Melissa Sulkowski, a trained family mediator and divorce coach specializing in conflict work, wrote on Goerie.com recently that simple things like setting boundaries can improve and even save your relationships at home and at work. She makes the point that boundaries come in all shapes and sizes and show up in different areas of our lives and that they serve to protect us. So, today, let’s look at the power of setting boundaries.
I agree with Melissa that setting boundaries are important for several reasons because they ultimately serve as barriers to protect YOU.
They are also tools for establishing limits with others and communicating that you won’t tolerate certain behaviours.
It is also usually those without personal boundaries that commonly end up in less than ideal situations and relationships.
The reality is that without limits, of any kind, you’re opening yourself up to become a victim to the whims of those around you.
So maybe you’re wondering, what is a personal boundary exactly?
Melissa defined it as,
A boundary is anything that indicates a limit. Consider boundaries as the fence between your personal core values and the needs of others. Boundaries are created to mark our tolerance of how others behave towards us.
Psychology Today says,
Boundaries can be thought of as imaginary lines between you and others that distinguish what belongs to you from what doesn’t, and applies not only to your possessions, money, and body, but also to your thoughts, feelings, and needs. It can be helpful to think of your boundaries as a bottom line of sorts. Our boundaries are the limits we set and adhere to in our relationships that define what we are willing to accept and what we are willing to do.
For me personally, setting boundaries are about RESPECT.
So I would add to these definitions and say that,
Personal boundaries are about respecting yourself and demanding respect from others. Setting boundaries is therefore a safeguard against disrespect and abuse of any kind, and ensuring that you are treated the way you truly deserve.
I have also seen this happen over and over again where are people do not take the necessary steps to set personal boundaries – whether at home or in the workplace.
This almost always leads to them being exposed to other people’s emotional and behavioural whims, and the feeling stepped on in some way.
So, if you’re in any kind of relationship at the moment where you feel you are being exploited, disrespected, or even abused, I would encourage you to consider some of the tips below on setting boundaries for yourself.
You can use these 8 tips to set healthy personal boundaries sooner rather than later:
This is the first and most important tip I can give you when it comes to setting boundaries – you absolutely MUST value yourself.
Without valuing yourself to become simply too easy to allow other people to exploit you and even hurt you.
The truth is, you actually do have the ability to set your own boundaries as you see fit, and I would strongly encourage you to consider it.
The other truth is also that few people will treat you better than you demand, so it’s paramount that you take responsibility for taking care of yourself, by setting boundaries.
This is an old saying that goes,
We teach people how to treat us.
This is so true, yet a lot of people simply ignore the reality of this in their own lives.
The fact is that unless YOU do, no one else is going to take responsibility for your well-being.
Value yourself enough to set boundaries and protect yourself.
This one leads on from the first idea of valuing yourself.
In order to value yourself, you also need to have a clearer “picture” of you are – i.e. defining yourself.
YOU have to decide who you are, what you want to be, and how you deserve to be treated. No one else can do that for you.
What are you willing to accept from others? What are you no longer willing to accept?
Again, the truth is that if you don’t define yourself, the rest of the world will do it for you, and chances are you won’t like it.
Place a priority on yourself.
This is maybe an extension of the idea to value yourself, but this goes beyond that actually demands that you place a priority on yourself.
So not only do you need to value yourself, but also actually see yourself as important.
You will only start setting boundaries that are healthy and appropriate when you do that.
Yes, others are important, but they’re not any more important than you.
But, running yourself ragged or into the ground for others, because you deem them so important, really isn’t helping anyone.
In fact, when you run yourself ragged for other people, I would actually question just how important they really are for you.
Because the reality is that,
When you take care of yourself first, you’re in a better position to take care of others.
So by running yourself into the ground, and depleting your ability to take care of others in the process, you’re actually making me wonder just how important they really are.
And YOU also, for that matter.
The reality is that you’ll be a better parent, spouse, and employee if you take good care of yourself.
But the only way you can do that is by setting boundaries that serve you first and foremost, and by implication, others as well.
Consider where you need to set limits in your life.
Take a moment to think about your current life situation.
Where do you know right now, do you need to set better limits in your life?
Maybe you need to put an end to volunteering work every Saturday.
Or, perhaps, you need to stop accepting emotional abuse from your partner.
Maybe you’re just too willing to loan money to people that never pay you back.
Here’s the thing,
We tend to get in life what we’re willing to tolerate.
The question I need you to seriously consider therefore is: What are you no longer willing to tolerate?
Make your boundaries firm and clear.
People sometimes exploit us because they simply don’t know what our boundaries are.
So to solve that issue, make it your mission to make your boundaries reasonable, but also clear to others.
Because if others know where you stand on certain issues, there’s less chance for confusion, miscommunication, or overstepping the mark.
And when they choose to do it anyway, well, then you have a decision to make – either keep them around or go your separate ways.
It is of course also possible to have boundaries that are too strict.
In this case, you will most likely find that even when you do make your boundaries known and very clear, people will still struggle to abide by them.
Not because they don’t want to, but probably because your boundaries are too strict or even unreasonable.
If you have been single for a long enough time, for example, there is a high probability that you’ve become so overly self-sufficient and comfortable with yourself being alone, that you probably suffering from overly strict personal boundaries – or expectations of others.
And again, if this is the case, you are most likely face with another type of decision – whether you will be willing to become more flexible on some of your boundaries, or not.
In which case, you’ll probably put a huge break on the growth of your current relationship.
Adding to the previous point, setting boundaries that are healthy and appropriate is a good thing, but flexibility is also in order from time to time.
Now, you don’t have to follow a rule 100% of the time.
Decide who and what you want to let in, and what’s best to keep out.
But, it’s also important to keep in mind that some studies have shown that people with some flexibility in their personal boundaries tend to have the best combination of happiness and success.
Being too rigid can be just as problematic as being too lax.
According to Psychology Today, there are four types of interpersonal boundary styles:
- Soft/Weak – these people are essentially unprotected.
- Rigid/Inflexible – people with boundaries like these are typically closed off so that nobody can get close to them either physically or emotionally.
- Permeable/Porous – this is a combination of both weak and rigid boundaries. People with these boundaries are typically unsure about what to let in and what to keep out.
- Flexible/Healthy – these people protect themselves effectively, and are difficult to manipulate or exploit. Their flexible boundaries form the foundation of the happy and healthy relationships.
From what we know about setting boundaries, aiming for flexible, healthy boundaries, seemed to be most beneficial to your own well-being as well as relationships.
But, again, it all starts with knowing what you want, who you want to be, how you want to be treated and most of all – VALUING YOURSELF.
Learn to say “no” when needed.
As we said earlier, boundaries are limits on what you’ll accept from others.
But, this is a challenge for some people that struggle to say “no” to others.
Consequently, the trap is always there that they will end up falling victim to the tendency to make everyone else happy.
You need to avoid this at all cost.
Healthy/flexible boundaries and being a little selfish go hand-in-hand.
Try saying “no” to someone today. The world won’t come to an end.
In fact, a new one might actually open up for you.
When people cross your boundaries, it’s up to you to let them know as soon as possible rather than letting it go and setting a precedent.
Many times, this is as simple as refusing a request.
Or, saying “no” like we mentioned moments ago.
At other times or instances, you may be required to provide more explanation, and that’s fine.
It doesn’t matter how you do it, the reality remains that others are unable to give you what you want if you don’t provide feedback or let them know in some way or another.
At the end of the day, setting boundaries is an exercise in caring for and respecting yourself, as well as the relationships you’re in.
You have the right to expect a certain level of respect and consideration from others, AND in doing so you’re actually also nurturing and growing your relationships in the right direction.
Because you’re teaching people how to treat you in setting the type of boundaries you want for the relationship you’re in.
Take away …
Setting boundaries are absolutely crucial for your own well-being as well as the relationships you’re in.
And, if your lack of personal boundaries is creating challenges for you, now is the time to start taking better care of yourself.
Adequate boundaries are not only good for your self-esteem and general mental health, but for all other aspects of your life.
You also put yourself in a better position to care for your friends and family.
If you want to learn more about setting up of healthy boundaries, check out my how-to guide (below) in my store, for less than 2 cups of coffee.