Do you ever think, “When is it going to be my turn?” Do your needs come last—after the needs of your spouse, your children, work, community service, in-laws, siblings, friends, and pets? My needs always used to come last. Years ago, I remember rarely having time or energy for myself and what was important to me. It was very disheartening. And it took me many years of conscious effort to replace my well-practiced compliance and pleasing with strong boundaries that supported my life and relationships.
Why Are Boundaries Important?
Boundaries hold our view of self and the world. In the physical world, we have fences to distinguish property lines. These make it very clear where one person’s property ends and another person’s begins. But personal boundaries are not as clearly defined physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. This makes things tricky in our interpersonal relationships.
When we have healthy boundaries, we communicate clearly what we want and don’t want. We make decisions that allow us to thrive and be at our best. If we are without boundaries or they need developing, we often feel drained and have difficulty in our life and relationships.
One fun and helpful way to look at boundaries is to compare them to physical fences. Personal boundaries are an invisible fence that provides a safe haven for us to be at our best. If you look at the many different kinds of fences, you get an idea of how unique each person and their boundaries can be. There are as many different fences (or boundaries) as there are unique fingerprints and people.
Imagine for a moment what your personal boundaries might look like if they were a fence.
A 6-foot wooden fence with a “No Trespassing” sign to keep you safe?
Boundaries are meant to care for ourselves, not lock people out.
Are your boundaries like a funky, playful fence made of skis?
Are your boundaries in meticulous condition or are they in need of repair?
Do you allow certain people to break down your fence?
Or are you someone who goes it alone and turns away loving help when it's offered?
Regardless of what your boundaries are like, a great starting place is to give yourself permission to be true to yourself. What do you need to be at our best? Let's look at the logic for why setting boundaries is a good thing.
Some important reasons to set boundaries are:
• Boundaries define who we are, what we like and don’t like.
• We are able to accomplish what is important to us.
• When we give up ourselves, we feel resentful. Boundaries prevent resentment.
• People can’t use us.
• Others know what to expect when we voice our needs.
• Boundaries promote respect and self-reliance.
• Boundaries create safety within relationships.
If boundaries are so important, then why don't we set them? Why do we have so much difficulty setting boundaries? There are many different reasons we get anxious and would rather give up ourselves than set limits for others.
Some common reasons why we have trouble setting boundaries are:
• We want to be liked.
• We seek to please others.
• We are afraid of hurting other people’s feelings or of their reactions.
• We are accustomed to being dependent on others.
• We are afraid of rejection or being alone.
• We feel overly responsible for others.
• We don’t like or are afraid of conflict.
• We aren’t clear about what we want so it's easier to just agree.
Even after we know that it's a good idea to set boundaries, many times we don't know how to set healthy boundaries. Below are some tips to be successful.
How to Set Boundaries: Essential Ingredients for Success
- Act immediately before getting upset (or wait until you calm down).
- Get clear on what you want.
- State your request or boundary positively in a calm voice.
- Describe your need clearly and concisely.
For example, “Please call me when you are going to be more than 5 minutes late.”
- Acknowledge the person when he or she meets your terms.
- Be prepared to follow through. State what you will do if the boundary isn't respected. For example, “In the future, if you choose to be an hour late for our dates without calling, I’ll make other plans after 15 minutes and not be here when you arrive.”
Tip: If a boundary is violated after an agreement has been made, avoid giving repetitive warnings, making excuses for the person's behavior, or letting things slide until your emotions build. Follow through with what you said you would do.
Boundaries are essential for healthy relationships.
My life dramatically changed when I learned how to draw loving and firm boundaries. Healthy boundaries equal a happy life.
No matter how uncomfortable it may be for you at first, you'll never regret taking care of yourself and letting others know how to love and respect you more.