Boundary-setting is difficult — introverts don’t like to disappoint others — but it’s also a necessary form of self-care.
Boundaries can be an extremely difficult concept to understand for most people, especially when they’ve been raised in family units that consistently violate basic personal space.
I grew up in a family full of extroverts — and, as an introvert, it wasn’t easy. I often felt like my need to have peace and quiet was frequently violated — and sometimes even mocked. This would make me feel like being around my family wasn’t safe. To enjoy our time with our families, we introverts need a safe space to be ourselves, a space that allows us to have plenty of alone and quiet time.
Setting Boundaries vs. People-Pleasing
Some introverts might also struggle with people-pleasing behavior, wanting to ensure the people around them know they’re valued. But this makes us put their needs before our own. And I think extroverts sometimes struggle with this difference, as they might assume someone wanting to please them means they can behave however they see fit, without consequence. But introverts are usually careful about how — and when — they interact with others. This makes their communication more thoughtful when it comes to the people they care deeply about, and this can cause issues if there’s some underlying problem not being addressed within a family unit.
At the end of the day, it’s important not to fear the anger or resentment one might receive from someone as a result of establishing boundaries, especially if they might not understand them. Boundaries are important, and a genuine expression of trust and love. To explain this to extroverted family members could allow for the space to (finally) feel safe and comfortable. It’s not an easy task, but here are some key ways to enact them.
3 Key Ways for Introverts to Establish Boundaries With Extroverted Family Members
1. To establish boundaries, you must know what yours are.
Many people, both introverts and extroverts, don’t know what their boundaries are. If they grew up in a family that displayed signs of enmeshment and codependency, then they likely were never given the chance to learn about personal space or red flags in relationships.
When discovering our boundaries, it’s important to look inward and ask ourselves what makes us feel comfortable — and uncomfortable. When surrounded by extroverted family members, this can be difficult to decipher since their level of discomfort might be vastly different than yours.
One example that comes to mind is that most extroverts find their comfort in other people, so they might not realize that their need to socialize could infringe on someone else’s need to recharge. Personally, I was always the go-to person in my family when they needed to talk about their problems, providing insight into adult issues much younger than appropriate. As I entered adulthood, I struggled to realize that emotional dumping was extremely uncomfortable for me, so I would allow people to dump their problems on me as I sat quietly on the receiving end. (Introverts are expert listeners, after all!) Recognizing — and identifying — my discomfort made me realize that was a solid place to set a boundary, not only with family, but also with my extroverted husband and friends.
As you think about this for yourself, you’ll be able to access those emotions and realize when someone makes you uncomfortable. Even if your family member has treated you this same way your entire life, it can still give you discomfort. Once you identify that action, then you’re ready to vocalize, and set, that boundary with your extroverted family member. Of course, a therapist can also help you do this. (Like I said, it is not easy!)
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2. Next, you are ready to clearly set the boundary.
Each stage of boundary-setting might feel like the hardest part. Figuring out your boundaries is difficult enough, especially if boundaries were discouraged in your family home. But setting the boundary can also be scary the first few times.
An important way to clearly set your boundary is to engage in a serious conversation with the family member in question. Let them know you’d like to talk to them about something that’s been bothering you, and that you’d like for them to listen to you clearly.
If your extroverted family members are difficult to catch, reiterate the importance of the discussion, and maybe even bring up that you waited until the right time and respected their schedule to have this discussion. Once you’re both on the same page, explain the behavior that’s bothersome and how it makes you feel. Ensure they understand by asking for reassurance, and if they claim to not understand, explain again and possibly use examples. Also, make sure to use “I” statements, as in “I feel ‘x’ when you ‘y’” instead of saying, “You make me feel ‘x’ when you ‘y’…”
After explaining the behavior, it’s important to ensure they understand the future consequences if they don’t abide by the boundary. These are not “punishments,” but they are consequences. “If you continue to come into the bathroom before knocking, then I won’t come over to visit anymore,” would be a great example of designating a consequence to a behavior that makes you feel uncomfortable. In some family units, they might try to dismiss the need for boundaries or space, but it’s important to ensure they understand their behavior can be harmful and isn’t something you want to deal with in the future.
When I’ve set boundaries with my extroverted family in the past, some of them tried to use “we” language to discourage me from differing myself. Suddenly, my need for space or privacy was treated as a direct rebellion against the “rules” of the family that I knew weren’t true. I’ve had to establish (multiple times) that I don’t operate the same way and that my individual needs to be respected. Being heard is your right, so don’t be afraid to express yourself — even if you might not be as loud as your family.
3. The final step is to hold — or sometimes reestablish — the same boundaries, and stay strong.
Holding boundaries is an essential part of the process, but many people forget — or don’t realize — how important it actually is. When someone is unaware of themselves or their behavior, they might push or break boundaries during moments when they’re not operating at their best. Sometimes, people might also not think the boundary-setter was serious about the boundaries they set, so they might test for consistency. Or simply forget.
During those moments, it’s important to enact the boundary by reminding the person of the initial discussion. Warnings or reminders are okay, but there shouldn’t have to be too many. At some point, if the boundary is repetitively pushed or broken, then it’s time to go about delving out the consequence. Do not give in or adjust your comfort for someone else’s benefit: If you need alone time, and they are bored or lonely (as extroverts might feel when they crave stimulation), then it’s important for you to still get that sacred time.
If the person seems that they didn’t fully understand the boundary, then it’s okay to reestablish it. If necessary, you can even repeat the same words in order to drive your point home. You will not be budging, and they’ll have to accept that.
Boundary-Setting Is Difficult, But Crucial
As someone who’s had to set soft — and harsh — boundaries with multiple extroverted family members, these steps really do work, even if they’re extremely difficult to begin doing. Remind yourself that you can do it and that any extroverted family must look for their stimulation (or what have you) from another source. It’s not your job to ensure they don’t ever feel “bored” or “lonely” (and so on). Besides, by taking care of yourself, and your needs, you’ll all be better off. And then you can be 100 percent there for them when they need it (and after you’ve had plenty of alone time!).
Introverts, what would you add to the list? I’d love to hear in the comments below!
Do ever you struggle to know what to say?
As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.
You might like:
- What It’s Like Being an Introvert in an Extroverted Family and Culture
- How to Set Better Boundaries When You’re a Peace-Loving Introvert
- 8 Confessions of an Introvert Living in a World Made for Extroverts
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