Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships. You have to begin by knowing and understanding what your limits are. Developing and keeping boundaries is a skill and will require an effort on your part to create and maintain.
Know Your Limits
How can you set boundaries if you don’t know where you stand? You will need to start by identifying your limits in the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual areas of your person.
For instance, let’s say you have a known physical limitation that requires you to have a certain period of rest every day to be functional. You cannot then say yes to every request that comes your way for the upcoming day or you will not be able to care for yourself. It is a known requirement and boundary that must be set.
Identify what is deemed acceptable and tolerable so that you have a guideline to work within. Your guidelines that you set should not make you feel uncomfortable or stressed. If they do, they are not the right boundaries.
Listen To Your Feelings
Feeling resentment or discomfort? You may be letting go of your boundaries. These are red flags for you to take note of and make changes. Think about what is causing the feeling. Is there something in the interaction or person’s expectation that is raising that emotion?
Resentment usually “comes from being taken advantage of or not appreciated.” It’s often a sign that we’re pushing ourselves either beyond our own limits because we feel guilty (and want to be a good daughter or wife, for instance), or someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values on us.
When someone acts in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s a cue to us they may be violating or crossing a boundary.
Adapt Your Communication
You may have to approach people differently when establishing your boundaries. We all communicate differently and this includes how a person “hears” or “receives” your message. You will have to adapt.
Not everyone will require a direct, firm message and others will. This will also vary depending on the boundary you are setting.
Give Yourself Permission
Fear, guilt and self-doubt are big potential pitfalls. We might fear the other person’s response if we set and enforce our boundaries. We might feel guilty by speaking up or saying no to a family member. Many believe that they should be able to cope with a situation or say yes because they’re a good daughter or son, even though they “feel drained or taken advantage of.” We might wonder if we even deserve to have boundaries in the first place.
Boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationship; they’re a sign of self-respect. So give yourself the permission to set boundaries and work to preserve them.
Boundaries are all about honing in on your feelings and honoring them. If you notice yourself slipping and not sustaining your boundaries ask yourself: What’s changed? Consider “What I am doing or [what is] the other person doing?” or “What is the situation eliciting that’s making me resentful or stressed?” Then, mull over your options: “What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over?”
Trust yourself. Trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, listen to that and set your boundaries.
Consider Your History
How you were raised along with your role in your family can become additional obstacles in setting and preserving boundaries. If you held the role of caretaker, you learned to focus on others, letting yourself be drained emotionally or physically. Ignoring your own needs might have become the norm for you.
Also, think about the people you surround yourself with, are the relationships reciprocal? Is there a healthy give and take?
Beyond relationships, your environment might be unhealthy, too. For instance, if your workday is eight hours a day, but your co-workers stay at least 10 to 11, there’s an implicit expectation to go above and beyond at work. It can be challenging being the only one or one of a few trying to maintain healthy boundaries, she said. This is where tuning into your feelings and needs and honoring them becomes critical.
Making Self-Care A Priority
This involves giving yourself permission to put yourself first. When we do this, our need and motivation to set boundaries becomes stronger.
Putting yourself first also gives you the energy, peace of mind and positive outlook to be more present with others and be there for them. And, when we’re in a better place, we can be a better wife, mother, husband, co-worker or friend.
If you are having a hard time with boundaries, seek support through a group, counseling, church, coaching or with good friends. Find those within your friends and family that will help hold you accountable.
There are a lot of great books that can help you walk through setting boundaries in life and relationships.
Of course, we know that it’s not enough to create boundaries; we actually have to follow through. Even though we know intellectually that people aren’t mind readers, we still expect others to know what hurts us. Since they don’t, it’s important to assertively communicate with the other person when they’ve crossed a boundary.
In a respectful way, let the other person know what in particular is bothersome to you and that you can work together to address it.
Like any new skill or behavior, setting boundaries and communicating assertively requires practice. Start with a small boundary that feels less threatening to you. Then continue to build as you become stronger.
It takes courage, practice and support. But, this is a skill you can master!