Personal boundaries are the guidelines, rules, or limits that we create to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards us. Also, it is about how we respond when someone steps over those boundaries and the consequences of their actions that we impose. We build these boundaries out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, and past experiences we have had in dealing with others.
Even if we don’t know exactly what a personal boundary is we do tend to know what it feels like when someone crosses the line with us. The time when you had to say no to helping out a friend move because you were going to be out of town but they make you feel guilty about you going on vacation. Or, when that girlfriend teases you about a time that you were stood up on a blind date and you try to laugh it off instead of sticking up for yourself and telling her the comment hurt your feelings. When we feel betrayed or let down when a personal boundary has been crossed.
Why It’s Important to Set Boundaries
Personal boundaries are vital in order for us to thrive and be in healthy relationships. Having them in place allows us to communicate our needs and desires clearly and succinctly without fear of repercussions. It is also used to set limits so that others don’t take advantage of us or are allowed to hurt us. It is a way for us to practice self-care and self-respect. With unhealthy boundaries, we lose self-respect as we go against our values in order to please others. We keep giving of ourselves and yet feel like when we ask for help we are ignored. Allowing others to determine what we like, where we are going, or who we are shows that we are allowing them to control us which is a sign that we have unhealthy boundaries.
Another unhealthy boundary is expecting others to fill your needs. It’s no one’s responsibility to make you happy, just like you are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. No one is responsible for the way your life situation currently is other than you. If you think differently, then you are giving away your power to others and are not being your authentic self. We don’t want to feel mistreated by others. Furthermore, we don’t want to give up our power to others and live a small life. So why don’t we set personal boundaries?
Why it’s Hard To Set Boundaries
We all put other peoples’ needs and feelings before our own at some point in our lives, especially with our children. Setting boundaries isn’t selfish, it’s self-care. The guilt we feel is self-imposed based on fear, when we don’t help we will not be liked or someone will abandon us. This is the ego trying to keep you from possibly feeling bad in the future but the reality is that it’s a lie. If a person doesn’t like us for not helping them then they really weren’t our friend.
We believe setting boundaries may jeopardize the relationship so we aren’t assertive in what is acceptable behavior. Boundaries aren’t meant to punish others; they are for our personal well-being and protection. We aren’t being rude or mean for not wanting your friend’s to kiss us every time we see them. But we fear any confrontation with them so we say nothing. This isn’t helpful to anyone. Our friends aren’t trying to make us feel uncomfortable so there is no harm in letting them know we would prefer a hug.
Sometimes we haven’t learned to have healthy boundaries because we don’t know what our limits are. Or we believe boundaries need to be ridged and that there is no flexibility which isn’t the case. For example, we have stated to our friends that we prefer hugs to kisses and they are complying with the request. Then we are introduced to Leo who immediately kisses us on both cheeks. We’re quickly told that Leo is visiting from Paris and it is customary for the French people to kiss upon meeting. You are not upset and no boundary has been crossed because he is new and doesn’t know your preferences.
“No,” is a Complete Sentence
The art of saying “no” is a hard skill to acquire. I was a people pleaser for years because I thought in order to have friends I needed to keep them happy, despite the harm it was doing to me. I said “yes” to taking on more responsibility even though I knew I didn’t have the time needed to do the task properly. I said “yes”, to giving more of myself to someone who did not deserve any more of me due to their horrible behavior toward me. We all do it at some point in our lives. We need to forgive ourselves and learn to forcefully say “no.”
When you say “yes” to something, and do not want to do the task, then you feel resentment. Bitterness towards the requester and anger at yourself for the task you are doing. Most people will procrastinate in doing the task that was committed to, instead of asserting themselves and clearly stating the complete sentence; no. Learning to say no, so that when you say yes there is no resentment, is how you know you are beginning to understand this concept of setting personal boundaries.
Positive Outcomes of Setting Healthy Personal Boundaries
When we set healthy personal boundaries we begin to have improved self-confidence and a healthy self-concept. This occurs because we are confident in our responses to situations that arise. We are more in touch with the reality of each circumstance, not allowing our ego to cloud us with fear. Our relationships improve because we are better able to communicate with others. We can clearly state what we want and what we don’t want. When we feel that we have more fulfilling relationships we also feel like we have more stability and control over our lives.
Being assertive about what you need is not being unkind. You can always stand up for yourself without hurting others. Using the words “I need” or I feel” and not pointing the finger at others, allows us to be assertive without offending someone. Self-awareness and learning to be confident are the first steps in setting personal boundaries. It’s self-care each time you say “no,” you are saying “yes” to yourself. It builds your self-esteem and self-concept to know that you are not being taken advantage of.
As you become more aware and gain more self-confidence as you set personal boundaries you can adjust the course of your relationships.