for yourself or prioritize your needs, or when people have uncomfortable emotions about your boundaries.
Let’s be real – sometimes, people won’t like your newly set boundaries and may have big feelings around them. What is crucial to understand here is what is your responsibility and what is not.
Setting and keeping your boundaries are your responsibilities. You are responsible for the way you do it – what you say and how you say it. You are not responsible for other people’s actions.
Of course, this is easier said than done. It’s never pleasant to witness someone having uncomfortable emotions, especially toward something you’ve said or done. But their reaction is their responsibility, not yours. Let them have their emotions, they have the right to it. You can be attuned to others’ needs and care about their feelings without moving your boundaries. Feeling responsible for other people’s emotions doesn’t necessarily make you kind and compassionate. Instead, it can lead to rescuing behaviours, resentment, and unhealthy, enmeshed relationship dynamics.
So, if the question is how to set boundaries without anyone feeling bad, the answer is – sometimes, it’s impossible, simply because we can’t control other people’s emotions, however gentle and compassionate we are in our communication.
Just remember, others are allowed to feel uncomfortable. They can handle it, and so can you.
Setting boundaries is something that takes courage, practice, and consistency. How they look like and how they take place is different for everyone. It may take some time to figure out what kinds of boundaries you need, allow yourself to set them, and experiment with the most appropriate ways to implement them in your life, but your mental health and your relationships will appreciate the effort in the long run.
Where in your life do you need firmer boundaries? What do you find challenging when it comes to setting them? Let us know in the comment section down below.
Also, if you know someone who would find this article useful, please be free to share it with them, or share it on your social media.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Barth, F. (2012). Boundaries and connections (pp. 25-44). Routledge.
Glover, N. (2021). Set boundaries, find peace: A guide to reclaiming yourself. TarcherPerigee.
Katherine, A. (2012). Where to draw the line: How to set healthy boundaries every day. Simon and Schuster.
Martin, S. (2019). 5 Tips For Setting Boundaries (Without Feeling Guilty). PsychCentral. Online resource HERE
How To Become More Assertive: An In-Depth Guide
Assertive communication involves expressing your thoughts and feelings, your wants and needs in a direct and respectful way, knowing at the same time, that others have the same right. Assertiveness helps us be open in our communication and establish good relationships based on respect and honesty. Like any skill, assertiveness can be learned with practice.
In our previous blog post, we covered in detail what assertive communication is, compared it with two other common communication styles – passive and aggressive – and talked about its risks and benefits. But how exactly can you become more assertive? How to have that healthy confidence to stand up for yourself? What to do, what to say?
Here are 4 basic tips and principles that can help you on your way of becoming more assertive:
1. Recognize your values and your rights
Assertiveness is about standing up for your rights, beliefs, and values. It is about respecting ourselves enough to be OK with who we are and how we choose to live our lives. Thus, it’s important to define our values clearly and to realize that we have the right to live in line with them, as long as we do not violate the rights of others. When we are sure about our priorities and know we have the right to ask for what we want (which is not the same as necessarily getting it), practicing assertiveness becomes easier. Defining your core values and recognizing your assertive rights will help you make decisions with more confidence.
2. Practice saying NO
Rejecting someone’s request is uncomfortable for most people. However, learning to say no in a respectful way is necessary for setting healthy boundaries with others and with ourselves. A helpful first step toward feeling less guilty for saying no may be to recognize that you are rejecting the request, not the whole person, and that your wants and needs are as important as wants and needs of others. In the end, practice saying no with the simple realization that you are going to feel uncomfortable. The whole point is to build tolerance to this discomfort.
3. Communicate clearly and respectfully
Assertiveness is a golden middle between passive and aggressive behaviour. Thus, it is important to learn to express your wants and needs in a way that is direct enough, but not aggressive. The key is in confidence and honesty with respect toward others.
While paying attention to the words you say, don’t forget to keep your body language in check. Assertive communication is marked by open body language – straight posture, relaxed facial expression, kind but firm tone of the voice, smiling. If you communicate passively, your body language will be closed, stiff, you’ll avoid eye contact. On the other hand, in an aggressive communication style, there is are frequent head shakes in disagreement, eye rolls, loud or threatening voice, quick body movements.
If your tone of the voice, facial expressions, and gestures are incongruent with the words you say, people will tend to believe non-verbal signs over your verbal message.
4. Take responsibility
It is important to keep in mind that everybody is responsible for their behaviour. It is not your job to control how other people act or feel, but you are responsible for your own actions and feelings. Nobody can make you behave or feel a certain way – other people choose their actions, and you chose yours.
So how does assertive communication look like in practice? How to phrase what you want to say without shying away or coming off as too pushy? This little cheat sheet of assertive communication may be helpful on that:
Step 1: Address the behaviour, not the person
You can start by clearly describing specific actions that you are not OK with in a non-judgmental way. While doing this, it’s crucial to avoid pointing fingers and trying to induce feelings of shame or guilt in them. Describe the situation as you see it but try to be as objective as possible. Don’t exaggerate by using words such as always or never. For example, instead of saying “You are always late”, you may try saying something like: “You are 15 minutes late for the third time this week”.
One mistake that is often made in conflicts is labeling the person instead of addressing the behaviour. When the focus is on what someone is perceived to be rather than the behaviour they exhibit, the productive communication usually shuts because the person feels attacked and in need to defend their character. Instead, talking about specific actions in a non-judgmental way increases the chances of the other person focusing on solving the problem instead of becoming defensive and feeling the need to protect their sense of self.
For example, instead of saying: “You are so selfish”, you may try with: “I think that this specific action you did was inconsiderate”. See the difference? Starting the conversation in this manner does not guarantee that the person will not get defensive at all, but it can decrease the chances of this happening and increase the possibility of coming to a positive result.
Step 2: Use “I statements”
Sometimes describing the behaviour that you don’t like and asking for it to change is enough. However, it can often be useful to let the other person know how you feel and what you need in a particular situation. Express your feelings and needs in a clear and open manner that’s at the same time non-blaming and non-critical. While doing this, you should be careful to frame the communication from your perspective, describing how you feel.
Avoid focusing on the other person, or trying to blame them for how you feel. Instead, share your emotions and your needs in the context of their actions. For example, instead of saying: “You don’t help enough around the house”, you may say: “When you don’t help out with the housework, I feel overwhelmed”. This way, you take responsibility for your emotions (because don’t forget, nobody can make us feel the way we feel; we respond to what is happening according to our thoughts and beliefs), but simultaneously address the problematic behaviour.
Note that, sometimes, these “I statements” can seem like emotions, but they are really just about other person’s actions. For example, when you say something like: “I feel…manipulated, ignored, mistreated”, you don’t express genuine emotions. What you’re really saying is: “You manipulate, ignore, mistreat me”, which is, again, describing other person’s behaviour or, more precisely, how you understand their behaviour. “You statements” can sound overly blaming and critical, which, again, moves the focus of communication from finding a solution to self-protection.
Step 3: Listen actively and put yourself in other people’s shoes
Just listening is not enough for good communication. We need to be actively listening. Active listening means that we are fully engaged in a conversation, that we are trying to truly understand the message the other person is trying to convey, and that we are putting effort into making the other person feel heard, understood, and safe to speak. This means that we will show interest in what the other person has to say by, for example, nodding, leaning forward, not interrupting them, etc.
The key is listening to understand, not to respond. When we are focused on what we want to say next, we are focused on ourselves, not on the other person. That can prevent truly hearing and understanding their message, which can further lead to misunderstandings, bitter feelings, and overall unproductive communication.
Trying to see things from another person’s perspective and to acknowledge how they understand the situation can be incredibly helpful in creating a productive dialog. It can make the other person feel heard, understood, and respected, which makes them more likely to listen to you openly, and less likely to get offended.
Step 4: Offer a solution
People can’t read your mind. You can state what you’d like to happen next, or invite the other person for a discussion to find a mutually satisfying solution. You can say something like:
“I would like…”
“I think… What do you think?”
“I appreciate your concerns, what do you suggest we do? How can we get around this problem?”
Putting it all together, here are some examples of assertive communication:
“This is the fourth time this month that I’m doing extra work because you have fallen behind. I understand that you are busy, and I want to be a team player, but I am under a lot of stress when this happens. What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”
“I completely understand what you are trying to say, but I will have to disagree. I see the situation this way. How can we find a common ground?”
“When you are late to our dates, like you were the last three times, I feel frustrated because I need to wait. Also, I feel hurt because it seems to me like I am not a priority. I would appreciate it if you would respect my time and arrive promptly the next time.”
“I understand that you need my help, and I would like to help you, but I really need to take care of myself today because I feel run-down. How about tomorrow?”
“No, thank you” (Yes, this is perfectly fine to say, no need for excuses or explanations)
Assertive communication can feel stressful at first, especially if you’re used to another form of communication. Remember your assertive rights, take a deep breath, and dive into it. It becomes much easier with practice, and the benefits are numerous.
Do you find it difficult to communicate assertively? What are your experiences with this style of communication? Let us know in the comment section below. Additionally, be free to share this article on your social media; who knows, maybe someone finds it useful and get inspired to improve their communication skills.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Duckworth, M. P. (2009). Assertiveness skills and the management of related factors. General principles and empirically supported techniques of cognitive behavior therapy, 124-132.
Duckworth, M. P., & Mercer, V. (2006). Assertiveness training. In Practitioner’s guide to evidence-based psychotherapy (pp. 80-92). Springer, Boston, MA.
Assertiveness: The Most Important Communication Skill for Self-Confidence
“Being assertive means that you are willing to hold up for yourself fairly – without attacking others.”
– Albert Ellis
We can all think of times when our boundaries were violated but we didn’t know how to protect them. When we knew we should speak up, but we didn’t. When we sensed that we are being taken advantage of, but we just accepted it, unable to say NO. These are not pleasant situations, and they can easily leave us feeling neglected and powerless, seeming like whatever we do – confront or comply– we won’t feel good about ourselves. But there is a way to actually not feel guilty for expressing your thoughts and feelings and defending your rights. The key is – learning how to communicate assertively.
What Is Assertiveness?
Assertiveness is a skill of communicating your opinions, wants, and needs in an open and honest way, while also considering the opinions and needs of others. It refers to being able to recognize our rights whilst still respecting the rights of others. Assertive people don’t shy away from defending their points of view or standing up for their goals but do that in a respectful and polite way.
Assertiveness starts with recognizing two main things: your core values and your (and other people’s) assertive rights.
Your core values are the fundamental beliefs and principles that guide your behaviour. They reflect what is important to you, who you want to be, and how you want to live your life. Your core values help you set priorities and provide direction and criteria that influence your personal decisions. When we live in alignment with our core values, we derive a sense of fulfillment and, often, a higher level of confidence in our choices. Thus, defining your personal core values is critical for setting priorities and feeling self-confident when setting boundaries or standing up for your rights.
Assertive rights highlight people’s freedom to be themselves and take responsibility for their choices. When you are assertive, you know your rights and also know that others have them too. From there, you are self-assured and draw power from this to get your point across firmly and fairly, without disrespecting others.
Assertiveness As a Sweet Spot Between Passive And Aggressive Communication
Assertiveness is a core social skill because it dramatically helps in delivering your message successfully. If your communication style is too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost because people either won’t recognize or acknowledge your rights and needs, or will be too busy defending themselves.
With a passive communication style, you’re sending the message that your needs, thoughts, and feelings are less important than the needs, thoughts, and feelings of others. Not being able to express yourself honestly, or doing it over-apologetically and feeling guilty about it, putting yourself down and shying away from saying NO are all signs of passive communication style. Although your intention may be to keep the peace and increase the chances of other people liking you, this kind of behaviour easily permits others to disregard your wants and needs, which can quickly lead to building up stress, resentment, and anger, which can damage your relationships.
On the other hand, with an aggressive communication style, you don’t have the problem to state your thoughts, needs, and feelings, and do so in a very open way. However, this style sends the message: “I am right and you are wrong!” The main difference between assertiveness and aggression is that the first is about balance, while the second is about winning. Being assertive means you consider your rights and the rights of others as equally important. There is a big difference in the words used, the tone of the voice, and in body language used. Assertive people are firm without being rude. Aggressive people demand what they want while dismissing others’ wants and needs and violating their rights. You can make choices for yourself, and that is what assertiveness is about. But when you make choices for others, that is aggressive.
- Being open about your thoughts and wishes, and encouraging others to do the same
- Being solution-oriented
- Realizing you have the freedom but also the responsibility for your decisions and actions
- Being able to admit mistakes and apologize
- Having the confidence to stand up for your rights when they are violated
- Behaving as equal to others – not above, not below
Assertiveness is a sweet spot between passivity and aggression, and like any skill, it can be developed and improved through practical exercises and experience.
Benefits And Risks of Practicing Assertiveness
Learning assertiveness skills can help you:
- Politely and effectively say NO
- Negotiate win-win situations
- Feel good about yourself and others
- Decrease stress and anxiety
- Set healthy boundaries
- Communicate more clearly and openly
- Develop your leadership skills
- Protect yourself from being taken advantage of
It’s important to note that assertiveness is not a tool for “getting what you want”. Being assertive is about choice, responsibility, and healthy boundaries. It may increase the chance of getting what you want by promoting open communication and respect, but is by no means a guarantee for a positive outcome.
Sudden use of assertiveness may be mistaken for aggressiveness by others, especially by individuals with a passive style of communication. Also, be aware that some organizations and cultures prefer people to be passive, and can find assertive communication rude or offensive.
An Assertiveness Training can teach you how to speak assertively, use appropriate body language, understand your rights in interpersonal situations, give you the opportunity to practice, and much more. If you think assertive training is something that you need, be free to contact us for more details.
If you like this blog post, please be free to share it on your social media.
What is your communication style? How difficult do you find being assertive? Let us know your opinion in the comment section below!
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Smith, M. J. (2008). When I say no, I feel guilty. Pacifica Tape Library.
Why Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Is So Important And How To Improve It
Emotional intelligence is the capability to accurately identify and monitor your and other people’s feelings, as well as the ability to effectively manage your emotions.
You may know that general intelligence (IQ) can be important for success. But did you know that emotional intelligence (EQ) is equally, if not even more important?
Emotional intelligence is a key element of success in the workplace, as well as for happy and healthy relationships. Research shows that high EQ leads to better communication, effective conflict management, and empathy toward others. It also helps us connect with our feelings and live in tune with our true selves. It is, therefore, not surprising that emotional intelligence is essential for reaching personal and career goals and for building successful professional and personal relationships.
The term emotional intelligence first appeared during the ’80s and was later popularized by psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman. He suggested there are 5 elements of emotional intelligence. Each of these elements can be developed and improved, and the more you have them in check, the higher your EQ should be.
5 Important Elements of Emotional Intelligence
- Self-awareness – A critical part of emotional intelligence is being able to understand and monitor your own emotions. It also refers to the capability to recognize the relationship between your behaviours, motivations, and feelings. Being self-aware means you are in tune with your emotions and values and see yourself realistically. It also means you’re aware of how others perceive you and understand how your moods and emotions affect other people.
- Self-regulation – Another important part of emotional intelligence is being able to think before you act, to control your impulses and direct your emotions appropriately. This means you are flexible and able to modulate your feelings when facing change or stressful situations. Good self-regulation also refers to having integrity and taking responsibility for your actions.
- Motivation –People with high EQ are pretty good at motivating themselves without relying on external sources such as money or recognition. What drives them is a higher purpose, internal values that move them forward. They set goals that they see value in and combine inner drive and discipline to reach those goals. Correspondingly, they have the ability to motivate others.
- Empathy – The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and act accordingly is a big part of emotional intelligence. When we recognize how others feel and approach them with something they can relate to, we are creating a connection. This plays an important role in building relationships, managing conflicts, motivating people or helping them see the bigger picture.
- Social skills – The capability to communicate well and find common ground with others is crucial for creating good, stable, and meaningful relationships. Crucial skills in this domain include, for example, active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication skills, leadership, and persuasiveness.
How Does Emotional Intelligence Look Like In Practice?
In everyday life, we can see emotional intelligence in someone’s sensitivity to the moods of others and the ability to grasp the point of view of other people or as readiness to see what is going on with them beneath the surface. High emotionally intelligent people can, for example, recognize that someone’s angry outbursts may come from the feeling of helplessness or fear. Thus, they can act accordingly instead of jumping into defence mode immediately. Similarly, emotional intelligence allows us to recognize emotions and motivations behind our own behaviours or behind some other emotions that may mask real feelings. From there, high EQ helps us manage those feelings and direct them appropriately.
Some signs of high EQ:
- You are able to stop and think before you act
- You are able to objectively watch your thoughts
- You show empathy and understanding for others
- You recognize your mistakes and offer a genuine apology
- You have a moment-to-moment connection with your emotional experience
- You know your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your values
Emotional intelligence is about being open and ready to connect – with others and with yourself, practicing and balancing both is the key to raising your EQ.
Would you like to test your EQ and learn more about your personality characteristics? With our highly trained professionals, you can assess your Emotional Intelligence through Profile Evaluation System (PES) to get an extensive, well-rounded, and comprehensive description of different aspects of your personality, including your EQ.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
Ioannidou, F., & Konstantikaki, V. (2008). Empathy and emotional intelligence: What is it really about. International Journal of caring sciences, 1(3), 118-123. Online HERE
Rahim, M. A., Psenicka, C., Polychroniou, P., Zhao, J. H., Yu, C. S., Chan, K. A., … & van Wyk, R. (2002). A model of emotional intelligence and conflict management strategies: A study in seven countries. The International journal of organizational analysis. Online HERE
How to Deal With a Sudden Job Loss: Emotional Survival Kit
Let’s be honest – losing a job can wipe you out emotionally. That huge wave of sadness, anger, blame, fear, anxiety, and a whole bunch of other unpleasant feelings might be incredibly confusing and difficult to deal with. If you’re going through a rough patch after a job loss, know that you are not alone. In fact, dismissal from work is often cited as one of the top 10 traumatic life experiences, along with divorce and death of your spouse. For example, according to the famous Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale, it is one of the top ten most stressful life events you can experience in your life.
So, in short, losing a job hurts. Here are some guidelines on handling the emotional challenge of the job loss and, eventually, bouncing back from it.
Losing a Job Is Not the Reason to Lose Yourself
How many times did you say something like “I am a [job title]” when asked to tell something about yourself? The deep-rooted western-culture question: “What do you do for a living?” testifies of how significant a job title is for describing a person today. A professional role, for many of us, became an important part of how we see ourselves (and others). It became a part of our identity. For some, work is central for defining their self-image and self-worth. This is known as a “work-role centrality” – when you’re defining yourself mostly through your job role.
Looking from this perspective, losing a job, for some, is not only about losing financial safety but also can mean losing a part of an identity. It’s like losing a part of yourself, as well as direction and meaning. A layoff, therefore, can result in confusion on who you are and how you feel about yourself. Identity problems that emerge after a job loss are upsetting, and it’s important to recognize and address them.
It might be helpful to have one truth in mind:
Your job is what you DO, not who you ARE.
Personal identity is far more complex than your professional role. Yes, you might’ve loved your job and contributed to society in amazing ways through it, but that is only one small part of who you are as a person. There are other parts of who you are as well that you may be overlooking. Your relationships, your core values, skills, passions, interests, they are all a part of your identity. All those traits may have influenced the career path you’ve chosen and the role you’ve taken on your former workplace. When you lose that job, these qualities do not leave with it – they are still yours, a part of who you are.
Feel the Feelings but Also Seek Support
A layoff is often experienced as a loss. What often naturally follows is a grieving process. You may cycle through a range of different emotions, and that’s okay. Let yourself be sad about all the things that you have lost with your termination. You’re allowed to feel the anger for the unfairness of the circumstances you’re in. Give permission to that unsettling feeling of be with you. Don’t suffocate your emotions because it will eventually only lead to more confusion and stress. Know that this unpleasant mix of emotions is normal and passable, and you’re able to handle it.
In fact, did you know that letting your emotions out on paper after you lose your job can be healing and stress-reducing? What’s more, it may increase the odds of you finding new employment more quickly!
James Pennebaker, a reputable Texas-based social psychologist, has shown the powerful effect of expressive writing on the well-being and even reemployment of those who lost their jobs. In his research, 63 recently laid-off, unemployed individuals were separated into two groups. The experimental group wrote about their feelings and thoughts about the job termination, while the control group avoided the painful topic of their past job and wrote about job-seeking strategies, or did not write at all. The surprising result? 53% of those who wrote about their feelings landed jobs in the next few months compared to 18% of individuals from the control group. They all went through approximately the same number of interviews.
What’s important in this phase is that you don’t go through it alone. Reach out for support from your friends or family, your significant one, your therapist, someone you trust. Be clear about your needs and the type of support you need, and genuinely ask for it. Sharing your struggles with someone lessens the weight of stress and isolation you may be feeling and strengthens the connection with people who care about you.
Job Loss Can Be an Opportunity for Self-discovery
It’s possible that you spent most of your time on your job, working for years with little to no rest. Even if you loved your job and enjoyed making an impact through it, maybe some other aspects of your life or other interests got a little neglected. It might be a good time to give yourself some space to rest and gain some clarity. This gap between jobs can serve as a valuable time for you to rediscover your interests and introspect about what you really want your career and your life to look like. It can be also a good opportunity to set priorities, learn from your past mistakes, make a plan and, eventually, when you’re ready, take action.
Give yourself some time to decide what to do next. And, as you decide on the next step or your next job, remember not to carry your old emotional baggage with you. As you can see, there are companies that opt for other methods to hire someone before they conduct a regular screening. This can include background checks, health screenings, and more. Therefore, be sure to leave your past behind and start over.
And don’t forget to be kind to yourself. It’s okay to pinpoint your past mistakes, but don’t criticize or bury yourself with dwelling on “what if…” and “if only…”. Instead, remember everything you appreciate and like about yourself and what you do well. Keep your strengths in focus, set goals, and gently move forward.
Have you or someone you know ever unexpectedly lost a job? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Also, if you like this post, please share it on your social media – you might help someone going through a hard time of losing their job.
Spera, S. P., Buhrfeind, E. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (1994). Expressive writing and coping with job loss. Academy of management journal, 37(3), 722-733. Online HERE
How to Beat Sunday Night Blues
How is it possible that it’s already Sunday night when it feels like Friday was half an hour ago?! The struggle of knowing the laid-back, weekend You has to dress up tomorrow and face the overwhelming to-do list of the working week again is real. That sinking feeling you experience on Sunday night is what millions are dealing with too – the Sunday night blues.
Why Sunday Nights are So Tough?
For one thing, Sunday night blues started in our schooldays, when Sunday evening meant the fun of the weekend is over and we have to return to our boring textbooks and homework. Even when those days are over, out body and mind remember those anxious feelings and Sunday night remains the trigger that brings this response back. The fact that, for many of us as adults, Sunday means roughly the same thing – returning to tasks and responsibilities on our workplace – additionally strengthens that familiar physical and psychological response we developed a long time ago. For this reason, even people who love their jobs are not immune to Sunday night blues.
An additional thing that probably happens is that you are thinking too far ahead. We described this cognitive distortion HERE, so you might want to take a look. In short, when you think about everything you need to finish during the next week all at once, stress spikes up and you feel overwhelmed. What you ultimately do is you’re cramming the workload of five working days, so about 40 working hours, into one moment of thinking; the result is, naturally, that it looks like too much to handle. But in reality, things are usually easier while you’re actually going through them.
“You probably know it yourself – something seems so much more frustrating or difficult or boring when you think about it ahead than while you’re actually doing it.”
So, when Sunday evening comes, your body and mind habitually start familiar pattern all over again: worrying about the upcoming week, feeling of overwhelm for everything that has to be done, sadness for weekend being too short, anger at yourself or others for not doing everything as planned, irritability, anxiety, depression. You may even have a hard time falling asleep.
How to Beat Sunday Night Blues?
Sunday night sadness and anxiety may be common, but you don’t have to live with them. Here are a few things you can do to outsmart your sad Sundays and feel uplifted for the week ahead.
Keep your weekend plans realistic
You want to make your weekend as enjoyable as possible, and that’s great. However, it’s important to not get caught into the trap of setting the expectations for the weekend so high that it becomes a race of accomplishing everything on the list.
If you’re determined to finish work reports and answer some additional e-mails, reorganize your closet, meet with friends on a drink, spend time in nature with your family, read that exciting book that’s sitting for too long on your bedside table, and go to a yoga class all in the same weekend, activities that are supposed to be fun and relaxing might turn into obligations. The end result is that you’re probably going to end up either exhausted from running to achieve all of it or frustrated that you haven’t accomplished it all. Either way, your mind on Sunday night consequentially becomes, well, a not so pleasant place.
Sometimes, even the most organized people have to deal with the reality that things don’t always go according to the plan. Because of this, try to see plans you make on Friday afternoon as an outline, as a list of possible things that you have the freedom to do on the weekend, not as plans written in stone. It’s wonderful to have a variety of choices – embrace it. But don’t let can and want turn into a must.
Active leisure time
Many people don’t leave the house on Sunday. When we combine it with the fact that “feelings of anxiety and depression are most common when the person is not particularly busy”, as the professor of psychology at Roosevelt University, Steven Meyers says, then it’s easy to recognize why Sunday becomes a perfect time for those unpleasant feelings to creep into our minds.
One good way to avoid entering this “empty space” is to replace your passive leisure time with enjoyable activities that will occupy your mind and redirect your attention. And by this we don’t mean doing some house chores – reschedule them for some other day. Instead, you want to do something you enjoy – spend time with friends, exercise, devote time to hobbies, do something creative, anything that is fun for you and gives you something to focus on.
One amazing way to spend your Sunday is volunteering. One study found that people who volunteer are happier with their work-life balance. Further, those who volunteered in their free time were less stressed and less likely to feel burned out at work. Another study shows that volunteering in our free time makes us feel like we actually have more time! It suggests that volunteering makes us feel more efficient, like we are doing something big and valuable with our time, and therefore like we are less stressed and hurried.
Schedule something you look forward to for the working week
You know that fuzzy excitement before a vacation? That tingling anticipation of all the adventures that you might experience on your trip? Well, a micro version of that happens before your weekend. Having something to look forward to often serves as a fuel that helps us go through stressful times. But sometimes the weekend can feel too far away, and especially so on Sunday night.
However, you don’t have to save all your fun activities for the weekend. Scheduling little things you enjoy strategically throughout the week should give you something to look forward to, which will relieve some of the stress and anxiety and boost your mood and energy. When, on Sunday, you know that the next time you’ll enjoy yourself won’t be the next Friday but actually much sooner, already on Monday even, the upcoming week doesn’t look so long and scary. These activities don’t have to be anything big – scheduling a romantic dinner on Thursday night, going out for a movie on Wednesday, or curling up in your bed with a blanket, a cup of tea and your favourite book on Monday night will do just fine.
Ask the right questions
Your Sunday night blues might simply be a product of overthinking, but they can also be an important sign. Take a step back and try to identify what’s causing you anxiety, stress, or sadness. Do you have too many commitments? Do you need more sleep? Have you neglected yourself for too long? Is your job in opposition to your personal values and beliefs? Maybe it’s time to slow down a little. Whatever it is, pinpointing the exact root of those unpleasant feelings that occur right before Monday is the first step toward a solution.
If you need additional help, do not hesitate to reach out. Your therapist can help you explore where your Sunday anxiety and sadness come from and create the right strategy to soothe them.
If you know a friend or a family member who is having a hard time on Sundays, share this article with them on social media – they may find it helpful.
How do you fight Sunday night blues? Leave a comment below!
Are You Still Going Strong on Your New Year’s Resolutions?
So you made some New Year’s resolutions. This time you’ll save more money, or lose weight, or drink more water, or not stress so much or… whatever decision you made to improve your life. You are so determined to stick to them, because THIS time, you won’t quit; you’ll make it. This time is different! And, after a few weeks, you start slacking until, little by little, you give up and go back to your old habits. Does this scenario sound familiar?
If you gave up on your New Year’s resolutions don’t feel bad. Research found that 80% of people fail to stick to their New Year’s resolutions for more than about a month and a half. But why are we so bad at it? It’s because we’re all human, and we all struggle with doing what we should do vs. doing what we enjoy doing. Moreover, we easily fall into “False Hope Syndrome”. In other words, we often underestimate the likely speed, amount, ease and consequences of changing our behavior. Finally, overthinking is maybe #1 enemy to sticking to your resolutions.
So, instead of falling into the same trap again, it’s time to start the year off right. You need the real plan of action; not just the plain “decision” that’s nothing more than a wish. Call today 289-231-8479 to book your appointment and create your own life plan.
Interested in learning more about coaching or therapy? Contact us today.
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