How good are you at building and sustaining your personal boundaries?
Having boundaries in place is a sign of self-respect.
They are essential for your health and happiness.
Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill and for many people this can be challenging.
It means giving yourself permission to set boundaries…
…and then you can work on preserving them.
Setting and sustaining personal boundaries
Know your limits
You can’t set good boundaries if you’re unsure of where you stand, so take time out to identify your mental, emotional and physical limits. This means being aware and accepting what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Knowing these feelings will enable you to identify what your limits are.
Make self-care a priority
Prioritising self-care involves putting yourself first. When you do this, your motivation to set boundaries becomes stronger. Self-care means recognising the importance of your feelings and honouring them. These feelings serve as an important cue to understanding what makes you happy or unhappy. Putting yourself first gives you the energy, peace of mind and positive outlook to be more present with others.
Tune into your feelings
Two key feelings that will show you that you are letting go of your boundaries are discomfort and resentment. Resentment usually comes from being taken advantage of or not feeling appreciated. It’s often a sign that you are pushing yourself beyond your own limits. It can happen because you feel guilty and want to be a good daughter or wife, for instance, or someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values on you.
Boundaries are all about tuning into your feelings and listening to them. If you notice yourself slipping and not sustaining your boundaries, ask yourself what’s changed. What I am doing or what is the other person doing? What is the situation that’s making me resentful or stressed? Then, consider your options. What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over?
With some people, maintaining healthy boundaries doesn’t require clear-cut dialogue, but with others, you may need to be more direct. For instance, in a romantic relationship, time can become a boundary issue. You may need to talk to your partner about how much time you spend apart, so you can maintain your sense of self, or how much time you spend together, so you enjoy each other’s company.
Give yourself permission
Fear, guilt and self-doubt are big potential pitfalls. You might fear the other person’s response if you set and enforce your boundaries. You might feel guilty by speaking up or saying no to a family member. Many believe 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. You might wonder if you even deserve to have boundaries in the first place.
Consider your role
How you were raised, along with your role in your family, can become an additional obstacle in setting and preserving your boundaries. If you held the role of caretaker, you learnt to focus on others, letting yourself be drained mentally, emotionally or physically. Ignoring your own needs might have become the norm for you. Think about the people you surround yourself with. Is there a healthy give and take in the relationship?
Consider your environment
Your environment might be unhealthy, for instance, if your workday is an eight-hour day, but your co-workers regularly work a 10-hour day. There is an implicit expectation to go above and beyond. It can be challenging being the only one trying to maintain healthy boundaries. This is where tuning into your feelings and needs and honouring them becomes critical.
If you’re having a hard time with boundaries, seek some support, whether that’s a group, counselling, coaching or good friends. With friends or family, you can even make it a priority to practise setting boundaries together and holding each other accountable.
You know that it’s not enough to create boundaries – you have to uphold them! You know that people aren’t mindreaders, yet you still expect them to know what hurts you. Since they don’t, it’s important to assertively communicate with the other person when they have crossed a boundary. In a respectful way, let the other person know what is bothersome to you and that way you can work together to address it.
Like any new skill, assertively communicating your boundaries takes practice. Start with a small boundary that isn’t threatening to you, then incrementally increase to more challenging boundaries. Build upon your success and don’t take on something that feels overwhelming. Setting boundaries takes courage, practice and support.
Remember that it’s a skill you can master.
This month’s blog was inspired by Margarita Tartakovasky M.S and Dr Dana Gionta Ph.D