Life Advice


Health & Spirit

Learning to set boundaries guilt-free

Carolyn Hax on

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn:

Now that I'm getting pretty good at setting boundaries (thank you for your help with that!), how do I stop feeling guilty about it?

For example, I plan my entire week so I don't have to leave the house on Sundays. It's my day to spend time with my dogs, get things done around the house, or just sit around and watch old movies if that's what I want to do. My aunt texted me in a panic and asked me to come over and fix her TV last Sunday. I told her I couldn't do it that day but could do it the next day. She agreed after some begging and guilt-tripping.

But I was still questioning myself two hours later. Would it really have been so bad to go over there for an hour? Well, yes, because I would have had to put off my housework and dig my car out of the snow just to fix a TV -- and there's another working TV in her house.

So why do I continue to feel guilty and think about it after the fact? This happens pretty much every time I say no to someone.


-- Feeling Guilty

When the only way you know to set boundaries is through reading and a few "aha" moments and some deliberate new steps, it means you were raised not to have them, and instead to say yes to everything because you were afraid you'd be punished for it, if only through people not liking you for saying no to them.

That's a lot of emotional training to have to undo. So be patient with yourself. The guilt problem might just go away with practice.

But also give some thought to what triggers these spasms of guilt. What if your aunt had just said, "Tomorrow's great -- thank you so much!" Would you have felt any guilt afterward for not dropping everything on the spot to go help?


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