“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others” -Brené Brown.
Boundaries. We are always hearing about them and how we should have them but what are they and why are they so important? To visualize what I mean, think of your boundaries as a line or imaginary field that separates you from others. Your needs, wants, experiences, and responsibilities are all your own, separate from others. They allow you to be your authentic self with your own unique voice.
You are only in charge of and responsible for yourself and your own actions. You are not responsible for anyone else’s words or actions. Your boundaries show people how to treat you based on what kinds of words and behaviors you accept into your life and your space. If you don’t have boundaries or your boundaries need to be firmer, people may take advantage of you. You can tell if you need to work on your boundaries if you often say yes to people or events when you really want to say no, you often feel anger and resentment towards others, and you feel like you are constantly giving your all and not taking care of yourself.
You may be afraid to speak up and say when something feels wrong to you because you don’t want to disappoint anyone, make anyone upset, or have a confrontation. No one truly enjoys confrontation. Confrontation can bring up a lot of uncomfortable feelings, especially if you are prone to anxiety. However, if you don’t speak up when your boundary has been violated, the person will assume that they have permission to continue to behave in a certain way and may push your boundaries even further if you do not assert yourself and tell them that the behavior was unacceptable. Remember, you are not in control of other people’s actions. However, if you allow a person to cross your boundary without telling them it was wrong and will not be tolerated, you are making the choice to allow that person’s behavior into your life, and that IS in your control. Sometimes low-self esteem can cause us to have poor boundaries. If you don’t feel worthy or valuable enough to have your boundaries respected and your needs met, you may not feel like you deserve or are able to express yourself and your needs.
It’s important for you to recognize the places in your life where your boundaries are being crossed so that you can strengthen them, and ultimately strengthen and improve your relationship with yourself and with others. Are you too giving to a certain friend or family member to the point of you resenting them? Do you feel angry or upset with yourself when you don’t speak up in the moment of someone offending you? Do you “let things go” and then stew about them for days, weeks, or months? Do your kids push you and when you try to give consequences, they don’t take you seriously? Do you take time to do things that bring you joy?
Once you start to enforce your boundaries, people may be upset and react unfavorably. After all, you enforcing your boundaries and effectively saying that you will no longer tolerate a certain behavior are uncomfortable for someone who has been used to getting what they want without consequence from you. Boundaries are difficult to put in place but get easier with time and consistent practice. It can be hard for us to say no and to say out loud how we truly feel about things, especially if no one else agrees with us or understands our perspective. It’s difficult to predict how people will respond. If someone has been taking advantage of you, even if they are not conscious of it or intentionally doing so, setting a boundary will be difficult for them and they might struggle, resist, or fight back. Fighting back or resisting can look like getting mad at you, ignoring you, talking poorly about you, or any combination of those. If you are a people pleaser, it’s especially difficult to set boundaries. You don’t want to ruffle feathers, upset anyone, or have anyone think differently of you. But the truth is we need to set boundaries because we teach people how to treat us based on what we allow into our lives. When something bothers you, as hard as it is and as much courage as it takes, try and speak up. You can do this in a respectful but firm and clear way.
I recently had to deal with a situation in my own life where I needed to reassess and enforce my boundaries. I realized that I was trying to maintain a certain image of myself for someone and not have her think of me any differently. I was afraid of how I would come off to her and if she would be angry with me or disappointed in me. However, something really angered and upset me and I knew that I needed to speak up and speak my truth no matter what the reaction was going to be. It meant that much to me in that situation that my needs were met and I knew I needed to voice them or it would eat me up and she would never know, because I simply didn’t tell her. I ended up voicing my concerns and there was a respectful discussion. There was understanding on her part because she said she hadn’t seen the situation from my point of view but now that she could see it, she apologized. She didn’t necessarily agree with how I felt, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I spoke up and told my truth and she was able to see it, respect it, and correct herself moving forward with me.
Even though we hear all the time how we shouldn’t allow what others think of us to dictate how we feel and how we operate, it is so very difficult to put this into practice for ourselves. But I promise you, you will never regret speaking up and speaking your truth. You will only regret silencing yourself time after time until you are full of rage and resentment. And you, my dear reader, are far too valuable to have to deal with that kind of pain. So take some time to think about your own boundaries and how they are helping or harming you, and adjust accordingly.