Boundaries: why they’re so important and 5 tips to start setting some
Do you know the secret to have happy relationships?
It’s staying single, go live in the middle of nowhere (choose among the top of a mountain, a forest with no direct trail to it, or an island in the middle of an Ocean of your choice) and be completely self-sufficient so you don’t need to have any contacts whatsoever with other human beings!
If only it was possible!
Just kidding, the secret to happy relationships is all in a magic word: boundaries!
But what exactly are boundaries? And why are they so important?
The “Merriam Webster” dictionary defines boundaries as “something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent” and I always say that if you have no boundaries your life doesn’t belong to you!
Now imagine owning a patch of land, a yard, or a garden and having no fence or gate around it. Or think of your own house and envision living in it without a door, so anyone can just walk in and do whatever they want with it, with your stuff and even with you.
Would you allow that? Of course not! That’s why we all have doors or gates and whoever wants to come inside our property must first knock or ring a doorbell and be invited in.
Well, the boundaries you set are your doors, gates and fences.
They define what you allow or not in your life, how you wish to be treated and what is the best way for others to interact with you, so that the relationship is respectful, safe and possibly pleasant.
They are not a form of punishment towards the receiver, even though some people have a hard time accepting and respecting others’ boundaries.
The reason why some individuals may find it difficult to deal with boundaries usually resides in their own lack of them: if someone grow up without any or nobody respected theirs, they may simply not be used to be given limitations and may not feel like they too have the right to set some.
Nevertheless, you (and everyone else) have the right to set personal boundaries, to communicate, enforce and even change them whenever you feel like.
Remember that your boundaries are for you and that you don’t need any approval from anybody to put them in place.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide who gets to come into your space and what they can do with you. Whenever you are invited or requested to participate in any interaction you are by default allowed to set your own rules.
Someone wants to go out with you? Then you have the right to say yes or no, when and where, right?!
They need to talk to you? Then you get to decide when, for how long and if by phone or in person. Or not?!
Now that we’ve cleared up what boundaries are and how not having clear ones can lead to frustrating relationships, let’s set some!
1) Know what you want
Before you can set any boundaries, you need to know exactly what you want and need from a certain relationship or interaction. What do you want to experience? What do you find acceptable or not? What are your “rules of engagement”?
Think about that relationship or that specific interaction: what do you like about it? What doesn’t work for you, instead? Which needs are met and which ones aren’t?
Start from what feels uncomfortable to you, that’s a sign that you need to set some boundaries.
2) Express yourself clearly
Once you know what you want, you have to communicate it clearly. People can’t read your mind, we’re all different, with different needs and different expectations. What you may deem unacceptable in a relationship may be totally fine for someone else, that’s why you must communicate your boundaries clearly, rather than expecting others to just understand.
Decide before hand what you’re going to say, keep it simple and focus on yourself and your needs. Use “I “statements, instead of “you” to avoid the blaming effect.
For example, instead of saying “you always make plans for us without consulting me first” you could say” when making plans for the both of us I want you to consult me first”.
3) Avoid overexplaining
You don’t need to explain why you’re setting a boundary unless you want to. Keep in mind that offering a reason why you like things to be in a certain way can often lead people to push your boundaries and try and negotiate with you.
For example, if you’re telling a friend not to call you anymore after 9pm because you’re too tired and want to go to bed, they may try and say that they’ll only keep you for a minute and ignore your boundary completely.
My advice is to keep it simple and avoid offering explanations, especially with those you know that will try and push through your boundaries.
4) Do it in the moment
The best way to set boundaries is by communicating them in the moment.
It’s much easier for people to accept your boundaries (or in general any kind of feedback) if you communicate them as things are happening. Don’t wait for resentment to build up or you’ll end up exploding one day!
If you care about that relationship it would be sad if you ruined it because you lose your temper. At the end of day, we set boundaries because we want that relationship (with a relative, a friend, a partner, a coworker or client) to continue, right? We wouldn’t waste our energy on a relationship we want to end!
5) Don’t give in
Some people have a hard time accepting boundaries, some are pushy by nature and some take everything personal. Don’t give in!
Especially in the beginning, if it’s your first time setting some boundaries with that person, or you are introducing a new boundary in the relationship, you need to be firm and consistent (just as you would be with a toddler who throws a tantrum because she wants something she’s not allowed to have. If you give in once, you’re done!).
Giving in because they guilt trip you or because they get mad at you will only backfire you. Remember that you have the right to set boundaries and that your boundaries don’t need the other part’s approval.
One last thing, if someone constantly ignores or pushes your boundaries it may be a good idea for you to take a step back from them and evaluate whether you still want them in your life. Boundaries are based on mutual respect and if someone doesn’t respect you, well, that’s a red flag.
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