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5 Reasons You Struggle to Set Personal Boundaries

Healthy personal boundaries are necessary for both a sense of satisfaction with yourself and for healthy, fulfilling relationships. Many women with a mother wound don’t have healthy personal boundaries. If you read something about boundaries you probably think it’s about saying No. But if you found saying NO difficult or burning you with guilt then in this blog you'll learn what boundaries are, the 5 reasons you struggle to set personal personal boundaries and what you can do about this.

women say no set personal boundaries

What are boundaries

A few years ago Sophia wanted to work with me after she discovered that her husband had betrayed her. She was heart-broken, but at the same time had a sense that this could be a chance to discover how she wanted to live her life after years of dedicating herself fully to the role of being a wife and a mother.

Sophia described the difficult feelings she had when her husband kept on coming to their home when she felt so uncomfortable around him, and I asked her if she set personal boundaries. She asked me ‘what are boundaries?’

I was surprised to find myself fumbling for words.

Here’s a concept I use so often, sure in the knowledge that everyone knows what it means to set personal boundaries, and I myself struggled to define it for her.

The reason the term ‘personal boundaries’ is difficult to define is that it’s an abstract concept borrowed from the field of psychology.

If you look into the myriad definitions offered by psychologists, you’ll see frequently repeated the words ‘no' and ‘limits’. Over the years of exploring how to set personal boundaries and how women with a mother wound can benefit from doing so, I have found that these two words miss a lot of what’s in store for us when we fully understand the practice of how to set personal boundaries.

So here’s my definition for boundaries:

Boundaries are the meeting point between you and another

If you feel that the meeting point, for example, between you and your mother has been breached because she comes into your house uninvited, then you know your boundaries are too loose, and that you’re meeting her (or others) without knowing how to protect or define a more spacious space for yourself; but also that she doesn’t know how to “knock on the door” and wait to be invited in.

The words ‘meeting’ and ‘between’ in my definition hint that I put the weight in defining personal boundaries on the relationship between you and another person.

In other words—it’s not all on you!

Many women tend to take it as their own fault that they haven’t set boundaries properly. Examples of this I hear in comments such as “I should try harder” , “I didn’t choose the right timing to say XYZ*, “I wasn’t clear enough”. All these and similar voices express the idea that boundaries are your own responsibility and no one else's.

If you’ve been trying to set personal boundaries by taking the responsibility solely upon yourself, or if you’ve been focussing on saying No and defining limits, I imagine you haven’t had the results you wished for.

There are 5 main reasons why women with a mother wound struggle to set personal boundaries. Here’s how to identify the struggle in setting personal boundaries and what to do about it.

set personal boundaries together

1. You’re doing it alone

If you had a difficult relationship with your mother you probably got the impression or inferred that if you want something to happen you need to do it yourself or that you need to work hard to get it.

Be it the need to be seen, to be listened to, to have your needs met, you didn’t have a response from your mother that matched your needs. Inevitably, as this was your first experiences of a significant relationship, the conclusion seems very straightforward: “I need to do this alone. It’s up to me!”

While this might have been true in the past, it does’t need to continue being so.

Many women with a mother wound find it difficult to identify help and support even when it’s there. Or find it difficult to lean into support when they do have around.

Shifting from the habit to doing it alone to doing it together can be challenging, but it is certainly very possible.

Try and identify the times that you’re trying to do things alone. Are you always doing the dishes or the shopping because you think you do it best?, Do you refuse help because you think “it’s not that bad, I can handle it”?; do you feel a great discomfort when you need to ask for help?

These are just a few questions that can help you begin to identify the beliefs that limit your capacity to hold a relationship together and not alone.

It will also clarify to you not only your own personal boundaries but also the idea the other person has about personal boundaries which will be a crucial piece in the puzzle of managing this relationship.

2. Fear of being left alone and abandoned

Another common sign of a mother wound is a persistent fear of being left behind, left alone or abandoned. Because when your mother didn’t know—perhaps in spite of best intentions—how to give you what you needed, whether in attention, guidance or nourishment, you experienced that as an abandonment.

We need to feel that someone important to us gets us in order to gain confidence that when we need it, someone will be there for us. It’s a very human need. It’s one of the most important tasks of our mother.

The fear of being abandoned often shows up as a condition: “If I say what I feel then I’ll be ridiculed or worse get the silent treatment” or “If I ask for what I need then I’ll be told I’m irrational, I that ask for too much”. 

However these conditions work in your mind, just take a moment to name them. Name the fear of being rejected and denied reciprocating presence.

The fear of being refused when you set personal boundaries leads women to negotiate their boundaries. But they negotiate them with themselves, not the person they have a relationship with.

The truth is that sometimes you will be left behind, you will be denied and you will be abandoned for setting your personal boundaries. The way to deal with it is not by giving up the hug when you need it or the raise in salary when you feel you deserve it.

Rather than letting that fear of being left alone dictate your boundaries, work towards healing the mother wound to set yourself free from this fear so you easily see another possiblity, where you're being met in the way you yearn for.

Now, go back to those 'if-sentences' above and see if you can imagine an empowering ending, such as:

  • If I say what I feel then I’ll receive the most compassionate space I’ve ever experienced

  • If I ask for what I need I’ll be amazed by how easily it can be given to me

set personal boundaries limiting beliefs

3. Limiting belief that you’re selfish

In the mother wound there’s always a competition between needs: a mother that’s unavailable for her daughter’s needs—no matter how justified the setting for this might be—is a mother that puts her own needs in competition with her daughter’s.

The most common mother-daughter relationship that can lead to developing this limiting belief are:

  • You were an unplanned or unwanted baby

  • You were pressured to fulfil your mother's dreams or future plans

  • You needed to step into the shoes of the responsible adult too soon

  • Your mother behaved as if she was your best friend or she’s the one who knows you best

  • Your mother wasn’t available to take an interest in what interests you

In each one of these scenarios (the list is not exhaustive, but these are the most common) your needs, curiosities and preferences were not given an appreciated and distinct place. You didn’t learn how to do things just for your own pleasure and self-indulgence. 

Growing up in such a setting will lead a woman to feel later that doing something purely for her own sake is as if “forbidden”, or “selfish”.

Setting yourself free from limiting beliefs begins with recognising this experience of being selfish as a limiting belief rather than a truth or a fact.

Something that a therapist told me many years ago really stuck: most lazy people will not say about themselves “I’m lazy”. In the same way most selfish people will not say about themselves “I’m too selfish”.

More likely you’re attuned to the needs of others and don’t know how to tap into your own.

4. Limiting belief that you’re not enough

Feeling that you are not enough or too much are two sides of the same coin. This is the most common and most sticky sign of the mother wound.

If you have the sense that who you are, what you bring to a relationship or what you need from another person is too much or not enough you’ll have a great struggle with setting personal boundaries.

Similarly to the belief that you’re selfish for doing things for yourself, this will be accompanied by a sense of being wrong or doing something wrong.

You can start by teaching yourself to take it in when people give you a compliment or point out your good/unique qualities, no matter how uncomfortable this might feel at first.

You can also start believing your needs and stop yourself each time a habitual tendency to disqualify, belittle or ignore them arises.

5. The good girl syndrome

The good girl syndrome has a lot in common with all the reasons given above for struggling to set personal boundaries. The “good girl” shows up when a woman is afraid of being abandoned, when she feels the success or even the existence of a relationship is all on her shoulders, or when she feels that she’s just not good enough to be taken into account and that wanting something for the sake of her own preferences is plain selfish. But the good girl syndrome has something very unique on top of all that.

The good girl syndrome is when a woman shows up in relationships with a young part that looks up to the other to help her define herself.

Women with the good girl syndrome tend to please others, identifying others’ needs and fulfilling them, and they are extremely sensitive to feedback. It’s very difficult to set personal boundaries when you feel that you’re validated by the presence of another’s behaviour.

Healing the inner child is the key to stepping away from this habit and learning how to set personal boundaries.

These were the 5 most common reasons why you struggle to set personal boundaries and what to do about it. You might find that you tick only one of them, perhaps more. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to “set it all straight”. Setting personal boundaries is a process. Boundaries stretch over a wide spectrum and vary from relationship to relationship and from one context to another. Choose one of the reasons that seems most workable at the moment and apply the suggestions step by step. After a good few weeks check in with yourself to evaluate your capacity to set personal boundaries and what has changed. Celebrate every single drop of change.

Learning to set personal boundaries includes also learning what to do when you set boundaries and the other person doesn't register them or what happens when people reject them. You don't have to do it alone. Set up a call with me today and we can look into what healing the mother wound looks like for you. Click the link below for a complimentary call:


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Shelly's helping women whose relationship with their mother left a negative mark and want to become un-limited in their personal or professional life


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