Why Setting Boundaries is Essential if You Are an Autistic People-Pleaser

People pleasing is a common trait among our autistic clients as they mask their needs to adjust to more neurotypical norms. If you consider yourself a people-pleaser and have a diagnosis of autism, you may put the needs and wants of others above your own more often than not. While there’s nothing wrong with doing things for others, it can easily take a toll on your well-being if you do it too much, let it wear you down or impact your quality of life.

As the old saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. No matter how much you want to help others or keep them happy, you’ll eventually burn out, shut down, or meltdown unless you set healthy boundaries for yourself and your nervous system. 

Boundary-setting sometimes gets a negative reputation. People think it means you have to be harsh or rude. In reality, boundary-setting is essential for healthy relationships, and it’s especially helpful if you’re a people-pleaser or tend to have a fawning trauma response pattern. 

Why Setting Boundaries Matters

As a people-pleasing person living with autism, it can be difficult to shift your attention inward and focus on yourself. You might struggle with boundaries because you think it will keep you from upsetting others, looking odd or different in social situations, or keeping certain relationships healthy and happy.

But boundaries are designed to do just the opposite. 

First, doing too much for others and consistently masking your own needs, especially in personal relationships, can set the wrong tone. People might take advantage of your willingness to do things for them, contributing to unhealthy and exhausting patterns. 

Boundaries can put a stop to those patterns. By putting them in place, you aren’t being selfish. You show others clearly and respectfully that your relationships should be mutually fulfilling. That doesn’t mean you need to stop doing things for others. It does mean, however, that you won’t keep doing things at the expense of your well-being.

Listen to Yourself

If you’ve always been a people-pleaser, you might struggle with how to set boundaries in the first place. As an autistic individual it may be hard to listen to your mind and body so you can better understand your limits. But with the right supports in place, you can learn skills to pause, check-in with yourself, and learn what you need in a given moment. What are the things that make you the most uncomfortable? What do you dread doing for others? What accommodations do you need to feel safe and secure in relationships? What are your sensory needs? Finally, how do certain people-pleasing activities impact your own neurodivergent needs and as a result, your feelings, needs or wants are somehow invalidated?

When you look inward, you’re more likely to take time for yourself and start practicing self-care. Self-care isn’t selfish — it’s a necessity for everyone. Even simple things like exercising, journaling, or meditating can help you realize how important it is to care for yourself before giving to others. I hope you’ll discover that your neurodivergent needs are just as valid as everyone else’s, that you have just as much worth and you don’t need to be “fixed”.

Getting to know yourself better can also help you realize the kind of boundaries you want and need. You’ll have more confidence in speaking up and expressing yourself to others.

Practice Effective Communication

The best way to set healthy boundaries is to effectively communicate them to the people in your life. That might seem overwhelming at first. But, as long as you’re prepared, clear in what you have to say, and you choose to be respectful throughout your communication, it will likely be more successful than you might think. 

Boundaries are not walls, they are more like doors that let the good experiences in and keep the unhealthy experiences out. They let someone know what they can expect from you and what you expect from them in return. Don’t speak in generalities, this is where your direct communication skills can be helpful! Let people know how you feel and use “I” statements to explain why setting certain boundaries is important to you.

Enforcing and Maintaining

Of course, talking about boundaries is one thing. Keeping them in place is another, which can be difficult if you’re always used to doing things for others.

If someone crosses a boundary, let them know. Repeat your needs and give them another chance to make things right. If they try to continue to step over those lines, consequences must be in place. Make those consequences clear and give fair warning. It could be as simple as, “When you speak to me that way, I feel disrespected. I’ll have to walk away from the conversation if you speak to me that way again.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting others to be happy. We all want acceptance. But being an autistic people-pleaser can take its toll on your well-being. I hope you’ll remember these ideas to set healthy boundaries for yourself and start realizing your true value and self-worth. If you would like to connect more about how we can be of support, please reach out for a free phone consultation!

Be well,

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