Setting Healthy Boundaries and Stick to them!
Personal Boundaries are the Road to Self - Love
A boundary is any limit I need to honor so I can love or work with you without resentment and with integrity.” - Dr. David Gruder
Personal boundaries are the heart, soul and substance of our beautiful self.
Energetically, your boundaries are where you begin and where someone else ends. In other words, boundaries define who you are and what you are willing to tolerate. They honour your self - respect and self - worth. they are the deepest act of self - care there is.
The basic foundation of any dynamic spiritual growth is to have a strong sense of "Integrity" - personal boundaries - a centered self identity. You cannot expand beyond the limitations you have until you have clearly identified your boundaries - where you end and another begins.
When does being ‘generous of spirit’ become ‘being a doormat’? When does being a ‘can do’ person become a problem? These are questions that many contend with as they learn about the concept of having and setting healthy boundaries. I see boundaries as the emotional and physical space that we place between others and ourselves. Setting proper boundaries is important to our mental, emotional, physical and professional health. When appropriate boundaries are not set, we run the risk of creating resentment, feeling depressed, overwhelmed and inauthentic. When poor boundaries are in place in a relationship we are either too detached or isolated, or too dependent on others.
It is your job to set and honour your boundaries!
When personal boundaries are underdeveloped or weak, you may not be able to hold your ground in the world and in relationships. Of course, the converse may be a problem too - if you have a too strong ego and will power, your boundaries may be so far expanded into someone else's space, perhaps in yours. Either case is a problem of personal integrity - one exhibits passive tendencies, the other arrogant or aggressive... or, someone may exhibit both (there are always two sides to every coin).
When you have a strong sense of integrity you will be able to say "NO!”, mean it and unshakably stand by it no matter what the consequences. As a child, most people were not given this power over themselves (being dominated by someone else's will) and are still in reaction to this in many aspects of their lives (perhaps exhibited as passive aggressive behaviors).
Boundaries are imaginary lines that help you protect yourself both physically and emotionally. They keep other's actions and behaviors from hurting, distracting, annoying, or imposing on you. Boundaries are limits you set on how others can treat you or behave around you. People treat you as you allow them to; however, you can actually teach others how to treat you based on how strong or weak your boundaries are.
Having boundaries are important for protecting your body, mind, and spirit. Setting boundaries can make an enormous impact on the quality of your health and life. It is a major step in taking control of your life and vital for taking responsibility for your self and your life. It is the one skill that you most need to develop in order to create the kind of life you really want. However, it's often the area where most people seem to have the most difficulties.
Setting boundaries will help you stand up for yourself, stop agreeing to do things you really don't want to do, and start feeling less guilty about putting your own needs first. It's a part of the process of defining yourself and what is acceptable to you. When you don't have boundaries set other people will step over the line without even realizing where it is.
Boundary setting is not about controlling others or getting other people to change (even though at first, it may seem that way). It's really about deciding what you will and won't tolerate any longer in your life, and then communicating this firmly and consistently whenever you need to.
Others may say you are doing this but they are really just not used to this more empowered and vocal side. Drawing boundaries is more about defining what is acceptable to you and letting others know about it in a peaceful, clear and certain way. Consistency is crucial in order to send a clear message that a new dynamic is present. Remember that very little will change if you set a boundary and don’t follow through. You are only responsible for your own feelings and it is important to remember that you cannot please everyone all of the time.
Clear messages: The messages are crystal clear and people understand what you mean.
Conflicting messages: The messages are conflicting and people are confused about what you mean.
Confused messages: The messages are cloudy and people have difficulty untangling what they mean.
Boundaries are essential to becoming a healthy adult and balancing your work and personal life effectively. They demonstrate your commitment to self-respect.
You'll need to identify where you need more space, self-respect, energy, and/or personal power. Begin this process by recognizing when you feel angry, frustrated, violated, or resentful. In these cases, you've often had a boundary "crossed". By becoming aware of situations that require you to have stronger limits, you can begin creating and communicating your new boundaries to others.
Learning to set healthy personal boundaries is necessary for maintaining a positive self-concept, or self-image. It is our way of communicating to others that we have self-respect, self-worth, and will not allow others to define us.
Personal boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others. Their presence helps us express ourselves as the unique individuals we are, while we acknowledge the same in others.
It would not be possible to enjoy healthy relationships without the existence of personal boundaries, or without our willingness to communicate them directly and honestly with others. We must recognize that each of us is a unique individual with distinct emotions, needs and preferences. This is equally true for our spouses, children and friends.
To set personal boundaries means to preserve your integrity, take responsibility for who you are, and to take control of your life. The first step, then, is to recognize that we have our own needs and values.
For many, even this can sound like a shock – that is how defenseless they have been. Immediately after this, a second recognition is vital. Just as you have your limits – so do other people. They have their own needs, wants, and feelings; just as you would want them to respect your boundaries, so would you have to respect theirs.
Know that you have a right to personal boundaries.
You not only have the right, but you must take responsibility for how you allow others to treat you. Your boundaries act as filters permitting what is acceptable in your life and what is not. If you don't have boundaries that protect and define you, as in a strong sense of identity, you tend to derive your sense of worth from others. To avoid this situation, set clear and decisive limits so that others will respect them, then be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them. Interestingly, it's been shown that those who have weak boundaries themselves tend to violate the boundaries of others.
Recognize that other people's needs and feelings are not more important than your own.
Saying ‘no’ can be difficult. We are taught to be accommodating. Women in particular seem to battle with the struggle of empowering their ‘no’ without guilt. Many women have traditionally thought that the needs of their husbands and children are more important than their own. This is not only untrue, but it can undermine the healthy functioning of the family dynamic. If a woman is worn out mentally and physically from putting everyone else first, she not only destroys her own health, she in turn deprives her family of being fully engaged in their lives. Instead, she should encourage every family member to contribute to the whole as well as take care of himself or herself. Putting themselves last is not something only women do, but many men as well.
Co-dependence will ensue and your sense of self-esteem can rise and fall based on other’s opinions, moods and tones. Your own emotions and limits become subjugated to other people’s wants and needs. A person with low self-value will have the subconscious agenda to do whatever the other person wants in order to not be abandoned and to be accepted.
Feeling and behaving like a hostage in a relationship is a common feeling when boundaries are unhealthy.
One acts in specific ways to avoid anger or conflict of any sort. Doing and saying things that are not authentic in order to be liked can facilitate a boundary-less relationship. Other examples may include loaning money you don’t want to give and giving gifts or doing favours that are beyond your means or inappropriate. Self-empowerment, therefore, takes a back seat and resentment becomes the main currency in the relationship. With poor boundaries, relationships become a scary place that one cannot relax and be genuine in and isolation becomes a preferred mode of self-protection. Conversely, clinging and doing whatever the other wants can also ensue. Either scenario is defeating.
Learn to say no.
Remember that setting boundaries is a way to fully honor and respect yourself.
Many of us are people-pleasers and often put ourselves at a disadvantage by trying to accommodate everyone. We don't want to be selfish, so we put our personal needs on the back burner and agree to do things that may not be beneficial to our well-being. Actually, a certain amount of "selfishness" is necessary for having healthy personal boundaries. You do not do anyone any favors, least of all yourself, by trying to please others at your own expense.
You can control your own response by delivering your request gracefully to another person, but you cannot control their response or behavior to your request. People who continuously refuse to respect and honor your boundaries are clearly not willing to change. The change you need to see may come from yourself. Be sure that you have provided direct requests and communicated your boundaries consistently.
Here is a practice for you to develop your personal space - your ego-will.
Go into your room or some personal private area where you feel safe to connect to the universe and your God/Higher Self. Say loud, use the full power of your voice and say: NO, NO, NO
See how this makes you feel. There is no one there but you and God. No one is saying this is wrong, or you must say "Yes". "NO" is allowed and acceptable, if that is what is in your heart. It is your choice. In fact, if you cannot say "NO" with firmness and commitment, can you truly say "Yes" to life? It is two sides to the same coin, and both must be honored alike (for balance, you may also practice the reverse and say "YES" over and over).
The next step in this practice is to say "No" to someone in your life you have always said "Yes" to (or vice versa). You may tell them you are doing this as a practice. See what happens. If you truly have a free and accepting relationship where this other person honors all your choices as a sovereign individual, then they will equally receive and honor your "No" with as much love and acceptance as a "Yes". When you do this practice, choose what you say "No" to another very carefully, something that is just about your life and your boundaries. Be prepared for any response from this other person. Remember, this is a test of your boundaries - your integrity - and to what extent other people around you are honoring of that. It is also a test of how unconditionally loving and accepting the other person is of you. Remember... when you start to claim your personal space, you must also give others their space.
Identify the actions and behaviors that you find unacceptable.
Let others know when they've crossed the line, acted inappropriately, or disrespected you in any way. Do not be afraid to tell others when you need emotional and physical space. Allow yourself to be who you really are without pressure from others to be anything else. Know what actions you may need to take if your wishes aren't respected.
Personal boundaries are limits or borders that define where you end and others begin.
Your personal boundary is defined by the amount of physical and emotional space you allow between yourself and others. Personal boundaries also help you decide what types of communication, behavior and interaction you accept from others. The type of boundaries you set defines whether you have healthy or unhealthy relationships.
The two main types of boundaries are physical and emotional.
Your physical boundaries need to be strong in order to protect you from harm. For example, if you have a deep wound and it goes untreated you expose yourself to infection which can result in serious, life threatening consequences; therefore protecting your boundaries is essential for optimal health.
Physical boundaries include your body, your sense of personal space, sexual orientation and privacy. Other physical boundaries involve clothes, shelter, safety, money, space, noise, etc.
Emotional and intellectual boundaries are just as important. They protect your sense of self-esteem, and your ability to separate your feelings from the feelings of others. When you have weak emotional boundaries it’s like getting caught in the midst of a hurricane with no protection. You expose yourself to being greatly affected by others feelings and can end up feeling bruised, wounded and battered.
They also include beliefs, behaviors, choices, relationships, responsibilities, and your ability to be intimate with others.
Trust and believe in yourself.
You are the highest authority on you. You know yourself best. You know what you need, want, and value. Don't let anyone else make the decisions for you. Healthy boundaries make it possible for you to respect your strengths, abilities and individuality as well as those of others. An unhealthy imbalance occurs when you encourage neediness, or are needy; want to be rescued, or are the rescuer, or when you choose to play the victim.
Examples of emotional and intellectual boundary invasions are:
- Taking responsibility for another’s feelings. Not knowing how to separate your feelings from your partners and allowing their moods to dictate your level of happiness, sadness, etc.
- Sacrificing your plans, dreams, and goals in order to please others.
- Not taking responsibility for your self and blaming others for your problems.
- Telling others what to think, feel, behave, etc.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Boundaries
Setting boundaries is essential if we want to be both physically and emotionally healthy. Strong boundaries help maintain balance, self-respect and allow us to be interdependent in intimate relationships. A lack of boundaries is like leaving the door to your home wide open, anyone, including welcome and un-welcome guests can walk in without hesitation. Having rigid boundaries leads to loneliness and isolation and is akin to living in a fortress with no opening in sight. You can’t get out and no one can penetrate your walls. This leads to problems in intimacy in significant relationships. Unhealthy boundaries cause us deep emotional pain that can lead to dependency, depression, anxiety and physical illness.
People with low self-esteem have their major difficulties in relationships with others.
This is because they are unable to establish healthy boundaries or limits with people. The reason, for this inability, is that with low self-esteem comes a variety of irrational thoughts, emotions and actions which leads people to lose themselves in relationships with others. This absorption of self into others leads to a loss of personal internal control.
People with low self-esteem have a weakened "internal locus of control" and become dependent on a strong "external locus of control." They become victims to being controlled by how others think, feel about and act towards them.
People with low self-esteem are dependent on others' approval and recognition and are therefore fearful of rejection by and conflict with others. It has been estimated in the self-esteem literature that over 90 percent of us are suffering from low self-esteem at one degree or another. Therefore most people in relationships are currently suffering from low self-esteem or recovering from it.
People with low self-esteem often have the irrational need to have "perfect" relationships and as a result they are often in competition for control to make their relationships be the way they think they should be. This competition results in the relationships' health deteriorating and eventually the relationship partners finds themselves in vacuous relationships with deep resentments and hurts. The partners find that they resent the others because of the belief that after giving and giving and giving they have nothing left of themselves to keep the relationships alive and well.The following checklist can give you a basic idea about the current state of your set of boundaries in your life.
A Boundary is the:
- Emotional and physical space between you and another person.
- Demarcation of where you end and another begins and where you begin and another ends.
- Limit or line over which you will not allow anyone to cross because of the negative impact of its being crossed in the past.
- Established set of limits over your physical and emotional well-being which you expect others to respect in their relationship with you.
- Emotional and physical space you need in order to be the real you without the pressure from others to be something that you are not.
- Emotional and/or physical perimeter of your life which is or has been violated when you were emotionally, verbally, physically and/or sexually abused.
- Healthy emotional and physical distance you can maintain between you and another so that you do not become overly enmeshed and/or dependent.
- Appropriate amount of emotional and physical closeness you need to maintain so that you and another do not become too detached and/or overly independent.
- Balanced emotional and physical limits set on interacting with another so that you can achieve an interdependent relationship of independent beings who do not lose their personal identity, uniqueness and autonomy in the process.
- Clearly defined limits within which you are free to be yourself with no restrictions placed on you by others as to how to think, feel or act.
- Set of parameters which make you a unique, autonomous and free individual who has the freedom to be a creative, original, idiosyncratic problem solver.
To Built Healthy Boundaries You need to
- Building trust
- Handling insecurity
- Handling fear of rejection
- Becoming a risk taker
- Handling intimacy
- Becoming vulnerable
- Goal setting in relationships
- Overcoming fears
- Improving assertive behaviour
- Handling guilt
- Handling conflict
- Developing detachment
- Developing self – control
- Accepting responsibility
- Overcoming the role of victim or martyr
- Handling the use of power and control
- Handling confrontation
- Handling forgiving and forgetting
- Creating a healing environment
- Eliminating over dependency
- Eliminating passive aggressiveness
- Eliminating manipulation
- Developing survival behaviours
Signs of unhealthy boundaries
- Trusting no one
- Trusting everyone
- Black and white thinking
- Telling all
- Talking at an intimate level on the first meeting
- Being overwhelmed by the person – preoccupied
- Acting on the first sexual impulse
- Being sexual for partner, not self
- Going against personal values or rights to please others
- Not noticing when someone invades your boundaries
- Emotional ,verbal, Sexual and physical abuse
- Food abuse
- Accepting food, gifts, touch, sex, that you don’t want
- Touching a person without asking
- Taking as much as you can for the sake of getting
- Giving as much as you can for the sake of giving
- Allowing someone to take as much as they can from you
- Letting others describe your reality
- Believing others can anticipate your needs
- Excepting others to fill your needs automatically
- Falling apart so someone will take care of you
Signs of Ignored Boundaries
You can tell boundaries are being ignored if there are one or more of the following characteristic symptoms:
This symptom requires everyone to follow the rule that everyone must do everything together and that everyone is to think, feel and act in the same way. No one is allowed to deviate from the family or group norms. Everyone looks homogeneous.
Uniqueness, autonomy and idiosyncratic behaviors are viewed as deviations from the norm. Disassociation:
This symptom involves blanking out during a stressful emotional event. You feel your physical and/or emotional space being violated and you tell yourself something like: "It doesn't matter." "Ignore it and it will go away soon enough.'' "No sense in fighting it, just hang on and it will be over soon.'' "Don't put up a struggle or else it will be worse for you.'' This blanking out results in your being out of touch with your feelings about what happened. It also may result in your inability to remember what happened.
This symptom occurs when neither you nor anyone else in the group or family is able to establish any fusion of emotions or affiliation of feelings. Everyone is totally independent from everyone else and there doesn't seem to be anything to hold you and them together in healthy union. You and they seem to lack a common purpose, goal, identity or rationale for existing together. There is a seeming lack of desire from you and the other members to draw together to form a union because you fear loss of personal identity.
Victimhood or Martyrdom:
In this symptom, you identify yourself as a violated victim and become overly defensive to ward off further violation. Or it can be that once you accept your victimization you continue to be knowingly victimized and then let others know of your martyrdom.
Chip on the Shoulder:
This symptom is reflected in your interactions with others. Because of your anger over past violation of your emotional and/or physical space and the real or perceived ignoring of your rights by others, you have a "chip on your shoulder'' that declares "I dare you to come too close!''
This symptom involves your pulling in or over-controlling so that others even yourself never know how you are really feeling or what you are really thinking. Your goal is not to be seen or heard so that your boundaries are not violated.
Aloofness or Shyness:
This symptom is a result of your insecurity from real or perceived experiences of being ignored, roved or rejected in the past. This feels like a violation of your efforts to expand or stretch your boundaries to include others in your space. Once rejected you take the defensive posture to reject others before they reject you. This keeps you inward and unwilling or fearful of opening up your space to others.
Cold and Distant:
This symptom builds walls or barriers to insure that others do not permeate or invade your emotional or physical space. This too can be a defense, due to previous hurt and pain, from being violated, hurt, ignored or rejected. This stance is your declaration that "I've drawn the line over which I dare you to cross.'' It is a way to keep others out and put them off.
This symptom results when another is overly solicitous of your needs and interests. This cloying interest is overly intrusive into your emotional and physical space. It can be so overwhelming that you feel like you are being strangled, held too tightly and lack freedom to breathe on your own. You feel violated, used and overwhelmed.
Lack of Privacy:
This symptom is present when you feel that nothing you think, feel or do is your own business. You are expected to report to others in your family or group all the detail and content of your feelings, reactions, opinions, relationships and dealings with the outside world. You begin to feel that nothing you experience can be kept in the privacy of your own domain. You begin to believe you don't have a private domain or your own space into which you can escape to be your own person.
Rational Boundary Building Thinking
These are just a few examples of unhealthy thoughts or beliefs which allow boundaries to be ignored or violated. Following each unhealthy belief is a more healthy, rational, realistic, reality-based affirmation for healthy boundary building.
Unhealthy: I can never say "no'' to others.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I have a right to say "no'' to others if it is an invasion of my space or a violation of my rights. I'm able to say NO.
Unhealthy: It is my duty to hold them together.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I have a right to take care of myself. If they want to stay together as a family or group, it is up to each individual to make such a decision. They all have equal responsibility to create the interdependency needed to keep us a united group.
Unhealthy: I can never trust anyone again.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I have a right to take the risk to grow in my relationships with others. If I find my space or rights are being violated or ignored, I can assertively protect myself to ensure I am not hurt.
Unhealthy: I would feel guilty if I did something on my own and left my family or group out of it.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I have the right and need to do things which are uniquely mine so that I do not become so overly enmeshed with others that I lose my identity.
Unhealthy: I should do everything I can to spend as much time together with you or else we won't be a healthy family or group.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I have a right and a need to explore my own interests, hobbies and outlets so that I can bring back to this family or group my unique personality to enrich our lives rather than be lost in a closed and over enmeshed system.
Unhealthy: It doesn't matter what they are doing to me. As long as I keep quiet and don't complain, they will eventually leave me alone.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I will never again allow my space and rights to be violated. I will stand up for myself and assert my rights to be respected and not hurt or violated. If they choose to ignore me, then I have the right to leave them or ask them to get out of my life.
Unhealthy: As long as I am not seen or heard, I won't be violated or hurt.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I have a right to be visible and to be seen and heard. I will stand up for myself so that others can learn to respect my rights, my needs and not violate my space.
Unhealthy: I'd rather not pay attention to what is happening to me in this relationship which is overly intrusive, smothering and violating my privacy. In this way I don't have to feel the pain and hurt that comes from such a violation.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I choose no longer to disassociate from my feelings when I am being treated in a negatively painful way so that I can be aware of what is happening to me and assertively protect myself from further violation or hurt.
Unhealthy: I've been hurt badly in the past and I will never let anyone in close enough to hurt me again.
Healthy Boundary Builder: I do not need to be cold and distant or aloof and shy as protective tools to avoid being hurt. I choose to open myself up to others trusting that I will be assertive to protect my rights and privacy from being violated.
Unhealthy: I can never tell where to draw the line with others.
Healthy Boundary Builder: There is a line I have drawn over which I do not allow others to cross. This line ensures me my uniqueness, autonomy and privacy. I am able to be me the way I really am rather than the way people want me to be by drawing this line. By this line I let others know: this is who I am and where I begin and you end; this is who you are and where you begin and I end; we will never cross over this line so that we can maintain a healthy relationship with one another.
How to Establish Healthy Boundaries
In order to establish healthy boundaries between yourself and others, you need to:
- First: Identify the symptoms of your boundaries currently being or having been violated or ignored.
- Second: Identify the irrational or unhealthy thinking and beliefs by which you allow your boundaries to be ignored or violated.
- Third: Identify new, more rational, healthy thinking and beliefs which will encourage you to change your behaviors so that you build healthy boundaries between you and others.
- Fourth: Identify new behaviors you need to add to your healthy boundary building behaviors repertoire in order to sustain healthy boundaries between you and others.
- Fifth: Implement the healthy boundary building beliefs and behaviors in your life so that your space, privacy and rights are no longer ignored or violated.
Steps to Establishing Healthy Boundaries
- Step 1: In order to motivate yourself to establish healthy boundaries in your life, you first need to do a self-assessment if any symptoms of ignored or violated boundaries exist in your life. In your journal, record which of the following symptoms exist for you. For each symptom identified, detail what was the stimulus in your past for this behavior. Also detail how this symptom affects your current life. Lastly, describe how you feel about this symptom's affect on your life.
The Violated or Ignored Boundaries Symptoms
- Excessive detachment
- Victimhood or martyrdom
- Chip on the shoulder
- Aloofness or shyness
- Cold and distant
- Lack of privacy
- Step 2: Once you have identified the symptoms of your boundaries being ignored or violated and what the stimulus was for these symptoms, then you need to identify in your journal what unhealthy thoughts or irrational beliefs you have which led you to have your boundaries violated or ignored.
- Step 3: After you have the irrational beliefs and unhealthy thoughts identified, then in your journal write down affirmations which are healthy boundary builders. You will need these boundary builders as you begin to take steps to protect your rights, privacy and personal space.
- Step 4: In order to ensure your healthy boundaries are maintained, you next need to add the following behaviors to your healthy boundary builders repertoire. Each healthy boundary-builder behavior is linked to a respective Tools for Coping Series topic. To ensure the healthy boundary-building behaviors are in place, work out in your journal each of the "Steps to" sections of the boundary-builder behavior topics referenced.
- Once you have completed acquiring the healthy boundary-building behaviors, then begin to implement them as you proceed in your relationships at home, work and in your community. If you find you are still experiencing your emotional and/or physical boundaries being ignored or violated, then return to Step 1 and begin again.