Like it or not, boundaries are a necessary part of life. Some boundaries are made for us, like state laws. Some laws are very effective and some are just funny. For example, it is illegal for anyone to cross the state line of Kansas with a duck on their head. Personal boundaries can be the same: they can be effective or effectively useless. Many people go through life feeling taken advantage of, unsafe, rejected or disrespected by certain people. These experiences show the profound value of establishing boundaries because we have all likely seen the damage that can happen without them. So how do we create boundaries around our personal or social lives?
When I first began working to establish boundaries in my life it was because I was feeling resentful towards certain people. They would forget all sorts of important things and then ask me to rescue them when things fell apart. I was burning up with resentment towards them as a result. Resentment does nothing but hurt relationships. If someone you know asks a lot of you, and you are resenting them because of it, then you need to establish boundaries! In my situation, I had to take a step back and realize that it was not their fault that I was feeling resentful. The problem was that I didn’t have healthy boundaries around their requests. They have the right to ask, but that also means that I have the right to say “no”. Even though it felt selfish (and, yes, some of the people will call you selfish as you work on this), I had to say “no” more often because I loved them and wanted to preserve our relationships.
I also learned that when people in my life were unable to respect the boundaries I was putting up by saying “no”, then they were not very good friends. I saw a “cleansing” happen in my life of toxic people falling away because I wouldn’t “play the game” anymore. It was wonderful! Those who stayed in my life were healthy and those who disappeared were unhealthy. Because I stood up for myself and respected myself, people who could respect me now surrounded me!
So what are healthy boundaries? Here is a list of some things you will relate to if you have healthy boundaries:
- Being able to say “no” to things that you do not want (food, gifts, touch, sex)
- Appropriate trust (You do not fully trust someone right away and you do not hold back trust too much later on)
- Staying focused on your own growth
- Noticing when someone invades your boundaries
- Noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
- Asking a person before touching, or hugging them
- Trusting your decisions
- Knowing who you are and what you want
- Talking to yourself with gentleness, humor, love and respect
- Respect for others – not taking advantage of others’ generosity
- Self-respect – not giving too much in hopes that someone will like you
- Recognizing that friends and loved ones are not mind readers; “Well, they should just know…”
See any of those and say to yourself, “I don’t know how to do that!” If you are not 100% on that list, that’s okay. Welcome to being a normal human being. It takes time and practice! Be patient with yourself, work really hard, and it can happen sooner than you think!
Part of knowing the right answer is being aware of what the wrong answer is first. Below are some signs of unhealthy boundaries:
- Telling all regardless of if the other person is safe or not
- Trusting no one or trusting anyone
- Black and white thinking
- Not noticing when someone else displays inappropriate boundaries
- Going against personal values or rights to please another person
- Falling in love with an acquaintance
- Touching a person without asking
- Taking as much as you can get for the sake of getting
- Letting others define you
- Letting others direct your life
- Believing others can anticipate your needs
- Expecting others to fill your needs automatically
- Falling apart so someone will take care of you
- Any type of abuse: Sexual, physical, verbal, emotional, food, money, etc.
Watch for “How to: Boundaries 201” for more ideas and guidance about healthy and unhealthy boundaries and how to apply them to your life.
If you experience any or all of the unhealthy boundaries above, I would recommend calling a therapist, or me if you are in the Colorado Springs area to see about how you can work through these issues. They are not to be taken lightly, and working with a professional can free you from having to fight through this on your own.
Let me know what you think! Leave a comment telling me if you have any more ideas about healthy or unhealthy boundaries.