Updated: Mar 9, 2021
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are basic guidelines you set to establish how you would like others to treat you. They define what behaviours you are willing or not to accept and determine how you respond when someone crosses those limits. Having healthy boundaries is the foundation for positive, respectful, caring relationships; And these may be personal and/or professional.
"Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others. Brené Brown"
How do you know you need to establish better boundaries?
If you experience feelings of anger, frustration, resentment or stress after agreeing to something, you most likely need to revisit your boundaries. If you find yourself to be frequently disappointed by people and situations, fight for hours with thoughts and keep ruminating facts and outcomes. These are clear signs that your boundaries have been crossed too often or that you need to redefine them more firmly.
How do you define your boundaries?
When you decide the time has come for you to define your boundaries better, the first step is to decide how these should look like by establishing what is important to you.
Take note when something makes you uncomfortable but also what makes you feel good. Having a clear idea of what works or doesn't work will help you create your plan.
Pay close attention to your emotions and reactions.
Explore how to increase your self-awareness. Journalling, meditation and reading self-help books are very helpful in this.
Begin to write your boundaries, it helps you organise your thoughts, and when you are ready, you can express them.
Make a priority list: is there any area you feel requires your attention first? Changes are challenging; facing them all at once can be overwhelming.
Before making a decision, allow yourself the time to evaluate the benefits and the consequences.
Learn from your past; if something didn't work already, it is likely not to work in the future. Explore new ways to implement your changes.
How do I make others aware of the changes?
Now you have identified what matters to you and what you are unwilling to accept any more. At this stage, you have two options to let others know that these boundaries are now in place.
You can have a straightforward conversation with the people involved, and if you choose to do so, communicate your decisions respectfully, firmly, calmly, and without engaging in excessive explanations.
Another option is to wait until the moment you realise your limit is about to be crossed. Explain that this is not acceptable for you anymore, in a calm, firm, respectful manner and with as few words as possible.
Why is it so hard to set boundaries?
When it comes to setting up your boundaries, you will realise that there are other reasons behind the difficulties to set and maintain your boundaries.
Different situations require different boundaries. Limits you put at work will be not the same limits you set up for your partner, so will be the limits you give to your kids. And for relatives or friends, you will have again to set different limits.
Some of these situations may also overlap. Boundaries sometimes have grey areas and need to be adapted to the situation. These adaptations can lure you to return to the old, more comfortable, but unhealthy habits.
Boundaries are different for everyone; others may not understand why the limits you set are so crucial to you. Be patient when it comes to adjustment but remind that your limit stays in place and that you don't owe any apologies for it.
Not setting boundaries may have given you some advantage. The feeling of being essential can be powerful; however, if the relationship is based on a solid foundation and is healthy, setting boundaries will not harm it. For people who love and appreciate you, you will still be essential in other ways.
How do you maintain your boundaries?
If setting healthy boundaries is challenging, maintaining them takes rigorous effort. Most people around you will have difficulties to adjust to the changes you made, especially if you were never firm about your boundaries before. Give people around you the time they need to adjust; it is a change for them too. People who tend to be controlling, abusive, or manipulative will most likely test you on your new limits more than once. Don't be surprised by this and remain steady and calm, don't give up. You will get there!
What reaction is to be expected when you set your boundaries?
People's reactions will vary; some will not take you seriously; others will show understanding, while others will be outraged. Reactions will vary. Be reminded that you are not responsible for other people's response to your boundaries. Your only responsibility is to communicate your decisions respectfully. Remind that your behaviour needs to match your intention, and you cannot establish a clear boundary if you begin to apologise for it.
“No is a complete sentence. Annie Lamott"
How will you feel after you set boundaries?
As mentioned, when you start changing behaviour won't be easy. It will take some time before you see significant differences. In the meantime, you will experience mixed feelings all along the process. When you initially set the limits, you may face uncomfortable emotions, such as guilt, insecurity, loneliness and even fear. You will doubt yourself, let all these emotions go, don't fight with them. It is normal to need some time to adjust.
If you felt the need to set those limits, the reason is that the previous situation was not bearable for you anymore. Trust yourself and give yourself the time you need. Always remind yourself:
You have the same rights as anyone else when it comes to asserting your needs, opinions, feelings and to practice self-care.
Trust the journey! Take good care of yourself, be patient and consistent. You won't regret it.
If you want to discuss boundaries, feel free to contact me.