Health & Wellness

The Lost Art of Setting Boundaries

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As children, we glom onto “No!” with reckless abandon. At some point, however, the giddy glee it provokes inevitably dissipates, and we find ourselves sacrificing ourselves to please others.

While an agreeable nature can be helpful, falling into the pattern of always saying yes can be detrimental to your health. “No” should not be taboo, and practising the art of setting healthy boundaries will help you (re)build your sense of self-worth.

What are boundaries?

Boundaries reflect the principles and values you set for yourself. Fundamentally, they represent the invisible lines you draw between the behaviours you will and won’t accept concerning your well-being. They can be physical (e.g. “I don’t want a hug.”) or emotional (“Please don’t yell at me.”), or relate to the workplace (“I will not come into the office unpaid on the weekend.”)

“People who are more of hyper achievers or controllers don’t have any problem setting boundaries,” explains Pamela Barit Nolan, a Transformational Coach and owner of Transform Bermuda. “People pleasers, those who derive their joy from service to others, often end up putting themselves last and experiencing burnout and potentially resentment. They may think, ‘Oh, they always expect me to do this, so I’m just going to have to keep doing it.’ And they can develop unhealthy, stressful habits.”

A people-pleaser, Pamela understands first-hand the detrimental side effects of going above and beyond the call of duty. After experiencing professional burnout, she stepped away from a lucrative corporate career in 2003 and again in 2013 from the non-profit sector. However, it was in 2013 that she realised her calling and started her coaching and consulting firm.

Why do we need them?

Stress is natural and, in many cases, a necessary part of life. However, where mild stress can point to an immediate need for safety (it looks like bad weather, I should go inside.), moderate and significant stressors can lead to chronic mental and physical health issues, like early ageing, heart issues, and long-term disability.

Health care, finance, and insurance are among several sectors where people-pleasers can easily succumb to burnout due to increased expectations of delivering better and better results.

For decades we have laboured under the belief that to be successful, we have to give more and expect less. And while part of the problem may be that these expectations have become institutionalised, we need only turn the lens inward to explore our role in our demise.

Pamela describes an example from her first stress-induced burnout: “I went to see [the] partner [at my firm], and he said, “Don’t forget, you were part of the problem.’ And I was like, “Excuse me? How can you say that this is partly my fault? And he goes, “I just want to ask you, Who told to get on the 7 am train in the morning? Who told you that you couldn’t leave until seven at night? Who told you that you had to get off the red eye from California from seeing a client and come into the office to go back to work?”

Creating an honest, open dialogue at home with family, at the office, or even with friends will be the first step in determining what is best for yourself.

“Get the data, ask questions, be bold,” Pamela says. “What are the expectations?

“Everything in our world, what we feel, who we like, what we dislike, what we do, is a choice,” Pamela continues. When we realise this and act on it, we regain our freedom and control; we become more conscious participants in any situation.”

How do we establish boundaries?

Deciding where to set your boundaries can be confusing, but you can simplify it by asking yourself, “What is enough?”

“What is enough in our social life? What is enough money? What is enough in our work?”

Pamela asks. “This is the beginning of understanding self-care, realising what it takes to care for ourselves. Whatever that is, that becomes your boundary.”

It takes time to unlearn bad habits, and “it’s not just about learning how to say no, either,” Pamela says. “You have to decide what you’re saying no to. You say no to what is unhealthy for you.”

“I’m a somatic coach, so I often tell people, ‘If your body feels like a bucket of lead, that’s a good sign you shouldn’t be saying yes.”

Somatic coaching is a method that is body-centred and focuses on the connection of mind and body, using both emotional and physical techniques for holistic healing.

“Our bodies can help us to create those boundaries. We need to become our own best detective,” she says. “We’ve all been in a situation where you said yes, but you should have said no.”

Easier said than done, of course: “Sometimes we’re so deep into the situation, it’s just hard to figure out on your own,” Pamela adds. If you’re primarily on “solid ground,” working with a coach like Pamela can help you find the right way forward.

Bermudians are hardwired to be polite. So regardless of the motivation behind your need to impress, when you can “slow down to go fast” and employ the use of the word “No!” we can “build healthier boundaries, become more self-aware, and ask for the help that we need.”

“It’s so much more compassionate to the world and yourself to say, “This is what I need,” Pamela says. “It’s so much more compassionate to say no.”

Find out more about Pamela’s personal and professional coaching services online at

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