I still remember the first time I realized I had a problem with boundaries.
I had agreed to abandon my life for a week in order to help a ‘best friend‘ move across the country. I helped her pack-up, scrub out and load her entire apartment into a U-haul, gave her a place to stay in her new city, and drove around for 2 full days while she looked for a place. What transpired was me being her human punching bag and main target for every emotional outburst and frustration she experienced. It was equal parts traumatic and emotionally damaging to me.
When it was over and I left her settled into her new place, I had a complete breakdown. I cried and cried and couldn’t believe I was treated that way. After reflecting on the whole situation with my Dad, he offered me a piece of advice I have never forgotten:
“Everyone needs boundaries. I have a wall up that allows me to communicate with others but still keep them at a distance. This is where I’m comfortable and doesn’t allow for others to take advantage of me. You on the other hand – you don’t have anything solid separating you from others. It’s like a waterfall. You are so open that others just pass right through and go right into you. There’s a balance. You can let them play in the water and still have some left for you too.”
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are a sign of self-respect.
Boundaries are the dividing line, the space, between you and and another person. Creating this divide is important because when we become too entangled in someone else, we can’t identify where they (and their feelings) end and we (and our feelings) begin.
Setting boundaries involves both knowing and understanding what your limits are in a relationship.
What happens when we don’t set boundaries?
A lack of boundaries means spending time and energy on other people and honoring what they want vs. what you want. Without boundaries, you can be easily manipulated and controlled by others and can easily find yourself in a codependent relationship/friendship. A lack of boundaries means you are constantly living in fear of letting other people down. You may be considered a ‘people-pleaser‘ or ‘doormat.’
Living without personal boundaries can cause feelings of being emotionally/mentally/physically drained, overwhelmed, resentful and guilty. These negative feelings result from a misalignment internally between how you know you should be living your life and how you are actually living it. You may be surrounding yourself with people you don’t even like simply because you don’t have appropriate boundaries set in place.
How do we set boundaries?
We can set personal boundaries by identifying WHAT those boundaries are.
- Does spending too many days with someone in a row cause you anxiety?
- Does staying up late on the phone cause you to feel like garbage the next day because you didn’t get enough sleep?
- Are you eating foods you know aren’t good for you just because you’re surrounded by people who are eating that way?
Look at your present/past relationships. What are some points of contention that you’d like to change moving forward? List them and identify them so you can better set them.
We can set personal boundaries by learning more about ourselves.
- Do you have a huge project you’re working on that requires more time alone so you can focus?
- Do you need to take a break from lunch/dinner dates because meal prep/counting macros is important to you?
- Are you trying to cut back on drinking but find yourself at happy hour every night?
Engaging in internal exploration with our deepest wants, needs and desires can help us identify how much we are truly able to give to another person. It’s more important to put ourselves first than it is to make someone else happy. If we aren’t 100% whole and happy, we don’t/won’t have much to offer someone else.
We can set personal boundaries by setting expectations.
- Answer and make phone calls when it’s actually convenient for you, not out of a sense of obligation.
- Respond to text messages in a maintainable time frame (spoiler alert: responding right away to every single text someone sends for the rest of time is NOT maintainable..)
- Don’t abandon and upheave your life every time someone (usually the same person) has a life-shattering ‘crisis‘
Setting expectations (and boundaries) is all about the long-term. What actions can you maintain? Which ones will inevitably cause you to resent the other person?
How do we honor boundaries?
You can honor your boundaries by engaging in honest, authentic and vulnerable communication. Communicate with others what your boundaries are and stick with them. Don’t allow others to come into your space (physical or otherwise) without your explicit consent.
If there is a backlash from the other person, know that it is best to just walk away. If you engage with them and it turns into a fight – you are giving them what they want. You are weakening your boundary by allowing them to interrupt your positive mental and emotional state. And if someone truly doesn’t want to honor your boundaries, that should be a big ol’ red flag anyways.
Remember – when we set personal boundaries, we aren’t acting out of selfishness but rather acting in self-love. We are keeping ourselves happy, healthy and balanced so we can go out into the world from a place of wholeness in order to foster and cultivate healthy relationships.