What are Boundaries & How to Set them

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Since I just wrote two posts about setting boundaries and how they are important, I realized that some of you might have been like me long ago that… I really didn’t know what people meant by setting boundaries and was completely clueless on how to set healthy boundaries.

SO Just in case you are looking confused at the screen right now and/or perhaps at those two blog posts about boundaries, I decided it might be needed to summarize what boundaries are. However when I began to attempt to explain it on my own I found myself lacking in proper description but after some research I found a website called “Sharon Martin: Live Well & Love Your Life” (https://livewellwithsharonmartin.com) that truly said it best so I am going to quote Sharon Martin on what boundaries are and also why they are so important.

First what is a boundary?

“All relationships need boundaries. A boundary is an imaginary line that separates me from you. They separate your physical space, your feelings, needs, and responsibilities from others. Your boundaries also tell other people how they can treat you – what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Without boundaries, people may take advantage of you because you haven’t set limits about how you expect to be treated. You can think of a boundary as a property line. […]When a boundary is crossed, you need to provide feedback saying it’s not okay. The boundary is worthless if you don’t enforce it by giving feedback and consequences. Some people will easily accept a boundary and others will continue to challenge and escalate it.”

Why is it important to set boundaries?

Boundaries allow you to be your true self, […] are a form of self-care […], create realistic expectations [within relationships, and…] create safety.”

If you would like to learn more I highly recommend going to her website and reading the article in its entirety. The direct link for this particular article is HERE https://livewellwithsharonmartin.com/what-are-boundaries/ and is also listed in the links below.

SO OVERALL,  Boundary setting is a way of controlling yourself and modifying your own behavior so that others know how to treat you. If you jump through hoops for someone against your boundaries, they will continue to expect you to jump through hoops for them.

Important healthy boundaries should be non-negotiable!

NOW ON TO SETTING BOUNDARIES…..

Setting boundaries can be tricky if you don’t have any self-awareness, if you don’t have a grasp on your desires/feelings, if you have had weak boundaries in the past, if you have lived a sheltered life, or have let others dictate your life and principals in the past. (Or any combination there and of)

So Boundaries start with your emotional needs.  How do certain things make you feel? What have you felt was wrong for you but never said anything? Do you have your own personal space? Do you respect other’s personal space? Does something make you feel uncomfortable or stress you out? Knowing where you need to draw the line for your sanity and well-being is definitely one of the very first steps.

If you know something doesn’t feel right within a relationship or situation and you feel like your limits are being pushed or tested or many times you don’t feel like you have a say at all in these relationships or situations then it’s time to reaffirm boundaries. Boundaries are not mean, they are necessary for us to lead healthy lives. Some people are purposefully manipulative and will take and take if given the chance, whilst others may not be intentionally hurtful but will overstep if they do not know where your limits are. So know that boundaries are a form of self-care, you are not mean for wanting privacy, or not being touched a certain way, or being talked to a certain way. You are allowed to have time to yourself. You are allowed to state what you do and do not like. You can still be a kind, caring individual without letting people walk all over you.

If you aren’t aware of what boundaries may be lacking think about your relationships in the past and the things that made you uncomfortable. If there was a moment you could have said, “this isn’t for me” or “I don’t like when you call me that”… If there were times when you have excused someone’s behavior even if you didn’t like it or a time when you felt like you had to completely disrupt your life for someone else and it caused negative ripples in other relationships or situations. These are all times you may have needed to state your boundaries.

No matter what, even if you realize the million ways you need to set boundaries for your own sanity, it is best to start small and not make grand statements or burn bridges. Take the moment to truly analyze situations, write pros and cons and realize you may lose some friendships (probably toxic ones) and may have some people not know what to make of you. When you have had weak boundaries, it will initially be hard trying to stick up and defend these new found boundaries. It can get exhausting if you are attempting to fix too many things at once, so if you are scared you can start by setting something small or if you want to fix something right away then focus on the biggest boundary to set. Either way , if you don’t feel like you are living a life that is your own or that you constantly get stepped on or worked up by others then it’s time to start laying down some boundaries. (Side note: to maybe consider… there is also the possibility of those who are close to you thinking you are going through some phase or being possessed or whatever if you attempt to change everything at once, which will ultimately minimize your feelings.)

Now being firm on your boundaries is not a death threat or an ultimatum, but good boundaries are maintained enforced. (This can be by simply reaffirming or serious hard-limit consequences.)  Remember, setting your boundaries is NOT like that scene in Looney Tunes with Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, where you physically draw a line in the sand then yell “I dare you to cross it”. Instead, it’s approaching those you care about who can be talked to and saying how you are feeling and how you won’t allow certain behavior in your life anymore.  It is also modifying your behavior to show how you desire to be treated. (Now some people may not be able to be spoken to or some scenarios its just YOU MODIFYING YOUR BEHAVIOR… a lot of boundary setting is you being firm in action not in words.)

IF you feel bad about setting a boundary analyze why. Sometimes we haven’t set boundaries because of ingrained false believes about the world we learned as children, such as “all people have the best intentions for me”. (Sorry that isn’t true, I know it sucks.) But figure out why, is it low-self-esteem and wanting people to like you? Is it guilt, or a feeling that you SHOULD do something even if it feels wrong? Are you afraid of confrontation, as though things will blow up in your face? Are you afraid of rejection or abandonment?

All those feelings need to be looked at and analyzed to fully commit to setting boundaries… because if you don’t believe you SHOULD or you believe that you CAN’T set those boundaries then you won’t enforce them.  [Note: Boundaries are healthy. The right people will like you and be with you if you have clear and healthy boundaries. In fact a lot of times those who don’t have clear boundaries will overcorrect over time and either become someone who doesn’t respect other people’s boundaries or become a shut in. As I said in the Boundaries and friendship post, boundaries are essential for healthy relationships.]

ALSO BIG ALERT…. SUPER DUPER BIG WARNING ALERT!!! Boundary setting does not mean controlling someone else so that you will feel good in your insecurities. For example, you don’t tell your partner that they can’t be friends with someone because you don’t like them. That’s not boundary setting that is being controlling. Now if that friend acting inappropriately, you can broach that topic with your partner but making demands (aka ultimatums)… that’s a big NO-NO… and is not boundary setting. Also if you want to have healthy relationships and you don’t want to be respected, then you don’t fly off the handle when your boundary has been crossed. Healthy boundary setting involves calm steady strong firm reinforcement, not hostile demands, or being reactive.

A BOUNDARY SETTING EXAMPLE:  You have decided that after 9pm on week/work days is your personal time to work on things that are important to you. You may alert friends or family who tend to call you after 9pm that you won’t be taking calls. To defend this boundary you will have to be strong and not answer the phone or answer texts after 9pm, you may have to mute the phone or not look at it and set to task what you want to get done. In order to set and reaffirm this boundary, you will have to resist the urge of “well they are calling it must be important”… well it might be important to them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is for you. You need to take care of yourself too. You also follow this rule, by not calling or texting anyone during this time period either.

{{Note: If you want you can make an addendum that, if it’s a true emergency leave a voice message and you will listen to that but it has to be a true emergency such as a flat tire or someone in the hospital on their death bed and you need to see them now… otherwise you aren’t available…. You don’t even need to say this. You could just not answer, I mean most jails and hospitals don’t have visiting hours after 9pm anyway, just saying. Otherwise everything can wait.}}

Example of some general boundaries  (because these are some of mine) :

None of Your business. My relationship with my husband is personal between us. Other than some occasional (usually vague/generalized) info shared to some very close friends (and if needed a therapist) I do not share private information about our lives in the bedroom or our deep personal conversations. For my boundary he is expected to do the same.

Text Responses. When it comes to a few particular people that are important in my life but can become toxic and bombard with text messages/calls/lots of general nonsense (such as certain family members): I respond to texts that only need a direct answer and clearly state when I will or will not be able to attend an event as immediately as I know. I may say something like “I do not have the information on that yet, I will let you know by X” if I do not immediately know. No matter who it is, I also will give myself time to respond so I don’t feel pressured.

Some solid examples that apply to the majority of people, situation depending of course: (notice too, that you set this boundaries by how you act towards others too)

  • People aren’t allowed to touch me inappropriately even in jest and I won’t touch others inappropriately, even jokingly.
  • I don’t scroll through people’s pictures on their phone without expressed permission and I won’t allow others to scroll without permission either.
  • I don’t pressure people to reveal things they do not want to and I will not reveal things I do not want to, even when pressured to do so.
  • I don’t expect others to sacrifice the pursuit of their dreams for me and I will not sacrifice the pursuit of my dreams for anyone else.
  • I don’t blame others for my problems and I will not allow other people to blame me for their problems.
  • I don’t call my partner derogatory names and I will not allow my partner to call me derogatory names.
  • I do not expect people to justify their actions unless they have caused me or someone harm and I will not justify my actions unless it has caused harm in some capacity.
  • I would never stop by someone’s house unannounced and I will not allow anyone to stop by unannounced.

 

NOW YOU’VE SELF-ANALYZED, KNOW WHAT BOUNDARIES YOU WANT TO SET, NOW HOW TO SET BOUNDARIES:

Using the earlier example about having “weekday YOU-time” from 9pm until bedtime then through the morning by not answering any calls or texts in the evening after 9pm (and hopefully no one calls or texts)….

AWARENESS & STRENGTH. So setting boundaries takes awareness and a willing to change and the strength to stick to what you have stated. If you want no one to call after 9pm… well expect people used to you not sticking up for yourself to call! When they do you set the tone by not answering. You reaffirm the boundary by not picking up the phone. (Unfortunately people will test your boundaries, stay strong! And know that it’s up to you to set the tone…. A poor example of reaffirming your boundary would be answering the phone and shouting “I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL.” Not healthy.) Being a bully or mean doesn’t give you respect, if you don’t want to burn bridges or create drama you calmly reaffirm your boundaries without letting people get under your skin. You are firm and un-moving in your new boundaries. Also be aware of double standards… don’t say no calls but then call someone after 9pm just to chat. You need to be firm in your boundaries on both sides.

“I” STATEMENTS. When setting boundaries you will want to use a lot of “I” statements instead of “You” Statements. For example, “I won’t be available after 9pm and through the morning. That is the time for myself to get done the things I need to get done. I won’t be answering calls or texts after 9pm unless it is an extreme emergency. I appreciate it if you respect this boundary by not calling” (be prepared they may call)

SANDWICH METHOD. If you have a hard time setting boundaries at first you may want to try the “Sandwich” approach. Example: “I know you like to chat on the phone after work with me. I enjoy these conversations as well and I will be available to chat from 7pm-9pm to talk about whatever you like. After 9pm, I need to take the time to get done what I need to get done before bed then head to bed and I won’t be taking any calls after 9pm and I won’t be answering texts.”

No matter what be firm, direct, and clear. Don’t go overboard, but know if you have to set consequences or ways to reaffirm your boundaries you need to stick to those limits. Thus like our example, no calling or answering the phone or texts after 9pm.

When it comes to disrespectful people who either ignore or continually test your boundaries…

The example I am using doesn’t really lend itself to consequences. But sometimes you may have to set boundaries with people that you feel the need to keep in your life (or sometimes can’t get rid of) that are “controllers”, “manipulators”, “non-responsive”, and/or “abusers”. (Now I would recommend when feasible such as in romantic relationship or “friendship” to remove these type of people from your life. But if it’s a co-worker, neighbor, or family member that might not always be possible.)

Usually the consequence for those types of people would be “I will leave the house/event if you continue that unacceptable boundary crossing behavior” or “I will ask you to leave”.  You may have to be clear that you will end all contact with someone if they are crossing a huge boundary or stop helping them if you were helping them. And so on.

When it comes to these more toxic people or situations you may need to practice saying these boundary consequence statements out-loud and give yourself a pep talk about following through. Because if you tell them “I will ask you to leave” and they say, “No you won’t” and continue to test you, you will have to show them to the door. You may have to call the police or a trusted individual to escort them out.  (Honestly pro-tip, when it comes to toxic people that you have to keep in your life, it’s best to go to them or meet them out somewhere, so you don’t feel trapped in their home and you can set the boundaries of you will leave if they cause issue, then you can just leave as opposed to trying to force someone out of your home. Also, when possible the buddy system so that you have back up to reinforce or as emotional support. )

OKAY so now that you know what boundaries and how to set them, NOW you can go set those boundaries! YAY!

YOU GOT THIS!

-Heather

 

VERY HELPFUL LINKS!!:

https://terricole.com/setting-and-enforcing-healthy-boundaries/

https://lauradoyle.org/blog/healthy-boundaries-in-relationships/

https://livewellwithsharonmartin.com/what-are-boundaries/   (this is the one I quoted at the beginning of this post, very useful! )

https://psychcentral.com/lib/10-way-to-build-and-preserve-better-boundaries/

https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/great-self-care-setting-healthy-boundaries/  (this one has worksheets!)

https://psychcentral.com/blog/why-healthy-relationships-always-have-boundaries-how-to-set-boundaries-in-yours/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/romantically-attached/201608/4-ways-set-and-keep-your-personal-boundaries

https://terricole.com/setting-and-enforcing-healthy-boundaries/

https://markmanson.net/boundaries

https://www.uky.edu/hr/sites/www.uky.edu.hr/files/wellness/images/Conf14_Boundaries.pdf  (PDF what are boundaries and how to set them)

https://explorable.com/e/establishing-consequences-for-boundaries (THIS ONE IS AWESOME for consequences and setting boundaries for toxic people in your life, a great place to start.)

LITERATURE:

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend::::Published October 20th 1992 by Zondervan ISBN: 9780310585909    (A good book about boundaries but very religiously Christian… so if you aren’t of that faith it can be a little heavy handed. I found that a lot of examples were useful.)

 

How to Break Up With Anyone: Letting Go of Friends, Family, and Everyone In-Between by Jamye Waxman::::Published September 22nd 2015 by Seal Press ISBN: 9781580055970    (And just in case you want to start the break up process with someone toxic)

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