In my quest over the years to understand words and phrases I have heard – loving myself, step into my power – one that has puzzled me is boundaries. I didn’t know I could have boundaries, somehow I didn’t think I was qualified. The problem I kept finding was no one got to the point in a simple clear way – they all kept going around it. It confused me and I was having trouble seeing a picture of it for myself.
I checked out a definition: Personal boundaries are the imaginary lines we draw around ourselves to maintain balance and protect our bodies, minds, emotions, and time from the behavior or demands of others. They also allow us to be in the driver’s seat of our own lives.
At the root of boundary issues is the fear we won’t be loved, that we aren’t good enough or deserving enough just as we are. When we respond to life from this point of emotional weakness, we are letting go of our integrity in order to salvage the crumbs of love and acceptance.
Personal boundaries will attract people to you who are emotionally healthy themselves — people who respect your boundaries.
This has happened a lot in my life – there has to be a context that helps me see it. Something Dr. Phil said was “You teach people how to treat you” – what was that all about? Then one of the KKNW radio show hosts talked about how one enables another in behavior – addictive, violent, etc. My light bulb began to glow brighter and I was getting a picture of it.
As I get older, I am more able to see my childhood programs – they aren’t all negative. My parents gave the three of us daughters boundaries, very specific ones. There were rules and consequences, so when they threatened, we knew they would carry it out. My dad’s favorite one was “You do that again, I’ll warm your fanny”. It wasn’t a beating, just a smart enough spank on our tush to let us know they meant it.
I’m not sure about about my sisters, I know I was brought up to be a good girl and follow the rules – at home and outside in the world. I sometimes think they may have done too good a job, but what they taught us was very important in later life. My older sister said they gave us a wonderful gift – integrity. They also showed by example – none of this “Do as I say, not as I do” balderdash. Mom once said the hardest part of being a parent is being a good example.
Now looking back, I realize they gave us boundaries, I just never thought about it in that way. Now as I am exploring what boundaries are, I see them better. Mostly I realize it has to do with how I want to be treated, what I won’t accept and what are deal breakers. It also means letting someone know they have overstepped the boundary – in a nice, but firm way so there is no doubt. Anything that makes me uncomfortable, upset or angry is overstepping boundaries. I am qualified and have the right to say “This is unacceptable”.
Mom would occasionally talk about growing up in Connecticut, a lot about The Aunts and her Grandmothers. Other times when I asked, her response was “I don’t remember” – end of discussion.
We all want to be treated with respect, be heard and be seen. In my adult life I have areas where I don’t feel heard or seen – I am not sure how it happened, I have often been vocal about something I didn’t like. It just didn’t seem to penetrate or get through to the other person. I would think “If I just had the right words, the other person would finally “get it”. So far I haven’t found the words and I am getting older and older. Does the person think I don’t mean it or it doesn’t matter to her/him?
I have often thought I have more questions than answers – it will keep me in lifelong learning to find the answers. I heard a great definition of enabling – when someone does something that hurts or goes against your best interests but you cover up and excuse them. Whether it is addiction, violence, cheating, stealing, etc., when effects things in the outside world and you protect them. How many parents have done that for their kids and find things get worse. There are no consequences for their actions. That tells the other person he/she can do it again or do even more and there are no consequences. There you are lamenting you don’t know what to do about this behavior. Some things to think about:
Some unhealthy boundaries
- Saying no when you mean yes or yes when you mean no.
- Feeling guilty when you do say no.
- Acting against your integrity or values in order to please.
- Not speaking up when you have something to say.
- Adopting another person’s beliefs or ideas so you are accepted.
- Not calling out someone who mistreats you.
- Accepting physical touch or sex when you don’t want it.
- Allowing yourself to be interrupted or distracted to accommodate another person’s immediate wants or needs.
- Giving too much just to be perceived as useful.
- Becoming overly involved in someone’s problems or difficulties.
- Allowing people to say things to you or in front of you that make you uncomfortable.
- Not defining and communicating your emotional needs in your closest relationships.
How to set boundaries:
- Mind Shift Begin with the mind shift that having personal boundaries is OK. It doesn’t mean you are selfish or unloving. It is both completely acceptable and absolutely necessary for healthy relationships. Understand that self-worth comes from defining your life as you want it to be, not from the acceptance or identity of others.
- Define Sit down and think about how you have been allowing others to take advantage of you and how you might be accepting situations that are really unacceptable to you. Make a list of things that people may no longer do to you, say to you, or do around you. Decide how you need physical and emotional space. Define your values, belief system, and outlook on life so you have a clear picture of who you are and how you want to live. Get very clear on that.
- Communicate Sit down with the people involved in crossing your personal boundaries and kindly communicate your mind shift. Let them know you have spent some time thinking about what is important and acceptable to you and what isn’t. Let them know how they have crossed your boundaries in the past, and ask them to respect and support your new boundaries.
- Expect Expect that this conversation will feel uncomfortable and difficult, especially if you are a pleaser. There may be some defensiveness and push-back from those involved. That’s OK. They’ll get used to your new boundaries over time. Whatever you do, don’t compromise your values, integrity, and self-respect simply to keep someone in your life. Your soul can’t sustain that.
- Reinforce It may take some time to train yourself and others around your new boundaries. Continue to reinforce them so that you are taken seriously and respected. Practice saying no when you are asked to do something you don’t want to do. Create a plan for times when someone crosses your boundaries. Let them know what they are doing. Ask them to stop immediately. Walk away from any push-back or negative comments without acquiescing or getting angry. Over time, you and the other person will realize you are serious.
- Reward Be sure to acknowledge and reward those who are supporting and respecting your personal boundaries. Thank them and let them know the positive impact it has had on your life. This will motivate them to continue their behavior.
- Reciprocate Remember that respecting boundaries goes two ways. Examine your own behavior and words to see where you might be crossing another person’s boundaries. Work to change those behaviors so that you are reflecting the respect and support you want for yourself.
- Stay Flexible The goal is a healthy relationship with those close to you, balanced by a sense of understanding, mutual support, and give-and-take. There may be occasions when you choose to bend your boundaries or allow someone to cross the line. When someone is hurt or sad, needs extra support, asks for an exception with respect and kindness — these are times to show flexibility and love.
- Be Patient If you have had weak personal boundaries for years, be aware that this change doesn’t happen overnight. Disengaging from the emotions and beliefs that led you to weak boundaries requires practice, and sometimes it requires the support of a counselor. Begin to recognize and challenge the limiting beliefs that undermine your practice of setting boundaries. Try to require your boundaries are respected even when you feel unsure or uncomfortable.
- Believe Believe in yourself and your value as a unique individual who is worthy of love and respect. Trust your instincts and feelings about what you do and don’t want in your life. No one knows better than you who you are and what you desire. Don’t allow others to define that for you. Practice self-confidence and self-love until it feels natural. Setting and requiring boundaries is a great way to practice this.
What happens when we possess healthy personal boundaries:
We have improved self-confidence and a healthy self-concept.
We are more in touch with reality.
Are better able to communicate with others.
Have better more fulfilling relationships.
Have more stability and control over our lives.