What is a personal boundary?
A personal boundary is a guideline or limit you create to let another person know how you want to be treated. Boundaries can be physical, emotional or energetic. Here are some boundaries that you might set with people in your life. These are from the book Boundaries, by Dr. Cloud, and Dr. Townsend.
- Saying No- telling the person you can’t, or you won’t do what they are asking
- Telling the truth- letting the person know you don’t like to do that thing, you feel uncomfortable, or you don’t like something, etc.
- Geographical distance- leaving the room or place where that person is
- Time- not seeing or speaking to the person for a certain time period
- Emotional distance- guarding your heart for a while, until the other person changes their behavior
- Other people- spending time with people that support you in holding up your boundaries (This should be someone that feels safe, like a friend, counselor, coach or support group.)
- Consequences- a result or effect of an unwelcome action (such as, not giving a family member your car keys after they were irresponsible with the car last time)
You know you need boundaries, but where do you start?
I knew I needed stronger boundaries after my divorce and my ex was telling my kids that I was a pushover. They were young at the time, and I didn’t think that was an appropriate thing for him to talk about with them. He was someone that pushed my boundaries often.
I didn’t really know where to start with boundaries. How could I keep him from treating me in hurtful ways? I had been used to stuffing down my emotions for so long. Sometimes I didn’t even realize when someone was crossing a boundary.
The first thing I had to do is decide what is acceptable to me and what is a nonnegotiable. The nonnegotiables came easier. Most of them had to do with my kids at first. He could not leave my daughter unattended at gymnastics. He could not berate my son at his baseball game while he was trying to bat. Some of them had to do with me. He could not talk me to death over an issue to get his way anymore.
Make a list of things that are nonnegotiables for you. Then add the things that you know you don’t want to happen. You can always add to your list when you think of more things.
Think about how you will enforce those boundaries
For each item on your boundary list you need to decide how you will handle it if it comes up. Write it down because when the situation arises, we empaths are good at making excuses for why we can’t enforce our boundary at that moment. (The kids were listening. He was leaving. She was having a bad day.)
Now, communicate your boundaries to the other person when the time is right. You can say something like, “You know, I was thinking about the last time you didn’t show up on time to get our kids, and it made me late for a meeting. The next time that happens, I will have to find someone else to watch them, and you’ll have to lose your night with them.”
Oh, the person you are setting a boundary with will probably be angry or defensive. But, only if they are not happy about you asserting yourself and keeping them from getting their way. A person that respects you will most likely apologize and agree to your conditions.
Many people were not happy with my boundaries, and it caused a lot of stress for me. Thankfully, I had a good support system and life was much easier after those people I had to set boundaries with learned I was not backing down.
If you are not sure what consequences to set for people that cross your boundaries, read my blog post on consequences here.
boundaries are important for the empath's health
Boundaries are necessary for everyone, but an empath sometimes has a hard time setting them. We are careful about hurting other people’s feelings and maybe have even learned from a young age to give in to the needs of others. We’re “goodists” as Dr. John Sarno calls us, wanting to always be a good person. But, you can still be a good person and have healthy boundaries at the same time.
Having poor boundaries affects your health, because when you give in to others, you begin to resent it. Resentment causes anger and stress, even if you are someone who pushes down those feelings into your unconscious mind. The stress eventually causes health problems, like IBS, migraines, joint pain or back pain, etc.
You will most likely have to work on setting boundaries for the rest of your life, but in time it will become easier to set boundaries and recognize the people that constantly try to cross them. You’ll learn to limit the time you spend with people like that.