Defining Boundaries vs Requests AKA Why Your Boundaries Aren’t Working

blog post burnout mindset role transition May 13, 2024
defining boundaries - nurse practitioner smiling and holding a stethoscope up to the camera

If you’re like so many other nurse practitioners, you’ve worried about burnout and how sustainable your career in medicine is.

There are SO many reasons burnout happens (I've shared a few episodes about what they are and what we can do about it, check out those burnout-specific posts over on the blog here)— but this week I specifically want to delve more into boundaries, and why they might not be working for you.

You may have heard that things like people-pleasing and boundary-setting are important parts of why people get burnt out (and if you haven’t yet, this is HUGE!), but don’t really get how to do things differently.

Or maybe it just feels extremely difficult and painful. So much so that it’s easier to keep doing the things you’ve always done, even though you know it may help you to do it a different way.

Or maybe you’ve tried to set boundaries, but it doesn’t seem to be working…

The role transition from nurse to nurse practitioner isn’t just about developing leadership skills, it’s about how we practice taking care of ourselves, and how we communicate our needs and wants.

As a new nurse practitioner, I absolutely had the experience of being a people-pleaser (still do), where I didn’t want to “rock the boat,” at work, and would say yes to things that I didn’t actually want to do, and would take on more than I actually could handle, just to “do a good job.” I was a perfectionist, high-achiever like so many of the NPs and aspiring nurse practitioners in the Real World NP community.

Encountering the work of Hailey Magee drastically changed all this for me — and I want to share it with you. Especially when it comes to defining boundaries in a way that helps us understand how to actually use them.

If you don’t follow her already, she’s a coach and has over 320,000 followers on Instagram— she talks all about people-pleasing tendencies that SO many caregivers have (and folks socialized female, which make up a HUGE percentage of nurse practitioners).

What I adore about her work, is that it’s not just theoretical - she gets into the concrete, real-life examples of what this looks like, how to do things differently, and what makes it SO HARD (and how to navigate the difficulty).

I’ve talked a few times about boundaries, self-care, and burnout before, and honestly— it’s the sort of thing that is not only extremely prevalent, but so multifactorial and deep that it warrants covering multiple times and in multiple ways.

Hopefully, at some point in the future, I’ll get to do a podcast episode with Hailey, but with her permission, I’m sharing an excellent blog post of hers that covers (concretely) defining boundaries versus requests and ultimatums, why your boundaries might not be working, how to navigate these conversations when it comes to communicating our needs in the workplace and at home.

And real quick, before you get into the article — she’s got a new book called Stop People Pleasing and Find Your Power coming out May 14th, 2024 and I CANNOT WAIT to read it for myself. Here’s what Hailey has to say about it: “STOP People Pleasing is a practical, inspiring, and nuanced guide for recovering people-pleasers who are ready to honor their needs, find their voice, and build the vibrant life that they deserve.” This is not an affiliate link, I’m just a proud admirer and supporter of her work!

Again, super concrete and actionable guidance about why we do the things we do in people pleasing, what we can do differently, and what tools and support we need to be able to actually implement this guidance.

Here’s Hailey’s guidance around making requests, boundaries, and ultimatums that I hope you find super supportive!

Requests vs. Boundaries vs. Ultimatums: The Ultimate Guide

By Hailey Magee - original article linked here

Do you ever feel like your boundaries just aren’t working—and no matter how many times you set them, the people in your life aren’t listening?

If so, watch out⁠: you might be making requests or giving ultimatums instead of setting boundaries. Here’s the difference:

If your boundaries aren’t working, you’re probably making requests instead of setting boundaries.

When we make requests, we ask others to change their behavior. For example: “Could you please speak to me more calmly?”

When we ask, others may or may not agree. Requests are fundamentally unenforceable.; the outcome is out of our control.

Meanwhile, when we set boundaries, we make clear what we won’t tolerate. For example: “I can’t continue this conversation when you raise your voice at me.”

A boundary is only meaningful if we enforce our words with our actions—so, enforcing this boundary would mean leaving or ending the conversation when the other person raises their voice.

When we set a boundary, we are making clear what our actions will be. For this reason, our boundaries are fundamentally enforceable. The outcome is entirely within our control.

(My on-demand workshop Boundaries 101 for the Recovering People-Pleaser teaches you when to use requests and boundaries—and how to enforce your boundaries in the face of resistance. Get it here today and watch anytime.)

Here are some other examples:

So when should we use which?

Requests: Our First Course of Action

When we have an unmet need, requests are a great place to start. By making a request, we give the other person the opportunity to meet us in our needs.

If the other person is receptive, we can offer a window of time for them to shift their behavior. Maybe we ask a partner to show us more affection, and if they’re willing, we can observe over the course of a few weeks how their willingness to say “I love you” or offer a hug increases.

If the other person’s isn’t receptive, it’s important that we accept their answer. We cannot force more from someone who is unable or unwilling to give more. We have to release the illusion that, if we only ask a 17th time, then finally, they will become receptive to our needs.

Boundaries: Our Second Course of Action

At this point, we have two choices:

  • We can radically accept that their behavior isn’t changing—and we can choose to stay in the situation as it is.
  • We can radically accept that their behavior isn’t changing—and set a boundary accordingly.

When we set a boundary, we ask ourselves: How close and connected am I willing to be with this person who is unable or unwilling to meet this need?

If a person regularly hurts us and they’ve been unreceptive to our requests to stop, we might exit interactions when the hurtful behavior arises; take distance and space from them overall; or end the relationship altogether.

If a person regularly disappoints us by not offering as much love, affection, time, or help as we’d like, we might set a boundary that acknowledges that this relationship in its current form isn’t working for us. We might take space from the relationship; decide certain topics of conversation, or types of interactions, are no longer doable for us; or, in some cases, end the relationship entirely.

“But that sounds like an ultimatum. What’s the difference between a boundary and an ultimatum?”

Truthfully, the area between boundaries and ultimatums can be gray. The distinction lies in our intention when saying it.

When we set a boundary, we’re sincerely asserting our limits. By the time we set a boundary, we’ve accepted that they are not changing, and we’re doing what it takes to create safety or well-being for ourselves.

When we make an ultimatum, however, we’re trying to control others. Ultimatums are scare tactics intended to incite change. When we make an ultimatum⁠—perhaps by saying, “If you don’t quit drinking, I’m leaving you”⁠—we’re hoping they’ll change in response. Many people set ultimatums that they don’t intend to enforce, which  highlights their true nature as attempts to control others’ behavior instead of genuine attempts to protect ourselves and our needs.

Why We Get Stuck Making Repeated Requests

Some of us never cross the bridge from requests to boundaries. We stay stagnant in the same situations, making the same requests ad infinitum, forgetting the adage that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

There are a few reasons for this:

  • We don’t believe our needs are valid or important enough to warrant setting hard boundaries around them
  • We’ve been told our needs are unreasonable, and so it seems too “demanding” to set a boundary around them
  • We’re afraid of the grief that will arise when we accept that (1) the other person isn’t changing and (2)  setting a boundary may mean stepping back from this relationship

Grief is an enormous part of the boundary-setting process⁠—one that regularly gets overlooked. While setting boundaries is a very self-respecting and powerful thing to do, it’s often accompanied by some loss and sadness—and in order to effectively set boundaries, we must accept this part of the process, too.

Setting and enforcing our boundaries means accepting the limits of our control and releasing illusions of control that keep us stuck in unchanging situations. It means respecting our needs enough to make hard choices to protect them.

Hey: Even the healthiest relationships include differences, disagreements, and mismatches in needs.

My on-demand workshop, Using Boundaries to Sustain Complicated Relationships, will teach you how you can sustain difficult relationships with friends, family members, and colleagues by learning how to disengage from interactions that don’t feel good; how to stop over-giving and feigning comfort when something’s bothering you; how to differentiate and get clear on where you end and others begin; and how to be discerning when deciding when a connection needs to end for good. Watch it here today.

Follow Hailey Magee over on Instagram.


If You Liked This Post, Also Check Out:

About The Weekly Episodes

Real World NP publishes weekly relevant, concise weekly bite-sized clinical pearls & practice tips.

Each week, you'll get support and resources to help you save time and frustration and take the best care of their patients possible.

Be sure to hit subscribe so you don't miss an episode!


Most Recent

Giving Yourself Permission, Season 2 Recap and What's Next

Mar 27, 2024

Investing In Your Future: Financial Planning for NPs

Mar 05, 2024


Get the Ultimate Resource Guide for the New NP

Snag our favorite, time-saving, evidence-based resources to help you take the best care of your patients (while keeping your sanity).

PLUS you'll get weekly bite-sized videos and podcast episodes with relevant clinical tips.

🔒 We never spam you or sell your contact info. Unsub anytime.