Personal boundaries are the limits you decide work for you on how people can treat you, how they can behave around you, and what they can expect from you. These boundaries are like other sorts of boundaries such as property lines, lines in the sand, bottom lines... you get the idea.
Healthy personal boundaries are also when you take responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions or emotions of others.
They are drawn from the framework of your core beliefs, your perspective, opinions, and your values. And these things in turn are created from your life experience and the social environments you have lived in.
Setting good personal boundaries is critical to creating healthy relationships, increasing self-esteem and reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Boundaries protect your personal self by setting a clear line between what is me and what is not me. A lack of boundaries opens the door for others to determine your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Defining boundaries is a process of determining what behavior you will accept from others and what you will not.
Boundaries include physical boundaries, as well as, emotional boundaries. Physical boundaries include your body, personal space, and privacy. Violations include standing too close, inappropriate touching, even looking through your personal files or your phone. Emotional boundaries involve separating your feelings from another’s feelings. Violations include, taking responsibility for another’s feelings, letting another’s feelings dictate your own, sacrificing your own needs to please another, blaming others for your problems, and accepting responsibility for theirs. Strong boundaries protect your self-esteem and your identity as an individual with the right to make your own choices.
Boundaries are your own invisible force field and you are in charge of protecting it. As important as this may sound, so many of us have a difficult time setting healthy boundaries consistently. At times it is difficult to identify when our boundaries are being crossed. We may even fear the consequences to our relationships if we set them.
To identify when your boundaries are being crossed, stay tuned into your feelings, I like to call it your gut wisdom. When it kicks in, you will have red flags such as discomfort, resentment, stress, anxiety, guilt and fear. These feelings stem from feeling taken advantage of or not feeling appreciated. Think about the people who you feel this way around.
Do the following statements ring true:
I can’t make my own decisions
I can’t ask for what I need
I can’t say no
I feel criticized
I feel responsible for their feelings
I seem to take on their moods
and I am often nervous, anxious or resentful around them
Unhealthy boundaries are often characterized by a weak sense of your own identity and your own feelings of disempowerment in decision making in your own life. This leads you down the road to relying on your partner for happiness and decision making responsibilities thereby losing important parts of your own identity. An inability to set boundaries also stems from fear; fear of abandonment or losing the relationship, fear of being judged or fear of hurting others feelings.
People with poor boundaries typically come in two flavors:
Those who take too much responsibility for the emotions/actions of others
Those who expect others to take too much responsibility for their own emotions/actions
What’s interesting is that these two types of people often end up in relationships together.
Some examples of poor boundaries are:
“You can’t go out with your friends without me. You know how jealous I get. You have to stay home with me.”
“Sorry guys, I can’t go out with you tonight, my partner gets really angry when I go out without them.”
“My co-workers are idiots and I’m always late to meetings because I have to tell them how to do their jobs.”
“I’d love to take that job in Milwaukee, but my mother would never forgive me for moving so far away.”
“I can date you, but can you not tell my friend Cindy? She gets really jealous when I have a boyfriend and she doesn’t.”
Do you see the commonality in these different scenarios? The person is either taking responsibility for actions/emotions that are not theirs or they are demanding that someone else take responsibility for their actions/emotions.
Here’s the deal with personal boundaries. They go hand in hand with self-esteem. People with high self-esteem have strong personal boundaries. And practicing strong boundaries is one way to build self-esteem — the number one reason we lack boundaries and the number one thing we can do to improve ourselves to manifest the relationships we want in our lives!
Steps to build better boundaries begin with knowing and understanding what your own limits are. Who I am, what I am responsible for and what I am not responsible for. I am responsible for my happiness, my behavior, my choices, my feelings. I am not responsible for others happiness, other’s behaviors, other’s choices, and other’s feelings.
So, how do you identify if you have boundary issues? Ask yourself these questions:
Do you ever feel like people take advantage of you or use your emotions for their own gain?
Do you ever feel like you’re constantly having to “save” people close to you and fix their problems all the time?
Do you find yourself sucked into pointless fighting or debating regularly?
Do you find yourself faaaaar more invested or attracted to a person than you should be for the length of time you’ve known them?
In your relationships, does it feel like things are always either amazing or horrible with no in-between? Or perhaps you even go through the break-up/reunion pattern every few months?
Do you tell people how much you hate drama but seem to always be stuck in the middle of it?
Do you spend a lot of time defending yourself for things you believe aren’t your fault?
If you answered “yes” to even a few of these questions, then you probably set and maintain poor boundaries in your relationships. If you answered a resounding “yes” to most or all of them, you not only have a major boundary problem in your relationships but you also probably have some other unresolved behavioural patterns happening in your life.
Creating and maintaining strong relationship boundaries not only boost your self-esteem and bolster your sense of identity, they also make your life sooooo much easier!
Imagine what your life would be like if you:
Didn’t let people take advantage of you
Never had to fix other people’s problems, unless you truly want to help
You don’t get sucked into pointless arguments and heated debates
Aren’t bothered or worried by every little thing your family, partner, friends, and/or colleagues do
Coolly look on others as they get caught up in drama and you barely remember what it feels like to to entangled in that kind of bullshit
Imagine this scenario day in and day out. You would like that right, I mean who wouldn’t?
That’s what strong and healthy boundaries give you! And to set healthy boundaries with others you must be able to set them with yourself.
So why is it sooooo damned hard to set boundaries?
I frequently get private messages from women in my Say Goodbye to Your Inner Mean Girl Group from people who want to know:
“Why is it so hard for me to set clear boundaries with others?” or
“How can I get over my fear of saying “no” to people?” or,
“How do I figure out where my boundaries are when I am so used to just being there for others?”
Some people can’t set boundaries because they prioritize other people’s perception of them over anything else (there’s that lack of self-esteem I talked about coming in). This is true of the classic empath and narcissist relationship. The empath perceives the narcissist’s needs as their own and cannot set boundaries; the narcissist takes full advantage of that weakness (these are the two flavors of people I mentioned earlier). For those without boundaries, the way others see them becomes the way they see themselves.
Our lessons about boundaries begin early in our lives, first in our families and then in our peer groups. These early boundaries are internalized as our way of asserting our own needs and wants, as well as, in taking responsibility for others needs and wants. How comfortable we are standing up for ourselves, verbalizing our feelings and expressing our needs starts very early in our development.
When someone can’t set boundaries, it isn’t because they’re inherently self-disrespecting. It’s usually because they just don’t know how to function any other way. When a person attaches to you too quickly, it’s a safety mechanism. They need everyone they meet to approve of them instantly. They lack boundaries because they lack self-esteem. The truth is, those who lack boundaries have never learned to separate the needs of others from their own and this typically is caused by a traumatic experience or violation of one’s fundamental birth rights up to the age of three. We learn our habits early on in those formative years.
For me, I was a parent pleaser and as a result I became a people pleaser. I grew up in a physically and emotionally abusive home. Nothing I did was ever right or “good enough”. The physical abuse or months of silent treatments from my mother, the person who was supposed to love me the most and unconditionally, was excruciatingly painful. The emotional wounds were deep and more scarring than the physical.
I remember the shame I felt around wanting to matter, to be valued, to be important—and how quickly I then shut those impulses down and disconnected from them. I had to learn to be small and quiet. I had to learn that not having any needs meant safety, approval and acceptance.
As an adult, this kept me staying small, self-silencing and being unable to set effective boundaries with others. I’ve now spent years liberating myself from these messages and interpersonal habits.
We push aside what we want, we say “yes” to others’ needs almost compulsively, and we often struggle to take care of ourselves. We are unable to stay grounded in ourselves and to communicate our needs, we often feel exhausted and resentful. We surrender our happiness and find ourselves in one-sided relationships, creating emotional boundary traps.
Emotional boundaries fall into the categories of time, emotions, energy and values. Be aware of boundary traps in relationships. The following scenarios may seem familiar. Start by recognizing which boundary traps you commonly fall in.
I am nobody if I’m not in a relationship. My identity comes from my partner and I will do anything to make this person happy.
This is better than the last relationship I was in.
I spend all my time involved in my partner’s goals and activities. There just isn’t enough time left to do what I want to do.
My partner would be lost without me.
If I just give it more time, the relationship will get better.
Most of the time the relationship is great…Ok well occasionally it is and that’s enough for me.
Are any of these sounding familiar to you? If so, I’m going to tell you how to set emotional boundaries.
The first step is to make a commitment to yourself to put your own identity, needs, feelings and goals first. Healthy emotional boundaries come from believing that you are OK just the way you are. Commit to letting go of fixing others, taking responsibility for the outcomes of others choices, saving or rescuing others, needing to be needed, changing yourself to be liked, or depending on others approval.
Make a list of boundaries you would like to strengthen. Write them down. Visualize yourself setting them and finally, assertively communicate with others what your boundaries are and when they’ve crossed them. Remember, this is a process. Start with a small, non-threatening boundary and experience success before taking on more challenging boundaries.
Boundaries to start with include:
Saying no to tasks you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do.
Saying yes to receiving help.
Saying thank you with no apology, regret or shame.
Asking for help.
Protecting your time by not overcommitting yourself.
Asking for space because we all need our own time.
Speaking up if you feel uncomfortable with how someone is treating you or your needs are being infringed upon.
Honoring what is important to you by choosing to put yourself first.
Dropping the guilt and responsibility for others.
Sharing personal information gradually and in a mutual way (give and take).
If you are shifting the dynamic in the relationship you may feel resistance from the other person. This is normal and OK. Simply stick to your guns and continue to communicate your needs. Use the ”broken record technique” and repeat the same statement as many times as you need. Healthy relationships are a balance of give and take. In a healthy relationship you feel calm, safe, supported, respected, taken care of, and unconditionally accepted. You are forgiven without past offenses being brought up repeatedly, seeming acts of revenge or passive aggressive behaviors from the other person. You are free to be who you are and encouraged to be your best self.
Good boundaries are a sign of emotional health, self-respect and strength. We teach people how to treat us. Set high standards for those you surround yourself with. Expect to be treated in the same loving way you treat them. You will soon find yourself surrounded by those who respect you, care about your needs and your feelings and treat you with kindness—you will inevitably manifest all of this goodness back into your life.
If you're struggling with creating healthy and loving boundaries, join my 12-Week Path to Self-Love Program. Click here to learn more.