It all started with a non-apology.
As I finished a haircut appointment with a new stylist, I saw I had missed two lengthy text messages from a friend asking for some help with an online job application. My first instinct was to feel guilty I wasn't able to help right when she needed me. Then I realized how ridiculous that was. Even though she had to move on without my input, she was fine. I kept myself from apologizing for the delay when I called her back, because I didn't do anything wrong.
Then when she asked me more questions on vacation, I told her I was staying off my phone as much as I could but would review her resume and cover letter when I had the opportunity to concentrate on it. She understood. I felt strong, as I was taking control over my time. Then when I took a few minutes to review her documents, I didn't resent it.
Someone else had messaged me on LinkedIn, and I didn't like the tone of her message. This was a person who had pushed me around years ago when she was trying to provide a service to our group, and it always rubbed me the wrong way. More than four years later, she popped up out of the blue with a request that ended with "Let me know when you have time next week." I didn't. My non-response is unlike me, yet very empowering.
I asked a client to fill out a spreadsheet so I'd know how many responses I should expect from each surveyed population. I was frustrated to receive just a downloaded list of all employees. It seemed the client expected me to do all the calculations. I would usually grumble and then do this, possibly taking an extra 30-45 minutes on a project that has already exceeded its budgeted time. Realizing that I've allowed the scope to expand because I haven't said no to any requests, I wrote back clarifying what I needed. A few hours later, she sent me what I asked for.
I share these examples because I never really connected with the label "people pleaser" but I realize that's what I am. I don't want to be.
To set boundaries, Notice what triggers a negative response in you. Recognize the choice you have in how you respond. Pause before responding, and then Respond in a way that puts your feelings and preferences first. Start small, and you will feel stronger each time.
Eleanor Roosevelt is quoted as saying "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Years ago I heard a speaker revise that to say "No one can make you feel _________ without your consent." You can't always control how other people act, but you can control your response. And how you respond will impact how they treat you in the future. If people expect you to respond immediately, it's probably because you've done so in the past. If people expect you to put their needs above yours, it's probably because you've done so in the past.