How do you want to feel in your relationships?
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries are limits you put on your own behavior to define what behaviors and actions belong to you, and what belongs to someone else. Your boundaries protect yourself and others from being hurt, both physically, and emotionally. Without boundaries, you will feel sad, taken advantage of, disrespected, angry and unloved. Start by determining how you want to feel.
You Know You Need Boundaries When:
- You are feeling resentful – When you do things for your family and others, instead of feeling generous, you feel resentful. Not always, of course, but often. It is great to give generously of your time and resources, but if it is not something you can or want to do at the time, you need a boundary.
- You are exhausted – If you feel like your schedule is jam-packed, and something has to give, you need a boundary. You are overworking yourself and not practicing self-care. Your boundary could be an uninterrupted time for self-care every day.
- You feel guilt/shame – You feel like you could/should be doing more to help other people, whether that is at home, at work, or with a friend. Someone could even be making you feel guilty for not helping them, or purposely making you feel ashamed about the person you are. Ask yourself, “Did they ask for help?”, “Is it within my means to help?”, “Is it something they could or should be doing for themselves right now?”, and “Do I want to help?”. These questions will help you decide if you need a boundary.
- You avoid asking for what you need or want – You are afraid that if you ask for what you need or want, you will be judged, disliked, or abandoned. You deserve to have (most of) the things you need and want. You need to set a boundary. This boundary could be as simple as asking your partner to be quieter, so as not wake you up when they come to bed.
- You can’t make decisions – It takes you hours, days, or months to make a decision. You’re a poller, meaning you poll everyone around you for their opinion before reluctantly making a decision. Or, maybe you rely on one or two people’s opinions to make a decision. It’s time to create a boundary around decision making.
- You don’t know what you like – When someone asks you to make a choice about something, you really cannot think of which one you like best. You can find pluses or minuses for each choice. They ask a simple question, like, “Do you want to go get tacos or burgers?” Spend some time thinking about what you like, and voice your opinion. Your boundary could be something like, getting to choose the new chair you like for the living room.
- You overshare – Information just flows from your mouth to anyone who will listen, the clerk at the clothing store, your neighbor, the lady in line at the post-office. You share something that is not for you to share. You share with people that you don’t even know if they are trustworthy yet. Oversharing is a sign of unresolved trauma, and it opens you up to allowing an untrustworthy person to hurt you again. You need a boundary. Instead, share over time with someone that has earned your trust.
Where To Start With Boundaries
I cannot claim to be an expert on boundaries, but I am learning. I can recognize when they are needed and have even set some successfully. The people in your life that you need to set boundaries around the most, will not like that you are setting a boundary. They may be offended, hurt or angry.
Start by making a list of your non-negotiables, things that are absolutely not okay for you, like hurting your kids, taking money from you, or physically hurting you, for example. Then add some things that people in your life have been doing that you are feeling resentment, guilt, shame, or other negative feelings about. I wrote more here about how to set boundaries.
It is easiest to start setting boundaries with people that feel safe. For me, that is people I am not likely to see again (waiters, store clerks, strangers, etc.), or people that I know will love me no matter what. I can decide how I want my food, and when it comes back the wrong way, I can ask for it to be changed. A few weeks ago, my daughter was served tacos with undercooked ground beef. It was actually still a little pink. I asked the waitress to take it back because I didn’t feel like it was safe to eat. And guess what? Nobody died! Nobody got angry with me! She was gracious and kind, and promptly brought us a new plate. Whew!
It was hardest for me to set boundaries with family members. There are a few that know me well, and know where it is easy to guilt or shame me. I had to set some strong boundaries there. Some were crossed, and I had to see them less, and then eventually cut contact.
You can set boundaries too, and most people will be fine with it. The people that are not, are giving you more information about your relationship with them. Stick to your boundaries and if they continue to cross them, it’s up to you to whether you want to continue the relationship.
This article has more about when you are the only one working at the relationship.