We know how important boundaries are in establishing identity, as well as maintaining mental and emotional wellbeing. So why do so many of us struggle with this skill?
Boundaries can be physical or emotional, and they range from being loose to rigid.
In a general sense, a boundary is a limit or space between you and another person. A boundary denotes a clear place where you begin, and another person ends.
Drawing healthy boundaries can be difficult. Especially at first. Often, people who have grown comfortable with their expectations of, or reliance on you will react negatively to your breach of pattern in behavior/thought when you first set a new boundary.
Even so, healthy relationships are built on authentic communication. They welcome diverse perspectives and even disagreement. Despite hierarchical structures within workplaces or even families, every individual must maintain the right to autonomous thinking and being. In families, workplaces or communities where groupthink is the only accepted metric, i.e.: "Everyone does X this way," individuals suffer greatly. And often, alone.
It takes tremendous courage, authenticity, and compassion to communicate and hold a boundary.
Perhaps boundaries are hard for you because you'd rather be pleasing and likable. Or maybe there are enmeshed relationships within your family. If as a child, your own boundaries were not protected (i.e. an authority figure took advantage of your vulnerability in some way) you may struggle with drawing your own boundaries as an adult. Recognizing this propensity is critical to establishing a new way of interaction in healthy relationships.
Despite the challenge, in order to live from our deepest sense of integrity, we each have to learn to express boundaries.
So how do we skillfully draw boundaries we can feel good about while maintaining our most important relationships?
Here are FOUR suggestions when it's time to draw a boundary.
Identify what needs to happen. What kind of boundary do you need, exactly? Is it loose? Is it a hard break? Decide what it is, and commit to stick with it. Once you communicate your boundary, it will be met with resistance. The key here is not to acquiesce. You WILL be triggered by guilt, shame, or whatever tactic was most commonly used in the relationship prior that upheld the unhealthy mode of being.
Share with the person or group exactly what you need. Speak in I Statements as opposed to telling the other all the things that they are doing wrong. You can only control yourself, not anyone else.
3. STAY SIMPLE
Avoid over explaining. Get clear on what exactly your boundary must be, and continue to repeat it as you are met with varying disagreements. Come up with a "mantra" to repeat in the midst of emotionally triggering discussions. You don't have to justify or make another person understand. You only need explain what YOU need for yourself, in simple terms. What you need cannot be protested. If it feels right to include a consequence, do not be afraid to do so.
4. MAINTAIN COMPASSION
Often, these difficult conversations come at the end of years of withholding true sentiment. They can be emotionally charged. In the heat of a disagreement, people say things they don't mean that can be hard to forget.
Relax knowing that the boundary you set will bring the peace you seek. Trust yourself. While the recipient may be caught off guard, you don't have to emotionally react with them. Have the conversation you'd be proud of later, and maintain compassion for all involved.
Boundaries can be difficult to put into place. But they can be beautiful in the truth that they inspire and allow. Here's to all of us communicating and living healthy boundaries so we may inspire others to do the same.
Below are some examples of healthy boundaries...
Deciding not to rescue a sibling, child, or parent - emotionally, with your time, financially, or otherwise, who regularly relies on your kindness and assistance
Choosing to spend a holiday differently even though your family "always does it this way"
Keeping the details of your partnership private, instead of sharing everything with your sister or mother
Choosing not to read your child's texts or diary
Charging for your time and services
Leaving a soul sucking job or boss for a more inspiring environment
Saying no to another project when you have enough on your plate
Confronting a co-worker who takes credit for your work
Reporting unethical behavior
Deciding to skip a gathering when you need rest
Letting a friend know when they've hurt you
Not texting or calling back immediately
Going to bed even though your partner stays up late
Choosing not to drink or do drugs even though it sounds fun
Planning a retreat for yourself
Partnering with someone who you love, even if your family doesn't understand
Choosing a different faith from your upbringing, or no faith at all
Making decisions for your body, mind, or spirit that others disagree with, but are right for you.