Boundaries are what you will and will not do. It may involve your reaction to another person’s choices and behaviors; it is never about changing the other person. Boundaries are strictly those of the boundary setter.
Boundaries are about your integrity, personal responsibility, and maturity. There are a couple of reasons why people have difficulties with boundaries; these are usually (1) how you were raised; (2) fear.
There are three basic types of boundaries:
- Rigid – these are boundaries where you have strict rules of conduct and you tend to remain detached and distant from others.
- Enmeshed – this is where you are in a symbiotic relationship with someone else; you may either serve as the object, meeting the wants and needs of the other, or the other person is there to meet your life’s needs and wants.
- Permeable – these are usually the healthiest boundaries, where you know where you begin and the other person ends, yet you allow that person in your space and vice versa.
The goal, in general, would be to have strong, yet permeable boundaries. This means you know who you are and what your rights and responsibilities are, and you allow others to be uniquely who they are, without needing them to be something else to serve you.
How do you figure out what your boundaries are?
“Never make a decision when you are upset, jealous, or in love.” – Mario Teguh
Ultimately, you want to know yourself, your values, and your responsibilities. This exercise will help you identify what boundaries you do and do not have and where change is needed.
- First, identify any problems you are having in life. What is bothering you?
- Next, determine all the parties involved in the problem. Who is affected? How are you affected and what are your responsibilities in the relationship?
- What is it you want? Many times people with boundary problems are not even aware of what they want. It is important to know yourself so that you can identify your wants and needs.
- Determine who is responsible. Are you taking on another’s responsibilities? Identify who should be doing what in the situation.
- Know what your bottom-line behaviors are; what you will and will not put up with or do. These are your non-negotiables.
Remember this – boundaries are actions you take, not the other person. For instance, if you are tired of nagging your loved one to pick up his/her socks. Stop nagging and put his/her socks in a certain place like a basket, and move on. Don’t mention it; don’t act like a martyr; just take care of yourself and continue on with life.
How to set boundaries:
“What you do is your choice. What I put up with is mine.” – Cloud and Townsend
- Remember, boundaries are “I statements.” They are not about the other person.
- Expect resistance from yourself and the other person. You will have to work through your fears, and probably the underlying issues from your childhood or previous relationships where boundary setting was not allowed or tolerated. When you set boundaries with a psychologically unhealthy person you will experience pushback, even punishment.
- Give yourself permission to set the boundary. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself and do what is best for you. Even if you believe you are being selfish and you feel guilty, work through this belief and emotional system, and make a cognitive choice to stick to your guns. Remind yourself that this is being a mature grown-up.
What to do when you know your boundaries, but aren’t ready to set them:
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” – Amelia Earhart
Sometimes you may know what boundaries you want to set, but for whatever reason you are simply not ready to enforce them yet.
- Own what you want. State it verbally to yourself and someone else. Write it down.
- Figure out within yourself why it is difficult for you to set certain particular boundaries. Seek help as you learn more about your fears, insecurities, and blocks to setting boundaries.
- Take baby steps with the person you need to set the boundary with. Say “I” statements, such as, “I don’t agree to this,” or, “I cannot condone this.” Start verbalizing your truth and honor your voice. However, don’t make threats. Boundaries are not about threats. Just state your wants and realize that this is a process of growth for you. As time goes on you will become stronger at setting the boundaries by taking tangible actions to take care of yourself.
If you find yourself struggling with setting a boundary you know is good for you, have patience and grace. Don’t berate yourself. Remind yourself there’s a reason you’re struggling and you will resolve the issue in due time. In fact, to address this problem, set a boundary like this – “I will eliminate negative self-talk and will be patient with myself when making difficult decisions.”
You will become better at setting boundaries with practice. Keep in mind that boundaries are for you and you do not need to be a slave to them; nor do you need to be concerned with other people’s opinions about your boundaries. You have your own timing and needs, not anyone else’s. Part of the process of boundary setting is empowering yourself to decide what you will do and when you will do it, regardless of other people’s opinions.
“You are the author of your own life story. You have the leading role and get to determine how you interact with your supporting cast and other characters. Without realizing it, you may have allowed the events in your life to write your story for you rather than taking deliberate action to write it in your own voice. What will it take to love your life story to create the happy endings you desire?” – Susan C. Young
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Cloud, H. & Townsend, J. (1992). Boundaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Downing, K. (2013). Living and Thriving. Yorba Linda, CA: Changemyrelationship.com.