Have you ever felt taken advantage of, unheard or unseen? Or have you ever felt that people walk all over you and treat you like a doormat? If you answered yes, then you likely don’t have strong boundaries. In this week’s blog, I talk you through how to set personal boundaries, and more importantly, how to maintain them.
Boundaries are the cornerstone of any healthy relationship. And not just in romantic relationships, but also in friendships, family, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers. When you’ve set solid boundaries and clearly communicated them to people, then your relationships become more respectful.
I’ve seen it first hand in my own life. When I was in my 20s, I didn’t have boundaries. I probably didn’t even really know what they were. I knew how to treat other people, but I was never entirely sure why people weren’t treating me the way I wanted. And it was because I didn’t know how to create, establish, communicate and maintain boundaries. And because I didn’t know how to communicate boundaries, I didn’t know how to have healthy relationships.
Since learning how to set boundaries in my own life, I find that I have more freedom in my relationships. There is less resentment, drama and chaos because we all understand how we each want to be treated, which creates mutual respect.
Not only have I seen an improvement in my life, but I’ve also seen boundaries improve the lives of countless clients. Not having boundaries is one of the most common issues that I see come into coaching sessions, and setting boundaries can solve a lot of the problems that clients are facing.
What are personal boundaries?
The simplest way I can explain boundaries is that they are the internal lines we draw for ourselves in terms of our level of comfort in our interactions with other people and situations. Boundaries are about you and for you. They are both a way of protecting yourself and creating freedom.
Boundaries are not about controlling other people. They are about setting the tone for how that other person is allowed to interact with you.
Let’s use a very simple house analogy to help with understanding boundaries. You have unspoken rules for when people come to visit your house. We all do. And these rules may be societal rules, cultural rules or your own rules. Either way, you have expectations for how someone will behave when they pop over for a cup of tea.
Imagine your friend, let’s call her Jennifer, comes by. She has a big box of water balloons all filled up, ready for action. Now, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t allow someone into my house with water balloons. I’m sure you wouldn’t either.
So you tell Jennifer that she can’t take the water balloons into your house; that’s a boundary. Jennifer agrees and leaves the balloons outside, away from the front door. She is respecting your boundaries.
Now let’s imagine it goes a bit differently. You tell Jennifer that she can’t take in the water balloons, but she doesn’t listen, and she comes in with the balloons. She’s not respecting your boundary. Even though you’ve already said, please don’t take the balloons in. Now she doesn’t feel like she needs to respect your boundaries, otherwise, the balloons would be outside. She might as well start juggling the balloons on your new carpet. What’s missing is the ability to maintain the boundary with a friend.
I know the analogy is a bit strange, but I bet it made sense. But let’s look at how this might play out in personal boundaries. Imagine you are at work. And you have a colleague who has a habit of standing too close to you. You step away to create more space, highlighting a boundary. If your colleague stays where they are and doesn’t step in towards you, they’re respecting your boundary. Suppose your colleague follows you and steps back in close to you. That’s not respecting your boundaries.
How to set personal boundaries
Quite a lot of us were never shown how to set boundaries, or we may not have seen good boundaries modelled, so we just haven’t got the knack for setting boundaries.
When it comes to setting boundaries, you want to set them in 5 key life areas; Physical, Emotional, Intellectual, Sexual and Spiritual. Having boundaries in each of these areas will set you up for lasting, fulfilling relationships, romantic or otherwise.
I have a very simple exercise to help you set boundaries that work every time. And you can use this little exercise to set boundaries in all areas of your life.
Identify where you don’t have boundaries
Write down a list of areas in your life where you feel taken advantage of or where you feel disrespected. Notice common patterns in where you’re being disrespected and add those to your list.
Do the worthiness check
Now go through your list, and for each item, ask, “Is this what I am worth?” and then write how you would prefer to be treated in that scenario or by that person.
Create baseline personal boundaries
Use your new preferences to create baseline boundaries. These are the boundaries that match what you feel is appropriate for you right now. As your self-worth grows, these boundaries will also grow, and you will find that you will have better, more respectful boundaries, and you will feel more comfortable in your relationships.
Communicate your boundaries
Now that you know your baseline boundaries, it’s time to make sure people know and understand your baseline. You can tell people your new boundary when the issue arises, or you can nonverbally communicate by not engaging or walking away.
Maintain your new boundaries
This is the hardest step! If you don’t maintain the boundary, the cycle of disrespect will continue. Be consistent in what you want to experience in your relationships. If you set the boundary once and let it slide, it tells people that there is no expectation of you sticking by your own boundaries, and it causes confusion in the relationship. You can simply maintain the boundary by reaffirming it when needed.
15 Signs of not having Personal Boundaries
If you are still not sure of whether or not you have boundaries, here’s some clear signs that you don’t have solid boundaries.
- You fail to speak up, even when you’re mistreated
- You give away too much of your time, even to people you barely know
- You say yes, when you want to say no
- You feel guilty for having me time and focusing on yourself
- You feel taken advantage of or used by others
- You agree to do things, or you offer to do things, that you really don’t want to do
- You often or constantly feel like the victim
- You people please in order for people to like you
- You overshare details about your life with others
- You don’t understand or respect your own needs
- You have a lot of fear around what other people think of you
- You take on roles in other people’s lives to make them feel better, even if it’s not who you want to be.
- You are passive-aggressive, resentful or manipulative in relationships as a way to regain some power.
- You allow people to touch you or invade your space even when you are uncomfortable.
- You focus on fulfilling someone else’s sexual needs regardless of how it makes you feel.
Now that you know how to set personal boundaries in your life, check out this blog on Must Have Boundaries when Single or Starting to Date again.