Boundaries are essentially the rules and principles you live by in terms of what you will or will not allow. They are actually your bottom line. Setting boundaries is not about being selfish. It’s about self-love. Love can’t exist without boundaries. The most important thing to understand about boundaries is that its about your relationship with yourself and your values, therefore they should be consistent and not change depending on who you are dealing with. Your boundaries are your values and it’s important that you are very clear about what they are. Boundaries are all about how much or how little respect you have for yourself. People with no boundaries are often the ones who have little or no self-worth.
Boundaries are learned, so if you grew up in a household where boundaries were not set by parents, or as a child your boundaries were not valued, you will grow up to realise you have little to no boundaries in place. There is an art to setting boundaries. If you try to communicate them with anger or by nagging, they simply won’t be heard and you will become frustrated. Boundaries are best set by being calm, assertive, firm and courteous towards others. Let’s explore ways on how we can best set boundaries for ourselves:
- Decide who you are and what your core values are. You need to figure out what you are and aren’t comfortable with. Work out where that line is. What are your values for work, relationships, friendships etc. You need to be clear on what matters to you most, and then you need to communicate this with others. Always make your boundaries about you, not about the other people that you are involved with. A good way to determine this is how certain things make you feel. If you walk away from a situation or person and feel down, guilty, bullied, angry or any other negative emotion, it’s a good sign your values have been compromised.
• Mean what you say. It’s important that you clearly communicate your boundaries. What’s the point in having a whole list of healthy boundaries if you don’t communicate them to others that you are involved with. By not communicating our boundaries, we create confusion in our relationships and often feel “taken for granted”. It’s also important to not contradict yourself. Therefore, if you say something, ensure that you follow through with it. It can be scary sometimes telling people what we truly want out of fear of rejection and we often conceal our true feelings out of fear of people’s reactions. However, in order for you to have firm boundaries in place, it is important that you mean what you say, and that you are consistent.
• What are the consequences of your boundaries being crossed? It’s important that you take some time and decide ahead of time what the consequences are at the beginning and communicate this to others. For example, if a friend calls you during work hours when you’ve told them you are unable to answer the phone during that time, simply don’t answer the call. The best way to work out the consequences of your boundaries being crossed, is by having some alone time, and working out what’s acceptable to you and what you are comfortable with in terms of consequences. Don’t set up consequences that you will not follow through with, as this will set you up for failure and show others that your boundaries are weak. This is all about you and honouring your needs. Write it down so you know.
• Know that you can’t change others, you have to change yourself. We cannot change others nor can we control what comes out of their mouth, the choices that they make, how they react to certain life situations etc. So, what can we do? Since we cannot get into someone’s head and make them change the way they act, talk, respond, etc. we can only change the way we deal with them. We can also change the way we think about the situation so that it doesn’t have as much control over us. The only way others can change is if they see their old ways no longer work. So, change the way you respond to them.
• Actions speak louder than words. Your behaviour speaks louder than your words. Present your boundaries to people and then back it up with your actions. People will test, push and disrespect your limits but you need to remain resolute about what your boundaries are. When you get better at this, you will not emotionally react to people who push your boundaries. How great is that?!
It takes time, support and self-evaluation to be able to set effective boundaries. Assertiveness and self-awareness are the first steps in achieving this. Remember that it always comes back to your self-worth and values and what you will and won’t accept for yourself. You know yourself better than anyone and only you can determine what you need, want and value. You will know when you have created healthy boundaries as you will have improved self-confidence, communicate better with others, have more fulfilling relationships, feel empowered and have more stability in your life.