Do you often find yourself eating at restaurants that were not your choice? Are you regularly leaving work late because your boss asks you to do one last thing before you go? Do you feel taken advantage of? If you constantly find yourself unsatisfied in relationships, whether they be work-related or personal, it is likely that you have lost sight of your boundaries in the process of appeasing those around you.
There are limits to how far we can go to satisfy others at the expense of our own well-being. Think of boundaries as lines drawn in the sand that separate who you are from what others want you to be. The farther you travel from your starting place, sidestepping the marks that represent your values, the more distanced you grow from being your most authentic self. Of course, it is important to embark on new journeys, try new things, and evolve as maturing humans. However, if in doing so you lose touch with who you are, then your mental health will surely suffer.
That feeling of dread that awaits you at the front door of your friend’s house, a friend who time and time again has pushed you into uncomfortable situations – does not stem from bravery or pride. It is an indication that you have sacrificed yourself and your needs so many times that resentment has set in. When these feelings arise, a solution needs to be found to mend that relationship.
Although intimidating at first, setting boundaries is a natural process and can be broken down into three basic components: Defining, Enacting, and Maintaining. By understanding your boundaries, defining those limits to other people, and following through with them, you will both gain satisfaction from your interactions with others, and grow more confident in yourself.
Let’s explore setting boundaries a little more closely
- Explore Your Values: Through introspection, identify what your personal values in life are (safety, respect, financial security, etc.) and make it your priority to maintain and protect them. This will not only help you gain clarity into who you are, but it will also serve as encouragement for pursuing boundary setting, especially for those who find it daunting. Although you may be struggling with an immediate desire to set a boundary with a specific person, this should be a lifelong practice. If not, it is bound to be an issue in future relationships, so put in the work now.
- Identify the Problem and Pose a Solution: Clearly locate the point of contention between yourself and the other person, and then determine what changes need to be made to alleviate your discomfort. Since the purpose of setting boundaries with others is to propose a solution to the person who is causing you harm (consciously or not), it is critical that you have a firm understanding of what exactly is causing your feelings of frustration. Remember that small problems are usually easier to address than ones that have had time to fester and increase in severity. So, even if you feel as though your concerns are unwarranted, keep in mind that 1) any situation that makes you uncomfortable is worth addressing, and 2) that you might be preventing now what could become a more serious issue later.
- Communicate Your Boundary: Although it may cause you some stress to carry this out, now comes the time for action. When approaching someone to set a boundary, keep these 3 tips in mind:
- Be polite: This is not a personal attack against anyone, so stay calm and try not to let your emotions cause you to raise your voice or act out of frustration.
- Be straightforward and thorough: This conversation is intended to be a one-time explanation of your needs, so be direct and mean what you say.
- Never apologize: Providing drawn-out explanations or apologizing gives the impression that you are doing something wrong… which you aren’t! A true friend or person with whom you share mutual respect will understand the value of you setting boundaries.
- Following Through: If ever you feel as though the person with whom you’ve set a boundary has failed to respect your needs, do not hesitate to call them out on it! Naturally, people will feel inclined to act in a way that aligns with their own personal (selfish…) interests, and as such, certain individuals may need more frequent reminders that they’re crossing the line again. This is a natural part of the process, and you will find it much easier to handle missteps each time they occur. So, rather than waiting until someone goes against you five, six, or seven times before you call them out – interject as soon as you notice that your boundary has been overstepped.
Boundary setting can often be confused with being selfish. As a society, we are praised for being selfless, giving of our time and sympathetic to other people’s needs. Therefore, anything seeming the opposite to that comes off as selfish. So, people can misinterpret your boundary setting as you are being selfish. But consider it more as self-preservation. If you constantly give pieces of yourself away, whether it’s your time, your energy or your money, you will be left feeling overwhelmed, resentful, and anxious among other things.
Like most things, becoming a master of setting boundaries takes time and practice, so don’t beat yourself up if your first attempt doesn’t go exactly to plan. So long as you stay true to your values and maintain respect for your needs, you will fall into a groove of effortlessly advocating for yourself. Until then, trust yourself and voice your concerns with others, because security is your number one priority.