Setting boundaries for yourself and others is vital. It’s about more than a simple no- the buck doesn’t stop there. Healthy boundaries let you know where you stand and communicate effectively to others what is and isn’t appropriate and tolerated in your eyes. We’ve all had instances before where it was necessary for us to make an executive decision on an important matter. How much do we really know about boundary building though? Observing other’s actions and picking up pointers here and there just won’t do. This is challenging and may come as something fairly new to you. Granted, you may feel awkward and out of your depth as you learn to impose limits, hard or soft, and disallow others from persuading you to defy them.
However, honing this skill, even if it’s your Great Frontier of uncharted territory, will serve you well across the board. That’s because people pleasing presents a challenge across all areas of your life. After the fact however, you can rest assured that you will come off as confident, clear, direct and immovable when it counts. It will be made apparent to the boundary pushers in your life that a change is underway. This process will see you grow in self respect and esteem. Eventually, you’ll be on the same page as your most authentic self and will begin to honour the strength and maturity you’ve cultivated. You want to reach a place where you’re not constantly betraying yourself, designing your life around the desires and wishes of other people.
There is no true calling in the quiet, timid voice of a life that is imbalanced, mediocre, underwhelming and never quite feels like your own. Women especially are taught from a young age that being accommodating and self sacrificial is what it takes to juggle several roles and identities when this just isn’t the case. Beyond demoralising and undignified social constructs lie our most empowered, gritty and real selves who know not the weight of commitment to what serves no purpose. We must break up with the notion that we should be everything for everyone and let what we do be done well and in love. We must rise to the reality of being the sole creator of our happiness.
With all the mixed connotations surrounding our buzzword, taking a minute to break down the boundary setting process into manageable, easy to digest chunks is never a bad idea. Let’s discuss the most common misconceptions floating around in the ether and debunk them so you can form actionable habits. To begin with, boundaries aren’t set solely to dictate what you don’t care for or wish to have less of. They serve as a way to describe, in succinct and no uncertain terms, what you expect to see more of as well. Perhaps you have loved ones who aren’t pulling their weight in the household and leave the hard work to the rest of the family unit. A sit down discussion with them would be just as effective, if not more, if you made clear what would please you, set things right and restore balance.
Also inaccurate is the notion that setting boundaries is about shielding yourself, keeping others at arms length and becoming unreachable. There is no version of boundary setting that touts causing another person deliberate harm and it is never the goal. One of the hardest lessons you’ll learn over the years is that it’s impossible to control other people’s reactions or predict their response to a situation, no matter how well intended and intentional you were. Boundary setting is naturally confronting, both to the persona we take on that gravitates towards people pleasing and the person on the receiving end. However, when we set healthy boundaries, whether consciously or unconsciously, we do so from a place of fairness, sensitivity and compassion.
We must learn to acknowledge a negative reaction to our boundaries on another person’s behalf whilst containing to stand firm and convicted in our values. When we see that the boundary in question has saddened, disappointed or even angered another, we can choose to approach that with kindness and empathy rather than burdening ourselves with shame and guilt. Boundaries aren’t meant to keep people out. On the contrary, they’re designed to make it easier for the right people to get close. Without healthy boundaries, the only sense of intimacy we truly experience is faux. We may feel as if we’re in a meaningful and close partnership with another person, when, in reality, we are enmeshed or codependent with them. With boundaries in place however, we welcome authentic intimacy that encourages us to voice our needs in a way that is meaningful. There is no buildup of resentment, which, when left unchecked, will construct a wall around us that is hard to tear down.
When having discussions about boundaries, prepare a wellbeing disclaimer that sets the stage for a compassionate, permissive discussion that leaves behind judgement. This is particularly useful if the person in question holds an existing long term relationship with you where there is entrenched negative patterns. You can break the ice by sharing your personal resolutions to set boundaries. Explain the gravity and importance of you doing so and why you believe it will be of benefit. In this way, you centre your own wellbeing and spark a meaningful exchange that revolves around the indisputable value of wellness.
Most simply, we must recognise that boundaries exist for everyone. Whether we are familiar with them or not, they are no foreign concept. Boundaries let us know when a situation has gone too far and serves to threaten our wellbeing in some capacity. Even people who say they don’t have boundaries or seem to forgo them entirely have them. What sets us apart from others is the environment we exist in- what has been taught and reinforced to us through the years in regards to our innate value and right to dictate what does and doesn’t serve us. Some people’s boundaries are rarely challenged or tested, others may be unsure of how to ask for their boundaries to be respected, therefore letting others cross them frequently. Then there’s people who feel as if they’re destined to be a doormat. They may know their boundaries instinctively and recognise their presence without understanding how to properly verbalise them.
If you’re struggling to get in touch with your boundaries or speak to them, the first step in line is to be aware of what your mind and body tell you about your needs and limits. Know how these have come about and explore this at length. To begin with, name your limits. Tune into your feelings and past experiences, then draw on the situations you were in and the emotions that came up as a result. Think about what you believe in or can make peace with rather than what you’d simply tolerate or accept. Those sort of words have negative connotations and don’t suggest you are truly happy but merely aiming to please or placate. When interacting with others, pay attention the guideposts that uncover when, where and with whom you should be setting impactful boundaries. Let challenging emotions be your guide, developing literacy with them rather than unravelling. Instead of pushing them away, ask yourself honestly what you’re feeling in the moment and why. Make a judgement as to what should change for you to feel safer and more secure without others infringement. There are certain universal cues or red flags that suggest you are being too lenient with your boundaries. You may experience confusion, disassociation, irritation or operate on a frequency of low self worth.
You can think of these feelings as being markers across a continuum- if too much negativity arises or you feel that you’re crossing into extreme levels, pause and step away. A smaller negative incident can serve as a reminder to check yourself, reevaluate your circumstances and reinvent your boundaries. A larger incident, on the other hand, may cause you to fall deeper into a pit. Next, you’ll want to be direct and speak a mutually understood language. Approach others in a way that will make sense to them and use past experiences to illustrate a point and really drive it home. Shared experiences work especially well. Being an effective communicator is something we all need to master. There is no job or situation that doesn’t call for it- proper communication is heavily tied in with social skills. When addressing a situation, avoid using attack language. This could look like too many sentences that start with the words “You have” or “You’ve done,” when, in fact, there are always two sides to a story and some matters don’t call for assigning blame at all. Saying “I feel” or “I’ve realised” works much better and doesn’t unfairly place responsibility for your feelings on another person.
Give yourself permission to be expressive and leave no room for misunderstandings. Always be intentional in choosing not to act in a self sabotaging manner. Others responses to us enforcing boundaries should not be feared- consider it a learning curve where you come to understand your psychology better. Consider yourself and the individual capabilities you have to right any wrongs. At the end of the day, the most important thing is to follow through- simply creating boundaries is only the start. Even people who know us well sometimes fail to pick up on when they’ve crossed a line. There are no mind readers here but most people try their best. That’s what counts. Boundary building, ultimately, is a skill like any other and requires working towards. It’s smart to start small and then increase incrementally so you don’t give up prematurely. Always seek support and keep the lines of communication open. Setting boundaries can take the courage of a lion.
Remember that having trouble responding to boundaries set by others is a signifier that boundaries in your life aren’t sufficient or don’t properly dictate your terms of engagement. Healed individuals recognise that limits enforced on their interactions with others are for everybody’s protection and greatest good. Therefore, we should cultivate an attitude of grace and gratitude that lets people know we appreciate their honesty. In time, we will slowly but surely find ourselves exclaiming that something isn’t right without giving a reason. Making an excuse or falsifying your reasoning can leave you feeling out of alignment. Keep your vision at the forefront of your mind as you make the decisions that are best for you, day in and out. Set and speak mantras act as your inner cheerleaders and bear witness to your incredible progress. Let yourself be anchored by it.