Boundaries have been such a buzzword lately that I’ve been hearing it used in so many conversations with people. And then I wonder, do people know what they mean when they say it?
Personal boundaries are lines or limits that you create to show what you will or won’t do or allow. These can be physical boundaries like touch or space. These can also be material boundaries having to do with money, car, clothes, shoes. Mental boundaries have to do with thoughts and opinions, identifying the limits or edges of your ability to perceive another’s view point or your susceptibility to being suggestible. Emotional boundaries are your ability to discern your emotions from another persons. You feel a wave of anxiety, is that yours or his? Emotional boundaries are your ability to hear someone’s struggles and be able to assert when you know you cannot take on any more. It’s being able to avoid giving advice. It’s giving the responsibility of the problem back to the person after your interaction is over, NOT taking it home with you and continuing to think on it or dream about it. It’s being able to detach from negative criticism and comments from others. It’s being able to release blame on yourself and others. Sexual boundaries are the activities and interactions regarding sex including when, where, with whom, how and what you do.
Boundaries don’t have to be a difficult concept, but we MAKE it difficult. Why?
We believe that saying no is the same as rejection.
We don’t want to hurt the other person.
We have been taught to always put others before ourselves.
We think we have an infinite amount of energy and time (or at least enough to do ONE more thing).
We feel that setting boundaries can be the end to the relationship.
We never had good boundaries set for us (Parents ever tell you no?)
We feel like the other person has more power and we can’t set boundaries or ask for what we want.
We don’t think we are deserving to set boundaries.
We are scared something negative might happen if we set limits.
All these underlying beliefs are driving our actions for setting boundaries. From past experiences with our family, friends, and messages from society and media, we have internalized the above messages which then make it difficult for us to contradict. The problem is that if we continue this trajectory, we will find ourselves in co-dependent relationships, abusive situations or feeling of being taken advantage of and resentment.
Here are a few key steps for helping you set and maintain healthy boundaries:
- Understand that you have rights. Understand that in order to give to others, you must fill your own cup first. You cannot give if you have nothing left. So it’s ok to back out on a commitment when you are feeling under the weather or drained. It’s ok to turn your phone off at night to separate from work and friends to recharge yourself. It’s ok tell someone ‘no you cannot help’ even if you have the time, because you know that it’s not something you genuinely want to be a part of. It’s ok to be left alone. It’s ok to ask for help.
- Understand how much you can give and then no more. Imagine boundaries like a fence. You are able to give this much of you land, and then the rest is yours to keep for YOU. And then no more. And then no more.
- The boundary fence does not move. You maintain the boundary by sticking with it and repeating it like a broken record if you have to. People will push your boundaries. It’s natural for humans to want what they want and will ask again and again, sometimes in different ways, in order to get that. It’s up to you to stick your ground and repeat your boundary. Again.
- Boundaries aren’t what others do or keep, it’s what you do to maintain them. This includes conversations defining clearly what your boundaries are. This includes actions that instill boundaries (I had to literally lock my room because a roommate kept going in to borrow my shoes after we talked about my boundaries of her not doing so). Sometimes it requires you to leave if you see that your boundaries are repeatedly not being respected.
- If your boundaries were crossed before. It is never too late to establish them now. Had sex sooner than you wanted with this person, but you now want to take it slower? It’s ok to say so. And that boundary needs to be respected.
- Self-care. It’s much easier to maintain boundaries when you are not hungry, tired, stressed, or sick. Check in with yourself. What do you need to do to take care of you and your mental, emotional, physical health before having a conversation with someone about your boundaries?
- Feelings of anger, resentment, guilt, anxiety, blaming or victimizing yourself come up for you. Instead of seeing these feelings as something that is negative, see them as tools you can use. These feelings often arise because your boundaries have already been crossed. You have given (or has been taken) more than you are comfortable with. It’s ok to go back and reestablish the boundary (or leave the relationship entirely). Over time of practice you will start to feel more empowered by setting the boundary than you will anxious.
- Boundaries are self-love. They protect you. Boundaries are not selfish. They show that you know and respect yourself. Make yourself a priority.
- Validate the other person’s feelings with the request and follow up with your boundary. That way they hear that you see/hear where they are coming from and may be more receptive to what you are setting.
- Strong and relaxed body posture. Sitting up, chest and heart open, head up, soft and direct eye contact, clear tone of voice, relaxed muscles. It’s easier to set boundaries when we have an assertive, yet relaxed stance. It’s also received by others as more firm and less easily to sway. Take a deep breath. Speak your mind.
- What your boundaries are may not be the same as another person’s boundaries. Don’t try to mind read. Instead, ask for clarification. Better yet, speaking your boundaries take the guessing game out for others, as well. They don’t have to wonder and they know clearly where the line is.