As an introvert, knowing the “why” behind your boundaries — like needing to stay in on Friday night so you have energy for the weekend — is key.
Setting boundaries is a challenging thing to do in and of itself. Letting go of people’s reactions to those boundaries is a whole other beast. So why is it so hard, especially as an introvert?
Well, for starters, we’re probably not all that confident in ourselves as introverts in the first place. Many times, the boundaries we need to set as introverts feel countercultural. We don’t live in a society that is necessarily conducive to being introverted. There are many subconscious, and maybe less subtle, messages telling us we need to be, or act, in a way that is contrary to the boundaries we’re trying to set, like going out on weekends or especially Friday nights. Like when every coworker, everywhere on Friday at 5 p.m. asks, “So, any exciting plans this weekend? What are you doing tonight?” Ahh…
So how do you do it? How do you get to a place where you can confidently let go of other people’s expectations and reactions to your boundaries as an introvert? Well, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer, but here are five helpful tips I’ve picked up along my journey that make it a whole lot easier.
5 Ways to Be More Confident About Your Boundaries as an Introvert
1. Build your self-confidence as an introvert first.
The best place to start is with yourself. Being confident in yourself as an introvert might be something you have to work at. I know it has been for myself, especially being married to an extrovert who comes with a rather large family of fellow extroverts. Understanding that being different doesn’t mean less-than makes all the difference.
To do this, spend time getting to know yourself and learning to play to your strengths. Introverts have so many positive traits — like being a good listener, empathizing with others, and giving others space (okay, maybe we’re giving ourselves space, but it goes both ways!). So there is really tons to work with when trying to grow your own self-confidence.
One key tip is to stop criticizing yourself for what you’re not. I spent so many years berating myself for not being talkative enough or not speaking up in social situations or not being a “go-getter” and leading the pack. But when I let go of that negative self-talk, it freed me up to embrace all the good qualities I have. Not everyone needs to be out in front, soaking up the limelight, being the loudest, or making appearances at every social event within a 20-mile radius.
2. Know the “why” behind your boundaries.
If you are going to set a boundary, it’s important that you understand why. That might seem obvious, but sometimes we can get ahead of ourselves and start following all the how-to and the-top-10-best-ways-to advice on the internet (this article aside, clearly) and we end up doing a lot of things simply because someone else said we should.
But knowing your why is going to give you the confidence and resolve to hold that boundary when it’s tough. When you understand why you’re doing it, and the outcome is valuable enough to you, it becomes easier to withstand the pushback.
Yet if the only reason you’re setting a boundary around staying in on Friday night is because the Girl’s Night In newsletter told you to, well then, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll cave when your besties call from the bar at 9:30 p.m. After all, it’s not that late, is it? (Yes, it is, by the way. Get some sleep, my fellow introvert!)
However, if you know that you’ve set a boundary to only go out one Friday night a month — because staying in on all those other Friday nights allows you to be rested enough to enjoy your weekend — then it becomes much easier to turn your phone off and not even take those late-night calls from anyone.
3. Communicate your “why” as much as your boundary.
Not all boundaries need to be communicated, I suppose. Like when I set a boundary with myself to only eat one chocolate bar a day instead of three or four, I probably don’t need to announce that to the world. But it might be helpful to tell my husband not to buy me chocolate when I’ve set this boundary the day before Valentine’s Day.
However, if the boundary is about specific people, or will affect specific people in your life, it is often very helpful to communicate that boundary with them. Like our example of your extroverted bestie who wants you to go out with her every Friday night. She would be a good one to sit down with and have a conversation about how you’re not going to be “living it up” every weekend. To you, it’s perfectly normal to stay in — and that’s okay.
The most important part about communicating your boundary with someone is communicating your why. It’s one thing to tell someone that you can or can’t do something with (or for) them. It’s another thing to explain why and what it means to you. This offers them the opportunity to get to know you while also giving them a chance to offer support in the relationship.
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4. Remember that other people’s reactions are not about you.
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned about holding boundaries, and letting go of what other people think, is that their reactions are not about you. It’s usually just a projection of something they have going on that they need to deal with. And it’s possible that you setting a boundary triggered something that caused them to be negative or unaccepting of the boundary.
For most of us, our knee-jerk reaction to being told “no” is always to push back. Why? Because we’re human and we never enjoy being told no. We all have that inner toddler who melts down over being told no, even when it’s in our own best interest. Case in point, my almost-two-year-old who won’t stop climbing up onto the coffee table and repeatedly hurts himself doing so, but still throws a fit when I tell him he has to get down. I don’t enjoy the fit, but I still hold that boundary because I know it’s good for him.
And when we hold the boundary with others, we’re doing it because it’s good for us, which ultimately makes it good for everyone else, too. Everyone benefits when we allow ourselves to be the best version of ourselves. And that version usually requires boundaries in some form.
5. Stop comparing yourself to others. (I mean it!)
Your value does not come from outside validation, as good as that might feel. Your best, happiest, and most successful self will come from within. And those who genuinely love and care about you will want to respect your boundaries and give you the support you need to grow and thrive — as an introvert and as a fellow human being.
So stop comparing yourself, even to other introverts. Being confident doesn’t manifest itself the same way in each individual. And we all need different boundaries. It will look different for me to confidently hold a boundary with my four-year-old than it will look for you to confidently hold a boundary with your boss (well, hopefully). And we all learn to let go in various ways. To compare yourself to others is futile and will only hold you back.
Remember, the next time you’re struggling with setting a boundary, remind yourself of why you set it in the first place and how valuable the outcome is to your well-being. And if you need some help, just imagine my two-year-old throwing a fit as I pull him down off the coffee table for the 327th time today. You can do this.