3 Words You Have to Know to Set Boundaries that Stick
We build fences around our yards so our pets can’t run into the street. We create passwords to protect our money. We put tarps on our cars so the rain doesn’t ruin the paint job.
We create boundaries, both big and small, to protect ourselves and the people we love from harm. Yet, when it comes to our own personal boundaries we struggle to not only understand our own limits, but how to stick with them even when we’re uncomfortable.
When someone pushes through our front gate and walks up to our door, we’re aware right away that someone is violating a boundary. We understand how to react and, depending on our familiarity with this person, we know if we should guard ourselves and take precautions or if we can relax and invite that person into our home.
Boundaries are a tough thing to think about. When we can see a wall or fence right in front of us, it’s easy to understand and think about boundaries because there’s an actual physical thing right in our face that we can see and touch.
Today, I want to talk about the emotional and mental boundaries that can be so hard to identify. They’re the ones that you, and only you, set for yourself based on your own beliefs and experiences. Setting and sticking to these invisible emotional, physical and mental boundaries can be a very tricky thing.
There are 3 words I want you to remember when it comes to boundaries: create, communicate and keeping yourself in check. You’re going to create and identify your own personal boundaries, you’re going to communicate your boundaries either with your words or actions and finally you’re going to keep yourself in check.
You’re responsible for identifying your own boundaries
The first step is to understand and identify your own personal limits and boundaries. For most of us, we were taught how to behave and interact with others based on what our parents taught us and what we observed as children. While there are many aspects of adulthood that are challenging, one of the best parts of being a grown-up is you determine the rules.
The best way to determine your boundaries is to identify the relationships in your life that make you feel good and the ones that make you feel bad. As you begin to dissect the aspects of the negative relationships in your life, you’ll be able to see what you value most.
Here are 3 questions you can ask yourself, in order to better understand your own beliefs and values:
a) What’s working in my life right now and what isn’t?
Which parts of your life make you feel good and uplift you? Then ask yourself, which aspects make you feel uncomfortable and cause you stress?
b) What kind of relationship do I want to have with a romantic partner? What about with my friends? With colleagues at work?
Do you have the same set of boundaries for every person in your life? For example, do you expect the people you work with to treat you the way a really close friend would?
c) List behaviors that you will never tolerate again in your life.
Think about the people in your life, past and present, that have hurt you and make you feel like you’re less than. What were some of the things they said and did to you? Those are the behaviors that you want on that list.
Let people know your limits.
Once you’ve identified your boundaries, you can’t assume that others will be able to recognize them or even abide by them. There will be many times when you will have to be explicit and communicate your boundaries. If you don’t communicate your boundaries with others, they won’t be effective.
It’s never easy to have these kinds of conversations but it’s important that you’re direct when expressing your boundaries. If you have a friend who is constantly teasing you, it’s important to be honest and straightforward. For example, you may decide to say something like, “Name-calling is no longer acceptable to me. Please stop calling me klutz, it hurts my feelings.”
There are certainly people in your life that you won’t be able to have such an honest and direct conversation with. When it comes to those people, it’s more about your actions than your words.
Keep checking in with yourself; are you honoring your personal boundaries?
In many ways this is the hardest step. Now that you’ve identified and communicated your boundaries, you actually have to stick with them. If you tell your friend that you’ll no longer tolerate her making fun of you or embarrassing you or you can’t be friends anymore. If she continues to make fun of you, you have to let her know that you can’t hang out anymore until her behavior changes.
This is hard because you can’t change someone else’s behavior, which means that you’re going to have to possibly end friendships or romantic relationships because the other person can’t respect your boundaries. You may start to doubt yourself and question if your boundaries are that important to you. If you start to feel this way, go back to “create” and remember what you value and what behaviors feel “right” to you.
This is why you need to keep checking in with yourself because boundaries are tricky! If your boundaries are too strict, you risk never letting anyone near you and may miss out on authentic love, friendship and truly being seen. If you have boundaries that are too loose, it may make you feel taken advantage of, easily manipulated or allow people into your life who wreak havoc and cause you stress.
Identifying and sticking with boundaries is a bit like walking on a tightrope. If you let your balance shift to the left or to the right, you’ll fall. The key is to keep looking forward, and when you feel like your boundaries are too rigid or too loose, stop for a moment and figure out what feels right for you. And then keep walking.