Ever found yourself giving in and putting the needs of someone else first or second-guessing yourself? Can you relate? Then you know why setting personal boundaries are so hard.
When it comes to your home, I bet you have a clear idea of the boundaries.
It’s the front door, or it might be the wall to your front garden or the fence between the neighbour’s garden and yours.
What the boundary does is protect your space. You know what’s your responsibility.
You can choose to cut your lawn or not, but you’re not responsible for anyone else’s. The overgrown weeds next door may annoy you, but you don’t have the right to jump over the garden fence and sort it out. Similarly, if you leave the front door open when you go shopping, you may return to find you’ve had unwelcome visitors.
Healthy Boundaries & Self Care
Believe it or not, personal boundaries work in the same way. Personal boundaries define your individuality, letting you know where you end, and the other person begins, i.e. what is you and what is not you.
Healthy boundaries are vital, acting as a safety barrier keeping in what is important and sacred while keeping out the crap. We could think of our boundaries as symbols of self-care and self-love.
And there’s a BUT:
Setting boundaries can be incredibly confusing and sometimes even terrifying, especially when you are highly attuned to the feelings of others. You can hear yourself saying no, but that voice waivers when they cry, get angry or tell you that you’re wrong.
Somebody Shut the Gate!
Here are some examples of poor boundaries
- Leaving your laptop open, while still logged into your email account
- Your partner trying to have an awkward conversation with you at an inappropriate time, e.g. in front of the children, calling you at work or when you are in the shower
- Your partner spending money from a joint bank account without asking
- You are giving expensive gifts hoping to receive some ‘reward’ in return
- Your partner sharing your personal information without asking you
- Your partner feeling entitled to go through your possessions because what is yours is theirs.
- Avoiding difficult conversations.
- Physical abuse, including the inappropriate discipline of your children and destroying personal possessions
- Having sex with your partner or performing sexual acts when you don’t want to
- Dressing the way your partner wants you to even when you don’t like it
- Saying yes, when you want to say no.
Let’s think about the house again. How would you feel if your Amazon parcel was delivered next to a door neighbour because you were out and your neighbour decided to open it? Then to cap it all they proceed to give you unwelcome comments on your purchase? Furious, appalled, confused, shocked or hurt.
This example might sound over the top I know, but this kind of thing happens with our boundaries every day. Think of a time when you said “Yes.” when what you felt was “No.” How did you feel?
Why Setting Boundaries Is Hard
So many people don’t know what boundaries are. If you’re thinking “I don’t know either!” you’re not alone. And even if you do, are you susceptible to being talked out of them because of guilt.
Setting boundaries can be SO hard. That’s because boundary development starts in childhood and sadly we’re not taught about boundaries. Instead, we pick things up along the way from our parents and caregivers. If their boundaries were weak or non-existent, then you’re going to struggle.
What a parent with poor boundaries fails to do is to foster a sense of individuality. So in a way, there is nothing to protect.
Maybe a child is told by the parent to hug an elder relative. That’s just being loving and respectful, right? NO. Not if the child doesn’t want to hug Aunt Sharon. But the child does it anyway because they feel manipulated, powerless, shamed or fear rejection.
As well as being denied the right to say no, what this child learns is to ignore their internal signals of discomfort, fear and anxiety. Over time, this child learns to respect others and to disrespect themselves because their boundary is disrespected.
Fear and guilt are two of the significant barriers to setting healthy boundaries. Many women are terrified that they will be left or punished by their partners for saying no. In reality, this is a sign of a dysfunctional relationship.
When Setting Boundaries Feels Impossible
It can feel impossible to set a boundary with someone who is controlling.
The narcissistic wounded person has weak ego strength, and as a result, they find it difficult to see where they end, and you start. You might notice that when they buy you a gift, it’s precisely what they would have bought for themselves! Although that seems selfish, it’s more to do with the fact that they struggle to see you as an individual with your sense of identity.
Coupled with that, their sense of entitlement means that they feel they have the right to trample all over your boundaries should you try and set them. This constant challenge is exhausting as you are continually pulled to meet their needs.
So when you get home from work, you’re not going to find a note from the emotionally abusive person saying, “Hey, I noticed your window open this morning and I closed it for you.” Instead, you find a few valuables missing!
And actually, it’s your responsibility to close the window and secure the boundary.
What Are Healthy Boundaries?
A healthy well-established boundary is an internalised limit, physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual that enhances a sense of identity by implanting more deeply the precious knowledge that one is a separate human being. Rokelle Lerner
Although we are separate, we are relational beings; a connection with others is essential. So our boundaries need to allow that connection while at the same time we don’t feel that we are being trampled on and others don’t feel we a trampling all over them.
If the garden fence is concrete, the same height as the house and there isn’t a gate no one is going to get in. Your view of life is blocked and limited because all you can see is the wall.
On the other hand, if it’s a wooden picket fence in poor repair, with no gate, then it gives no protection at all. Anyone can trample all over our property. We are also left exposed and suspectable to giving our property (ourselves) away.
Boundaries provide protection. If our boundaries are inadequate, we are vulnerable. And if boundaries are too rigid, we are closed off and disconnected. We need to find healthy boundaries.
11 Examples of Healthy Boundaries
- Only sharing information about how you feel if and when it feels appropriate.
- Understanding what kinds of physical contact feel affectionate, sexual or repulsive.
- Letting someone know that they may speak to you disrespectfully but you don’t have to listen and then distance yourself.
- Setting limits around your time and having a consequence. E.g. “If you are late, and that will stop me being on time, I will leave.” If they are late, you leave.
- You are taking responsibility for your wellbeing, emotions and happiness.
- You are becoming skilled at tapping into your inner wisdom.
- Responding and not reacting. Slowing things down and becoming the observer allows you to discern whether what you are told is true.
- Saying no without guilt.
- Knowing your limitations. If someone asks you to help you might say “I know of someone who could help you.’ or hand back power to the person syaing “I know you’ll do a wonderful job yourself.”
- You are behaving per your values and beliefs.
- Asking for what you need.
How To Start Setting Boundaries – Start Small
When you start setting boundaries, other people mightn’t like it as they’ve been used to a relationship with you being a particular way. This is especially true if your partner is controlling.
But it is possible to lay boundaries, not get sucked into arguments about them, and have them stick.
Start by setting boundaries with yourself, which you can practice safely. If you frequently get caught up in long, frustrating phone conversations with a friend set yourself a time limit to end the call. Perhaps set limits for yourself on social media. Practice saying healthy loving No’s to yourself. Brush up on assertiveness skills during your lunch hour.
But perhaps the most significant small thing you can do is start to notice how you feel. Listen to your inner voice. Get to know the circumstances and the people who keep trying to push down your fence. Pay attention to that voice, it’s often wise.
Over to You
If you want to start setting healthy boundaries, get in touch and book your first counselling appointment.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood 2019
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create a great relationship.