A journey to establish boundaries begins with raw and honest self-awareness. Often what we do is not born of conscious thinking; it is habitual and hard-wired.
Have you ever had a string of moments where you have genuinely questioned the motives of your actions? These are directly related to boundaries and are indicators if they are too fluid, too rigid, or non-existent.
A lack of strong and healthy boundaries has been linked to childhood trauma, although trauma at any age can be a factor. Boundaries are directly linked to self-esteem; the more boundaries we have, the greater our self-esteem is or will become once we start working on them.
In some cases, if we were raised by parents who expected us to be the savior or made us feel that putting ourselves first in any way was a selfish act, we started off on the wrong path to living a life that brings internal happiness. We have possibly become people-pleasers or retreated in fear of not being able to connect in a way that uplifts instead of drains.
What are boundaries?
To sum it up succinctly, boundaries are protection of our mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial well-being. Aspects that we have defined, uniquely to ourselves, that do not allow situations or people to compromise us. By creating and upholding boundaries, we do not develop feelings of resentment, bitterness, or see ourselves as less than we are.
If honesty is something we value and it is defined as a boundary for us, we are less likely to form or maintain unhealthy connections with people who lie or deceive. If we value nurturing our own emotions and being responsible for them, our boundary will be not allowing others to make us responsible for their emotions.
These are a few boundary-building techniques:1. Learn to get comfortable saying no
This is possibly the hardest thing for someone to become comfortable with, especially if they believe that pleasing others is more important than pleasing themselves. Saying no is often followed by a sense of unwarranted guilt.
You need to make yourself fully aware in those moments that prioritizing yourself and your needs is an act of self-love, and someone who respects and loves you will ultimately understand. You do not need to over-explain or even, in some cases, offer an explanation. No can be a full sentence—if you allow it to be.
2. Start small and build
Boundaries are something that take time and patience. You won’t be able to establish them overnight, and it will take practice within the relationships you have currently. Each time you are presented with a new opportunity to honor your boundary and you don’t, don’t berate yourself.
Show yourself compassion and keep trying until it becomes a habit and you begin doing it with little thought. A habit is formed by consistent behavior, and it grows. You don’t start by running a marathon; you start by training a little each day.
3. Foster reciprocal relationships
No boundaries can lead to overcompensation in an effort to maintain relationships. We fear losing someone, and we give and give and give until we are depleted. We have to be clear with ourselves on what we are willing or able to give.
We need to remind ourselves that as important as giving is, it is as important to have the grace to receive. Give and take is key. An imbalance can create enormous tension in our relationships and, ultimately, destroy them.
4. Learn to let go
Do not cling to situations, to jobs, to people. If something is clearly not working out, you need to take what you have learned and move on. That requires being honest with yourself. We often struggle with the picture we have in our minds of what we want versus what they actually are.
Use what you have defined as your boundaries to assess if something or someone is adding to the quality of your life or taking away from it. Letting go is portrayed as a heart-wrenching and an almost impossible task, but it is a simple act when we are grounded in our worth. When we know who we are and what we want, letting go becomes easier—because why would we settle?
5. Lovingly assert yourself and handle the backlash
We often associate assertion with aggression. If we are confronted with people lashing out, particularly to our boundary, we feel we must retaliate. We are known a certain way and a backlash is to be expected. We must prepare for this; it’s inevitable.
The best way to handle it is to remain cool, calm, and collected. Lovingly express your feelings, and, if someone persists with negativity, walk away.
Keep in mind that people can only meet us as deeply as they have met themselves. It’s often not us and our boundary that is the problem. They may be triggered into seeing something unflattering within themselves.
Our focus needs to be on ourselves and living a life of authenticity which will ripple through our relationships in healthy and positive ways.
adapted from an article by Sharon Martin, LCSW
Our boundaries should reflect compassion for ourselves and others.
Boundaries create physical and emotional space between you and others. They show people how you want to be treated.
Boundaries are essential in all relationships - with parents, children, friends, boss and romantic partners. Without boundaries you may feel suffocated, unable to express your true feelings and needs. And boundaries protect you from being mistreated or taken advantage of because they communicate your needs and expectations.
Sometimes, boundaries are met with anger or resistance (hence our reluctance to set them). But it's not wrong or mean to set boundaries. Boundaries aren't meant to punish or control other people. We set boundaries for our own well-being, but they aren't just good for us, they're good for everyone involved.
Boundaries actually make relationships easier. If this seems confusing, think about what it's like when other people set boundaries with you. Intimate relationships and friendships are easier when both parties are clear about their needs and expectations.
When we don't set boundaries, we often become resentful and angry - which isn't good for us or our relationships. Boundaries communicate our needs and expectations - and it's kind, not selfish, to tell others how you want to be treated, what you need, and what you expect.
However, even when we understand the importance of boundaries, we don't always set them.
People avoid setting boundaries for many reasons, but fear is one of the biggest reasons.
Common fears about setting boundries include:
As a result, we feel like we have to make others happy (or at least not displease them). We became people-pleasers. And in doing so, we compromise our boundaries out of fear. We consistently put other people's needs before our own. And we sacrifice our right to safety, respect, individuation, and the freedom to be ourselves, which essentially tells others that their needs are more important than ours and they can mistreat us to get what they want.
Obviously, this isn't the message that we want to send to our family, friends, and partners. We want to value ourselves enough to ask for what we need, to be treated with respect and allowed to have our own feelings and ideas. And we need to set boundaries in order to do that.
Setting Boundaries with Kindness
Setting boundaries kindly doesn't ensure that others won't get angry. You can't control how other people respond to your requests. However, using these communication tips can reduce the likelihood that others will respond angrily.
1. Keep the focus on your feelings and needs
Setting a boundary is about communicating what you need and expect. In the process, it may be important to gently call out someone's hurtful behavior, but that shouldn't be the focus. Focusing on what someone has done wrong is likely to make them defensive. Instead, lead with how you feel and what you need.
2. Be Direct. Sometimes in an effort to be kind, we're wishy-washy and don't clearly ask for what we want or need.
3. Be Specific. Ask for exactly what you want or need. Specificity makes it easier for the other person to understand our perspective and what you're asking for.
4. Use a neutral tone of voice. Your tone of voice may be even more important than your choice of words, so pay attention to HOW you're saying it as much as WHAT you're saying. Try to avoid yelling, sarcasm, cursing, and other signs of anger or contempt; this turns people off from your message - they stop listening and start defending.
5. Consider the other person's needs. When you're setting boundaries with someone you care about, you may also want to consider their needs. Sometimes compromise is appropriate. Real compromise is important in relationships, but be mindful that you're not the only one compromising, and that you're not giving up what's most important to you. People-pleasers have a tendency to concede rather than compromise, which is why we need boundaries!
Situation: You're in a newish relationship with someone you like a lot. They want to get more physically intimate, but you're not ready.
Example of setting boundary with kindness: I'm really enjoying our time together...and this is hard for me to talk about, but I think it's important. You matter to me and I don't want to hurt your feelings or have there be a misunderstanding, so I want to be upfront about my feelings. I'm not ready to have sex yet. I want to take this slow and savor where we are in this relationship right now and not rush ahead.
This example is the beginning of a larger conversation that hopefully leads to mutual understanding and both people feeling heard and valued.