Here is a question. How many of you have heard the phrase “setting boundaries” before? I have a sneaking suspicion few have not. I have heard it mentioned on numerous occasions throughout my lifetime, usually while sitting in the therapist’s office or watching Dr. Phil on OWN. What exactly does this mean? Or more importantly, what does this look like?
From what I can gather, it means being able to express to others what you will or will not accept in when it comes to how people behave. We are all familiar with physical boundaries. Simply, this means respecting personal space and maintaining the invisible area directly near our bodies. If you have ever been to a theme park, you know what not respecting personal space looks and feels like.
Boundary setting is a complicated concept, especially for those who may not be used to expressing themselves in a healthy way. Many struggle to let others know how they are really feeling or what they need from them. The reasons are varied and sometimes based in fear.
Fear is the other F word. People who are afraid of disappointing, upsetting, or rejecting others often have the hardest time setting healthy boundaries. We are all entitled to decide for ourselves what we want, need, and expect out of the relationships we choose to be a part of.
After I came out, my boundaries were tested on a daily basis. In the chaos, I forgot that I was allowed to keep them in tact as I tried to make other people feel better about what was happening. Guilt anyone?
Becoming confident with ourselves and in tune with our own needs is the first step in creating healthy boundaries. This process requires digging deep in to our own experience and dealing with our own issues, whatever they may be. The success of boundary setting hinges on this fact, which means taking a close look at what is going on inside of us on the front end. See where I am going here?
Relationships are difficult enough when good boundaries are in place. We all bring varying degrees of baggage to whatever relationship we may find ourselves in. Family, friends, work, or romantic relationships do not exist in a vacuum. Our connection to others is unavoidable unless you choose to live on the side of a mountain in Asia.
Arriving at the place where we know who we are and what our boundaries are is only half of the battle. This does not guarantee success in the boundary setting department when it comes to enforcement of those boundaries with others.
Here is where it can be tricky. Respecting our own boundaries, once we decide what they may be, is easy. However, what are we supposed to do when others refuse to comply? Not so easy. Setting boundaries does not guarantee compliance on the other end.
There are plenty of boundary resistors in the world. I bet we all can name a few right of the top of our heads. These are the people who, despite our best attempts to make clear the rules, have no problem ignoring them. When you encounter someone who falls in this category it can be challenging to maintain your ground and not be tempted to relax the rules out of a sense of keeping the peace. Sound familiar?
Fight the urge to allow what is unacceptable for yourself for the sake of not making waves or rocking the boat. No one wins in this scenario. The peace that ends up being lost is your own. Unfortunately, some are not equipped with the tools necessary to comply.
Be warned. Again, boundary smashers are everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. Continually being in a situation where boundaries are ignored or argued is not acceptable. Brace yourself for what I am about to say next. It is perfectly acceptable, and necessary, to let go of any who are slow learners or dead set on challenging your boundaries. Without explanation or argument. Period.
Is this unfortunate? Yes. Does this make you a horrible person? No. The beauty in this lies in the fact that we are all worthy of deciding who we want in our lives. Sometimes you have to make hard choices for the sake of your own peace. With practice, it will become much easier to detect and deal with those who have a hard time taking no for an answer.
Working to limit instances when things go sideways is not an easy task, but we when we handle our own shit our chance of success is greater. By managing ourselves first, we are in the unique position of teaching others the value and benefit of boundaries, even if they are not interested in playing along. Their loss really.
Knowing our own boundaries acts as the foundation. The sturdiness of our relationships house depends upon pouring the slab thoughtfully and carefully. We cannot control who comes and knocks at the door, but we can determine if and when someone will be allowed through it.
Take time each day to review your own boundaries. Pay close attention to the boundaries others set and respect them just as you would want yours to be respected. Mutual understanding goes a long way toward creating relationships that have substance and longevity.
While few have perfected the art of boundaries, all of us can rest assured that setting healthy boundaries is one way we can improve ourselves and make our relationships stronger and healthier. This is the goal.
For more on setting healthy boundaries: