Over the many years I have spent on my personal growth and healing, boundaries have been one of the more challenging areas of life for me. I realize that they are the rite of passage into adulthood because, without them, we turn into children fighting over marbles on the playground.
It took a lot of practice and some embarrassing mistakes to become able to communicate what I need without having an anxiety attack. I was a “Yes, mam” person most of my life and I had no practice. I barked boundaries at people and squealed like a newborn kitten when they didn’t immediately start complying. It makes me cringe to think about it now. Yet, I know that without forgiving the mess of the initial practice, I couldn’t have arrived where I am now. During my messy practice period, I came to a deeper understanding of the how and why of healthy boundary setting that might offer you some insights.
How do you know when it is time to set boundaries?
*You feel stressed when you think about this person or about an interaction you had with them when you are not with them.
*You notice that you start shrinking in their presence or during necessary interactions.
*You feel that you can’t be yourself around them, fearing that your light and/or darkness will be judged by them.
*The interactions with them are slowly changing you into someone you don’t want to be. You are reactive or just shut down. Or you find yourself rehashing the experience with friends (or anyone who would listen) without reaching any relief.
*You find yourself feeling reluctant to connect with them and try to avoid situations where they might be present (i.e. family dinners or social events).
What to Expect When You Ask for Different Boundaries
1) Asking for boundaries does not guarantee that we will get what we asked for
I know that this is not easy to accept but it’s true. Boundaries are the guidelines we ask people to follow if they want a safe, connected and joyful relationship with us. We can be assertive and kind as we set boundaries and hope for these boundaries to be honored. Yet, people are not puppets. We can’t control them (even though we try sometimes). So, the guarantee of that respect cannot be there.
2) The boundary says no to a behavior or an attitude, not to the person’s themselves
In some cases, they are going through a rough time, have had some traumatic events happen in their lives and are acting differently than they normally are. We can still care about them and keep our hearts open to them. Setting boundaries are about caring about our own emotional, mental and physical well-being. The boundary is for the behavior, not as a rejection of the person’s essence or innate worth. You’re just teaching them the best way to treat you for you to feel loved, respected and connected.
3) Their feelings about the new boundary are not your responsibility
We care about not hurting the other person’s feelings. It is almost impossible to simultaneously set a boundary and to protect the other person from getting upset or feeling hurt. When setting boundaries, we have to be willing to let go of taking care of the other person’s feelings. It is very likely that the other person will not jump in joy.
It is normal to feel discomfort, fear, guilt or even shame for setting new boundaries- especially in the earlier stages. Accept that as a part of the process and don’t let your currently not-so-perfect methods to discourage you from growing.
4) Expect to get tested
As human beings, we don’t like change. The person you are setting the new boundary with is used to the old pattern they had with you. They may test it and see what we can get away with. Try not to be mad, it’s just human nature. Stay persistent and be prepared to follow through by making sure that your behavior is congruent with the boundary you have set with them. If you care about this person, you may want to be gentle with your feedback in order not to ruin the relationship completely.
5) Do not count on others to respect your boundaries
If someone is unwilling to respect your boundaries, then take it upon yourself to respect your own boundaries by removing yourself from that environment for as long as necessary. Sometimes there is a comeback for this fallout, sometimes not. And that’s perfectly OK.
6) Be prepared to have someone set boundaries with you
At some point in your life, somebody may set boundaries with you that you may not like. It would be very helpful to train yourself to respect the boundaries of others despite the emotions it may bring up such as fear of loss of connection, feeling shut out or abandoned. Tell yourself that only this person knows what they need at this moment and it does not mean that they love you any less. Consider that when they feel safe and see that their boundaries are honored, they will feel more inclined to move closer to you to connect again-this time, with more trust.
7) Don’t be surprised if you feel more confident in yourself after asking for new boundaries
We also feel better about ourselves when we learn how to set boundaries, get more in-tuned with our authentic needs and improve the level of honesty and intimacy we share in relationships. Essentially, boundaries create the safety we need to show up as we are and still feel close to the people we engage with. This is the reason why learning how to set boundaries is a crucial skill to develop and with some care, compassion, and patience, we can enjoy the connections we desire without drama and conflict.
Please don’t be discouraged if you feel clumsy at first. It is normal to fall a few times when we are learning to walk. We didn’t judge ourselves and stop trying when we were toddlers. Why do that now? Keep practicing and stay loyal to how you feel. It will take you far.