Skills to Cultivate Self-Respect and Strong Boundaries with Others

Setting Boundaries

Skills to Cultivate Self-Respect and Strong Boundaries with Others

Self-respect can be challenging to practice if you are a people-pleaser. The fear of saying no can keep you stuck in a cycle of neglecting your needs and giving into things that don’t serve you. When we let others take advantage of us, we chip away at our self-esteem, which leads to more anxiety, less interpersonal effectiveness and deteriorates our self-respect.

Even those of us who practice interpersonal effectiveness find ourselves in situations that can prompt us to give away our self-respect. Just the other day, I noticed that I was about to let someone take advantage of me. It was likely a mistake (I’m sure she didn’t do this on purpose), but the woman checking me out overcharged me for an item. I wanted to just walk out and say “forget it,” but I knew I would feel worse when I got home. I didn’t want to regret paying too much and risk losing some self-respect, so I told her that I think there was a mistake and I asked her nicely to change the price. She apologized, and I walked out feeling stronger than before.

This may sound like a simple example, but the truth is, each time you stand up for what’s fair, you respect yourself. When others take advantage of you, it can do one of three things: (1) trigger anger which may lead to aggressive outbursts or internal anger at yourself (and them); (2) feelings of hopelessness and reinforcing the false belief that you don’t deserve respect; or (3) prompt you to feel a sense of ownership and help you act assertively. The third, will help you develop a strong self-esteem and more self-respect, it takes practice but often leads to beautiful results.

Develop Self-Respect in Four Steps

It’s likely that you are a helpful person by nature, and sometimes you allow people to take advantage of you because you’re nice and standing up for yourself can feel uncomfortable. When you stop this pattern and develop boundaries, you learn to value yourself and your time. Boundaries are beyond important in the development of self-respect. Here are four steps to develop a strong sense of self-worth and confidence.

Step 1: Reflect on the feeling.

Think of a time that you were treated unfairly. What did that feel like? Perhaps it was your friend cancelling on you at the last minute, the waiter bringing you the wrong food, or your mother calling and keeping you on the phone for an hour. Think about how this situation made you feel physically and emotionally. Did you want to fix it, but you just didn’t know what to say or were you afraid to say something in order to get what you deserved? Think about the feelings and thoughts that come up when you recognize someone is taking advantage of your time or kindness. This feeling is important, it will allow you to use a skill to change the outcome next time.

Step 2: Assess your values and your boundaries.

What’s important to you? Is it your free time, workouts, Netflix binges on the weekend? As a therapist, I have people emailing me at all hours of the day and calls that “need to be answered” at all hours of the night, but I can’t be available 24/7. That’s not fair to me and it isn’t fair to my clients. If I’m annoyed or frustrated, how am I going to be serving them? Instead, I decided to set hours, and let my clients know what these were. This helped me spend my time with family and friends

Step 3: Speak up for the small stuff (kindly).

Pay attention to the details. Did your cab driver keep the meter running or your friend keep you waiting for an hour? Notice the small things that take advantage of your time, kindness, or your money. If I wouldn’t have been paying attention, the checkout girl would have unknowingly taken advantage of me, and I would have been upset with myself and her if I noticed it later on. Be aware of your interactions and if people begin to make you feel like you are being taken advantage of, then you can act.

Step 4: Speak up for yourself.

It may just be a question to confirm that your needs are being met, but their answer will also give you insight into what else you need to feel better or allow you to get what you want. Be nice and polite when you are asking for what you want to be fixed or inquiring about it. Here are some examples:

  • The price said ___ when I picked it up, I thought the price was lower; could you double check for me?
  • I have other plans that I can’t change, I appreciate you thinking of me, unfortunately I won’t be able to help this time.
  • I’d love to chat, and I only have a few minutes.

In order to develop self-respect, you have to act on it. You show others how you want to be treated by your actions and words. Show them that you are valuable by speaking up and setting strong boundaries.

Authored by:  Emily Roberts