What are boundaries?
All relationships need boundaries. A boundary is an imaginary line that separates me from you. They separate your physical space, your feelings, needs, and responsibilities from others. Your boundaries also tell other people how they can treat you – what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Without boundaries, people may take advantage of you because you haven’t set limits about how you expect to be treated.
Why do you need boundaries?
- Boundaries allow you to be your true self
Boundaries create a separateness that allows you to have your own feelings, make your own decisions, and know and ask for what you want without needing to please others.
- Boundaries are a form of self-care
Healthy emotional boundaries mean you value your own feelings and needs and you’re not responsible for how others feel or behave. Boundaries allow you to let go of worrying about how others feel and places accountability squarely with the individual.
Boundaries also keep you from overextending yourself. You can’t take on every project, work every shift, or be on every committee that you’re asked to join. Boundaries mean saying “no” to things that don’t align with your priorities.
- Boundaries create realistic expectations
Whether it’s with a friend, spouse, neighbor, or boss, relationships function best when we know what’s expected. When you clearly communicate your boundaries, people know how they’re expected to behave. When expectations aren’t communicated and met, resentment and anger grow.
- Boundaries create safety
Boundaries provide physical and emotional safety by keeping out what feels uncomfortable or hurtful.
What prevents you from setting boundaries?
Now that we’ve talked about what emotional boundaries look like and why we need boundaries, let’s explore why we fail to set boundaries even when we believe they’re important.
It’s scary to do something different. What are you actually afraid of? How likely is this to happen? What will happen if you set a boundary? What will happen if you don’t? By asking yourself questions like these, you can give yourself a reality check and find out if your fear is alerting you of real danger or keeping you stuck.
Similar to fear, ambivalence represents that you aren’t 100% convinced that boundaries will solve your problem. Some ambivalence is fine. You don’t need to be 100% sure before you act.
- You don’t know how
If you grew up in a family without boundaries, you probably never saw anyone model or teach you healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries is a skill that can be learned.
- Low self-worth
Some part of you feels unworthy or unlovable. Therefore, you always struggle to prove your worth by putting other people’s needs before your own. You’re not used to being treated with respect, so you don’t even know what it looks like.
You don’t want to ruffle feathers. You don’t want to disappoint people. You’ll pretty much avoid conflict at all costs.
The truth is that setting boundaries can disrupt relationship systems. You will probably get resistance. Sometimes this resistance isn’t as bad as you imagined. Other times, there is a real danger. If you think that setting a boundary will put you in serious harm, please get help.
Like most things, setting boundaries becomes easier with practice. It takes time to gain confidence and learn new skills. And it takes time for others to adjust to your new boundaries. I can help you create the boundaries you’re needing.