One of my key phrases is “this is my box.” I define boundaries as this box that you can draw around yourself that set the limits on the behavior you will and will not tolerate. You really do teach people how to treat you. It’s possible to set healthy boundaries without offending the people you love. By making the following few changes within yourself and learning how to set boundaries, you will actually begin to notice changes in others. I promise!
The first step to drawing boundaries is figuring out where to draw them.
This came easily to me after getting out of an abusive relationship a decade ago.
I knew exactly what I never wanted to tolerate ever again.
There are some basic human rights that everyone is entitled to.
Decide what you are and are not okay with. Is it okay if your significant other calls you a name?
I don’t think anyone, anywhere should ever accept this.
Physical abuse is another obvious no.
What about the gray areas?
What if visitors drop by unannounced when you are in the middle of something?
Does that excite you or fill you with dread?
When you play out scenarios in your mind, your gut will tell you what actions aren’t consistent with your boundaries.
Then you just have to follow a few basic steps to protect against them.
You will always attract the behavior you tolerate.
How to Enforce Boundaries in Relationships
Having boundaries but not enforcing them is the same as not having any boundaries at all.
In enforcing and reinforcing your boundaries, you are setting the limits of behavior that you will or will not tolerate.
It is important to remember that you are setting these boundaries because you stand for something. What you stand for should also include dignity and respect – for yourself and others.
This means being able to handle respectfully those that are not acting consistently with our boundaries.
No matter how good it would feel to lose all control and lash out at someone for daring to tap dance on your boundary walls (believe me, I know…I’m working on it), this only invites negativity into your world.
Our personal worlds are of our own making. It is up to us to fill them with positivity and good while rejecting and protecting against the bad.
What does enforcing boundaries look like?
In the scenarios above, when a significant other uses a hurtful name or language, the relationship is at risk…but so is our self-esteem and dignity.
Immediately, it is important to interrupt the situation and draw your boundary – “I want to talk about this with you, but I can’t if you use hurtful language.”
No matter what, an argument is not worth your dignity or self-worth.
Walk away from the abusive language and continue the conversation when respect is present.
If someone develops a pattern of showing up to your home unannounced, and this is in violation of one of your boundaries, refuse to answer the door.
Remember, you do not owe an excuse to anyone.
To offer one is to ask for a retort and a possible argument.
You weren’t expecting company, so you aren’t accepting any.
If asked about this later, it is okay to say “Unless I’m expecting visitors, I don’t answer the door.”
Remember that we DO teach people how to treat us.
If you give in to a behavior, you are reinforcing it.
By accepting a significant other’s insults, we are teaching them that to act in such a way is okay with us.
We will still be in their lives, and will also be available for more doses of disrespect the next time they are in a bad mood or are upset with us.
This is not okay.
By refusing to stay present for this behavior, we are taking away the payoff.
Our spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc. no longer is getting the release offered by calling a name or spewing insults.
By refusing to answer the door in our second example, we take away the payoff from the visitor.
Their payoff previously was our attention.
In ignoring their requests for attention, they will learn that unannounced visits are no longer a fruitful way of vying for our companionship.
How to Politely Set Boundaries
Setting boundaries is not easy.
People tend to bounce against the walls we build around us because they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable for them.
Those in our lives are used to treating us a certain way and us simply tolerating it.
When they no longer receive the payoff, they push against our new boundary hoping to break it and regain the control over us that they once enjoyed.
Do not give away your own control.
By practicing our boundary setting in every instance, we are training ourselves and others that this is now the way we operate.
These are now the things that we’ll put up with.
There are also a few actions, words, etc. that are now off-limits.
In setting these firm boundaries and not budging on them, we are learning to love ourselves more completely.
This is a beautiful thing because when you respect and love yourself, others tend to follow suit.
In the cases where they do not, we will now have a much lower tolerance for boundary-busting behaviors and can act accordingly.
How to Set Boundaries with Family
We live far from family, but it seems that all of our friends that live close to family members struggle with this.
Either in laws dropping by unannounced or unrealistic expectations about accepting invitations.
Listen, I understand that navigating family relationships is tricky, but it really does boil down to the steps we discussed above.
The things I see again and again that keep our friends stuck comes down to two things.
Fear of confrontation and internalizing others’ emotions.
Let’s talk about each of these.
First of all, you must MUST understand this one key thing in order to develop healthy boundaries with family members or anyone else.
You do NOT have to take part in every argument you’re invited to.
Also, “no” is a complete sentence.
Your desire to have a happier life has to be stronger than your desire to not upset those that are expecting more from you than you want to give.
The steps are simply to decide on your boundary, notify others (respectfully) of that boundary, and then refuse to budge.
All of these steps can happen respectfully and without yelling or confrontation.
The thing every single one of our friends that is going through family confrontations misses is that it isn’t easy.
OF COURSE your family members that are used to getting too much of you are going to hate it when you start reclaiming your time and your life.
Eventually, each of those people will realize that you’re serious about your boundary and will be forced to respect it to maintain a place in your life.
This isn’t wrong on your part.
It’s what you owe to the family members that live under your roof.
It doesn’t matter if sister in law does it differently or so and so’s daughter happily allows people to drop in unannounced or is present at every single family function.
You’re entitled to make your own rules for your own children.
Listen, if we have to be adults and pay bills and make appointments and other stressful stuff, we damn sure deserve to say no when we want to.
What to do When People Don’t Respect Boundaries
Try as we might, some people will refuse to conform to our boundaries.
This is especially true of those closest to us, because just as we are practicing how to build these boundaries, difficult people or “boundary-busters” often have years of practice under their belts in not acting according to our new limits.
This makes it uncomfortable for them to follow our new rules.
While it is understandable that not being able to simply treat us how they always have may be troubling for someone, drawing this boundary is also an understandable tool.
Those capable of respect will likely begin to resign themselves to the fact that this is our new norm and will begin to act according to our wishes, whether they necessarily agree with us or not.
In the few cases where our friends or family members refuse to respect our boundaries, we need to continue to enforce them for ourselves and begin to minimize interaction with those that refuse to offer us that respect.
As time goes on and you develop more and more practice in setting boundaries, it will be far easier to recognize a boundary-buster in your life.
This negativity doesn’t serve any useful purpose and it is necessary to protect the new pattern of respect we are working so hard to establish.
Eventually, those difficult people may come on board with us and our new demands for respect.
If not, ask yourself how important it is to you to have someone in your life who refuses to respect or care about your wishes.
My guess is that as your boundary building (and subsequent self-esteem building – remember those with strong self-esteem are also those with strong boundaries) continues, you will have less and less desire for boundary-busters in your inner circle. Less negativity, more positivity.
While in some ways setting firm boundaries may seem a little too strict, it is so important to remember that the boundary-setter is not the only one benefiting.
By loving ourselves and refusing to give so much of our time, self-respect, and dignity away so haphazardly, we are able to better love and give to those around us.
By setting these limits, we now have the ability to choose where to best direct our energy and how to best serve those that need our care and attention, without having it robbed from us. Boundaries are an incredible thing.
As limiting as they may seem to others at first, boundaries are truly so freeing for the boundary setter.
Having boundaries means no longer having to endure anxiety regarding difficult people around us because we now have taken back the power in our own lives. We can act according to what is important to us while continuing to respect others.
- Begin soul searching. Meditate on what your ideal life would look like and how others would treat you.
• Scribble down a few non-negotiable boundaries that you may already follow.
• Write down 3 things you are grateful for and try to make this a habit. Before you close your eyes at night, think about 3 things from that day that were wonderful – I had a roof over my head, I made it to work on time, I have a warm bed to sleep in tonight. Feel grateful!
Do you have issues setting boundaries with the people in your life? How do you feel it affects you? What’s holding you back from setting some limits with people? Let me know in the comments!