Having personal boundaries is at the top of the list for living a truly authentic and healthy life. Boundaries significantly increases the quality of our relationships, improves our communication skills, keeps our expectations in line with our goals and abilities, preserves our self-respect and self-esteem and decreases feelings of resentment and guilt. Knowing who we are as individuals and having a clear understanding of the space between where we end and the other person begins is essential to boundary setting and is at the heart of an authentic and emotionally healthy life.
For lots of people boundary setting can be challenging and a whole new concept to boot. Setting limits and boundaries is something we hope to learn in childhood. So our ease or difficulty with setting boundaries is related to how we were raised. For instance, those raised in an environment where respectful, consistent and age appropriate boundaries was NOT the norm boundaries will be harder for them to define and set boundaries as opposed to others raised in families where respectful and age appropriate boundaries were already in place. Also, if we struggle with our own issues of self-respect and self-esteem, this struggle is reflected by absent or inconsistent boundaries. And poorly defined boundaries and limits are associated with depression, anxiety and conflicted and unsatisfying interpersonal relationships.
We can all agree that working on setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is an important life task. Boundaries are intimately related to our degrees of happiness, self-esteem and self-concept. And they are a reflection of who we are to the world around us. Below are some Do’s and Don’ts to help get you started on the path to setting healthy boundaries:
Do: Give yourself permission to set boundaries. Lots of people are aware of the importance of setting boundaries but don’t because they will feel guilty or fear there will be some form of retaliation or backlash. If this happens it is important to recognize that you are not responsible for the other person’s difficulty honoring your boundaries. Be extra patient and kind to yourself while you are in the process of setting or redefining your boundaries with those close to you.
Don’t: Don’t set flimsy or wishy-washy boundaries. Flimsy or wishy-washy boundaries reflect a lack of clarity about yourself, your degree of self-respect and self-esteem. When we set wishy-washy boundaries we set ourselves up for being taken advantage of in addition to not being heard or taken seriously by others.
Do: Tune in to your emotions. Understanding our emotions and gaining a context for them is crucial for setting limits and boundaries. When we are aware of feeling angry or feeling resentment when someone asks us to do something these emotions are a signal telling us to step back and examine what about this interaction makes us feel this way or what about this person’s expectations is disturbing. If you come to the conclusion you are being mistreated by someone else use it as an opportunity for you to set a new boundary with that person or to readjust an old one.
Don’t: Don’t be hesitant to say what your boundaries are. When it comes to boundaries it’s important to let people know your expectations of them and yourself. We all have had the experience of interacting with those who consistently test our limits by taking advantage us and by being disrespectful. Don’t leave it up to the other person to guess that they crossed a boundary. Let the other person know your limits have been violated, how they have been crossed and what the consequence will be if he/she violates your boundaries again.
Do: Get to know yourself. We can’t set good boundaries if we don’t know where we stand with important issues like our physical and emotional expectations, needs and wants. The clearer we are about ourselves, who we are and want we expect and want of our relationships the better we will be at setting clear and consistent boundaries. Having a genuine understanding of ourselves is what ultimately gives us the knowledge to know where we end and the other person begins, all of which is the cornerstone for setting boundaries.
Don’t: Don’t set boundaries that are too rigid or too firm: It’s important to find a balance so our boundaries do not end up being too strict or too relaxed. Limits that are too strict can negatively impact our relationships by “shutting people down” and boundaries that are too relaxed erode our self-esteem and self-respect. Healthy relationships are built upon balanced boundaries.