Being Nice Can Get in the Way of Clarity – How to Set Healthy Boundaries

Being Nice Can Get in the Way of Clarity – How to Set Healthy Boundaries

We Canadians are known for being nice. One of my life coaching clients found herself in a situation where her usual way of being nice and doing things she thought were expected of her left her with a bitter taste of resentment. To her, being a good friend, colleague and relative meant being nice and doing what was expected of her at all times.

However, it dawned on her that her need to be nice got in the way of recognizing and attending to her own needs. She was so focused on pleasing those around her that she had lost touch with the things that mattered most to her. With each life coaching session, she gained more clarity on her own priorities and goals. She knew she couldn’t continue putting everyone else’s needs and requests above her own. She needed to learn how to set healthy boundaries.

As a first step in learning how to set healthy boundaries, I encouraged her to pay attention to her feelings before she responded to someone’s request. Did she feel excited, joyful or happy about giving her time, resources and energy? Or did she feel feel torn? Once she had acknowledged her feelings about the request, she responded accordingly.

Each time she felt great about doing the person a favour, she said yes and went ahead and did it. However, each time she felt unsure, she allowed herself a bit of time and told the person she would get back to them later. As she learned how to set healthy boundaries, saying no became easier for her. Knowing that she was doing both herself and the other person a favour helped immensely.

She recognized that whenever she had done something for someone in the past, due to her sense of obligation, she felt resentful towards this person afterwards. Silently she had expected something in return and grew even more resentful, when the other person didn’t reciprocate. Now, when she agrees to help someone, she really wants to. She feels great and doesn’t expect anything in return. My life coaching client feels much better about her choices and has freed up a lot of time and energy to pursue her goals and attend to her needs.

My life coaching client is not the only one feeling challenged by how to set healthy boundaries. We live in a culture where self-sacrifice and politeness are highly overrated. This comes at a high cost. If you don’t learn how to set healthy boundaries, you end up feeling bitter and may even grow an ulcer.

I encourage you to learn how to set healthy boundaries one step at a time. Begin by taking a moment to check in with yourself before you respond to a request. Saying “Let me get back to you” is a nice way to create time for you to check in with yourself. Just like my life coaching client, you will begin to feel a whole lot better about your decisions and will have a lot more time and energy to recognize and attend to your own priorities!

If you are tormented by the fear that some people may not like your new way of responding to their requests, please consider the wise words of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

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Julia James

Julia James is a certified life coach and award-winning author of the book, The Mini-Retreat Solution. With over ten years experience coaching people through positive career transformations, Julia is passionate about helping people connect with their true calling.


  1. Ian Reply

    I feel that way too; I’m very helpful to others, I’m a caregiver that just kind of fell into it because no one else would help out. Over time I realized that people will take advantage of “kindness” and”abuse” it to their own way; yet it has taken some time now where all understand that I need to speak and relax from the everyday chores. They; the ones I look after now understand that it’s not a one way street; goes both ways too! It is nice to have someone else to listen sometimes other than myself; thankyou for the insight , it will help me out. THANKYOU!

    • Julia Reply

      Thank you, Ian for sharing your story! Congratulations on finding your way towards being at choice with your care and support.
      Warmest wishes,
      Julia 🙂

  2. Matthew Rochte Reply

    Too True Julia.

    I have two perspectives on this. One is the need for extreme self care and honoring your spirit. You could see it as resisting versus responding. When you honor your spirit and values it is graceful and easy. When you resist your spirit for your values you become resentful and unfulfilled.

    Love the Dr. Seuss line. I just had a similar conversation with a coaching friend of mine here in Chicago about using the term “spiritual” in her work.

    • Julia Reply

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this, Matthew! I couldn’t agree more.
      Feelings that indicate that we honor our spirit are: ease, grace, joy and gratitude.
      Feelings that indicate that we don’t honor our spirit are: resentment, guilt, anger, frustration.
      Check in with your feelings and use them to make choices that honor your spirit.

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