Have you ever felt angry when someone made a request? Felt your skin crawl when someone touched or hugged you? Had an uneasy feeling in your stomach when someone was prying into your personal life or felt deep regret and/or resentment after committing to something? These are all signs that your personal boundaries have been crossed.
All of the time I’m hearing it’s good to have boundaries, with little definition of what they actually are or how to set them. So, let’s start from the beginning.
What are boundaries and why should we have them?
At the most basic level, boundaries can be defined as a separation between you and me. This separation can be physical, emotional or psychic. These little fences allow us to tell others what we are comfortable and uncomfortable with. Depending on your culture, upbringing and personal experiences, your awareness of appropriate boundaries may vary greatly. Boundary setting is a very personal experience, and what feels right for one person may be completely wrong for another. In other words, there is a continuum of what we feel comfortable accepting and not accepting.
Boundary related problems arise when we are not able to set or effectively communicate our boundaries to others leaving us feeling like doormats, violated, resentful or exhausted. At the other end of the continuum, someone might have so many boundaries they are closed off from the world, connection with others and new experiences. If you are of the first group, you may feel terrified to stand up for yourself, and guilty if you do. If you are of the second group, you may feel constantly afraid of trusting others, making mistakes and of getting hurt.
Here are some reasons to set boundaries and how to do it:
1. Your relationships will improve, because people will know how you want to be treated. You will be able to trust them more, and you are more likely to be aware of their limits and needs.
2. You will feel happier because you are doing things you choose to do.
3. Acting out of guilt, obligation or what we think others want takes away our choice and sense of control over our lives. Actively choosing to do or not to do give you power over your life.
4. You will have more energy if you aren’t doing things you don’t want to do or spending time with people who suck up all of your energy.
5.All of this adds up to good self care. Remember, taking care of yourself does not make you selfish. In fact, if you care for yourself you have more to give to others, if that’s what you choose to do.
Now you have some great reasons to set boundaries, how do you do it?
1. Just say “no”. It’s okay to say “no”, and may actually feel good.
2. Unless you are in a situation that requires aggression(such as being attacked by someone), stay calm and be firm in your “no” response. You can also say things like:
* I’m not comfortable with that.
* I appreciate the offer, and I still have to say no.
* Thank you. My answer’s still no.
* Please don’t speak to me like that.
* I’m not comfortable with the language you are using. Please don’t swear around me.
* I need to go now (and leave).
* I can't talk now. Let's set a time for next Thursday and we'll catch up then.
* Step back and offer a hand shake or high five instead of accepting an unwanted hug.
* I don’t feel comfortable loaning money to even my closest (friends, relatives, etc.) Can I help you to find another way out of your situation?
* I’m not available this weekend.
* I did the dishes last night, it’s your turn tonight.
* Excuse me, I wasn’t finished.
3. Listen to your body. If you feel angry, resentful, grossed out or otherwise physically uncomfortable with the requests or actions of another person, that is an indication you should be setting a boundary.
4. Don’t be thwarted or guilted into backing down from your feelings. If people are not used to you setting boundaries they may not like it at first.
5. The more you listen to your own needs, and set appropriate limits, it will become more natural and easier to do. And people will be more accepting of your boundaries.
What are your thoughts and experiences with setting boundaries? I'd love to hear from you!