By definition they are dividing lines, and while not all boundaries are literal lines they all do certainly denote a division of some sort. There are many kinds of boundaries, but the kind I am talking about today are the healthy, personal ones – the ones we have (or at least should have) in our own lives that help us take care of our own selves.
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.“ ― Brené Brown
We need to have personal boundaries for many reasons…to maintain our personal space, to uphold our personal beliefs and morals, as well as to take proper care of ourselves. Healthy boundaries allow us to not only take care of ourselves, but to take better care of others around us as well. And we set a good example to others when you have these healthy boundaries for ourselves. By setting clear boundaries in our own lives we lead others in the arena of self-care by example.
“You best teach others about healthy boundaries by enforcing yours.” ― Bryant McGill
I am sure you have all heard the airplane oxygen mask analogy – secure your own mask before assisting others with theirs. Why? Because if you don’t it is very likely neither of you will end up with an oxygen mask on. And there is also the old adage of “nothing pours from an empty pitcher”. If you are drained, if you don’t care for yourself first and foremost, you will having nothing to give to others no matter how much you might wish to give or be of service to them. The bottom line is that you can’t help others if not honoring your own needs first. It really is that simple.
“Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring (just) because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.” ― Christine Morgan
But suddenly having boundaries where there were none before can be problematic, let’s be honest. If you allow your friend to always be late and then suddenly want to hold them accountable to their promised arrival time, or if you always cook or clean or do laundry without assistance despite what your day or week at work has been like and then suddenly expect your spouse or children to help, or if you always allow someone to speak down to you and then suddenly stand up for yourself…you can imagine it isn’t going to go over well. So how to we make that change? How do we set boundaries with the people in our lives if we have gone for so long without them? The answer is actually quite simple – you tell them your expectations and boundaries. That’s right, it comes down to good old fashioned communication. You honestly explain how you have allowed this for so long but are no longer okay with it being that way, and you tell them why it is no longer okay with you. When explained gently most people will respect your desire for new boundaries and will work hard to try and meet them. It’s when we just introduce them without warning or explanation that we often experience difficult resistance. So as with all things in any relationship, just make sure you communicate it clearly.
“We can say what we need to say. We can gently, but assertively, speak our mind. We do not need to be judgmental, tactless, blaming or cruel when we speak our truths.” ― Melody Beattie
Boundaries give you permission to live and do things you enjoy while also not giving away all of your power to others. As Gerard Manley Hopkins once said, “Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” Think for a moment about your boundaries with different groups of people – spouse/significant other, children, parents, siblings, neighbors, boss, colleagues, etc. What do you allow or tolerate that you really aren’t okay with? What do you wish would change? Where do you need to do some work on your boundaries? Where do you need to create boundaries?
Here’s a quick summary of the process that I have personally found helpful for setting boundaries and for sharing them with others:
- Think of areas in your life where you currently feel stressed mistreated, etc.. Of those areas, are there any where you would feel better if you set boundaries? For example, if you said no more often or if you stood up for your personal needs or beliefs?
- Once you identify the ways in which you can add boundaries, then begin to add those new boundaries into your life. Introducing them one at a time helps both you and those around acclimate to this change.
- Explain your new boundaries to the people in your life who will be impacted by them. Use gentle words and be sure to make the explanation about your needs, not about them personally or about something they have done wrong. Making it about your needs helps them understand and in most cases people will respect and support your wishes, while making it about them will put them on the defensive.
- Reassess your boundaries often because they will need to change as you and your life change.
Let go of the voices in your head and all the conditioning from childhood that tells you to continually sacrifice everything for others regardless of the impact it has on you. Set boundaries for your life and hold to them. Not only will you feel better as a result of doing so, you will be able to show up in your life and in the lives of others in a more meaningful and impactful way.
“Speak in your own voice about the things that matter to you.” ― Marty Rubin