Updated: Dec 30, 2022
Hello beautiful humans!
Why is it sometimes difficult to just say "No!"? Why do we allow others to suck the energy out of us without taking the time to recharge our own batteries?
Personal boundaries are the invisible lines that we use to protect our values, emotions, physical space, etc. from being compromised. They are rules that we subconsciously utilize to maintain our integrity, be that emotional, physical or mental. The problem is, we don't always use these limits the way we should. We tend to allow for exceptions for certain people and situations and in doing this we often needlessly suffer in the consequences.
To set healthy boundaries it is important for us to know our tolerations, (discussed in a previous blog post), negative emotions and what affects them, our goals and above all else, what makes us happy and able to live our best life. What does and does not intrude on the integrity of your values, peace of mind and well being.
Why Do We Allow Exceptions To The Rules
There are a few different reasons for this, I think. The first has to do with the people who are closest to you. For instance, I am much more tolerant of the behaviors of my family and those I care about than I am with someone I just met. This makes it easy for me to set strong boundaries for people I don't know or barely know, but when it comes to the people I care about, I tend to relax those limits even though the toleration is the same.
Another reason is fear. The fear of not knowing what the consequences of setting or enforcing a boundary might be. Fear of losing a job might cause a person to relax boundaries at work or with an employer or the fear of damaging a relationship are both examples.
Having empathy or sympathy for others and their situations might also cause us to relax our boundaries. We often feel that someone who is going through the same or similar trial as one we have been through deserves to have that breach in our rules because we believe we 'know how they feel'.
Authority figures are still another reason for relaxing our designated rules and there are so many more.
Sometimes these exceptions are necessary, like when it comes to paying your bills, respecting the position of authority and just being a descent human being. Other times, making these exceptions opens the door to others taking advantage or using us for their own self interest.
In order to set healthy boundaries, we need to be able to discern when to relax them and when to enforce them. We need to be aware of when a boundary needs to be changed, done away with or created in order to maintain our own well-being.
Where Do We Start
Margarita Tartakovsky wrote an article in PsychCentral (cited below) she talks to a marriage and family therapist (Michael Morgan) and a psychotherapist (Josephine Wisehart, MS) who both agree that if you want to teach others how to treat you, you need to start with how you treat yourself. I found a lot of value in this statement.
Do I constantly criticize myself or do I encourage and support my own growth? What do I want for my life? What do I feel I deserve. When I started asking myself questions like this, I began to realize just how lenient I had become with my own boundaries. We are our biggest exception to our own rules. We allow ourselves, and even justify crossing our own lines.
Diets are an excellent example that many can relate to. Have you ever started a diet or exercise routine and 'cheated'? Maybe you decided to skip the gym one day or have a donut on the way to work. It's just once, right? The truth is that we broke our own rules. We ignored the boundaries that we set in place to keep us disciplined towards our desired outcome. Then we begin to criticize and demean ourselves because we 'cheated'.
Be realistic! There may be times when you struggle with or even cross a boundary. It's ok! Reflect on why you slipped and make adjustments to your boundaries if needed. Maybe you allow yourself 1 day a month where you grab a donut instead of going to the gym. Be flexible not critical.
How Do We Set Boundaries
Boundaries gives us security and structure, as Sharon Martin says in her article Setting Boundaries with Yourself: An Essential Form of Self-Care (cited below). These limits help you to monitor your own behavior and make healthy decisions. She outlines 5 main steps that I believe are excellent, however, I have added one (since we are talking about boundaries for ourselves AND others) and added my two cents in with the steps below. (Check out Martin's article for her specifc steps.)
Identify the areas of your life that need structure and the outside influences
and tolerations that drain your energy.
Create boundaries that reflect your goals and values.
Don't try to set too many at once or make them so big that you are setting
yourself up for disappointment if they are broken .
Use compassionate accountability and take responsibility, but do it in a way
that is sincere, loving and constructive.
Make incremental changes. Here Martin talks about taking baby steps to
accomplish the goal of the boundary you want to set. While I completely
agree with this, I also think it is important to make changes to your boundaries
when needed. Be flexible!
Express your boundary gently, but firmly. When expressing this to others, if you
have to, simply walk away. Some people will not understand, respect or
appreciate you boundaries. That's ok! That's on them. Not you!
Create your own steps for setting boundaries both for yourself and for others.
How many steps will you need? 4? 6? 10? This challenge requires a lot of
reflection and self awareness to complete successfully.
Morals of the Story:
Boundaries are the invisible lines that we align with our values and protect our emotional, mental and physical well being giving us a healthy structure for our lives.
Understand when we should make exceptions to our boundaries, when they need to be adjusted or changed and when we need to do away with them or create new ones.
In order to teach others how to treat you, you need to start with how you treat yourself.
Follow the steps: Identify, Create, Be realistic, Make Changes and Express your boundaries with integrity.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS - PsychCentral - What it Means to teach people how to treat you
Sharon Martin - Setting Boundaries with Yourself: An Essential Form of Self-Care