When we think of boundaries, we often think of a fence that keeps things out, or that keeps things in – animals, people, etc. An emotional boundary is the same thing. It keeps other people’s baggage, negativity, and unresolved issues from getting in to you, and it keeps your energy from going out to them. But how do you know when you need to set a boundary? How do you start setting boundaries if you’ve never done so before? And if setting boundaries is important, why is that?
To begin, there are a few sure signs that show us we need to set boundaries with someone.
1. You find that you’re making yourself smaller in any way when you’re around them.
For example: you can’t talk about things you’re excited about because it might make them feel bad; you can’t discuss when you’ve having problems with something because their problems are always bigger or more pressing; you don’t ever feel like you can fully be yourself around them because they put you down, act like you’re stupid, make fun of you around others, talk over you, etc.
2. You can’t ever seem to please them.
We all have those people in our lives – nothing is ever good enough for them and we can’t ever seem to do enough.
I have family members that I’ve had to set major boundaries with, because no matter what I did, it wasn’t good enough. If I called, they would say, “why don’t you visit more often”. If I visited, they would say, “why don’t you stay longer” or “why don’t you come on a different day, I’m busy that day”. When I had other things to do, “well, I guess we’re just not that important to you then”.
When we did talk or get together, it was always about what they had been doing, what was bothering them, or what they were looking forward to. It was rare that they ever actually asked about me. When they did, they would criticize or half listen.
3. You’re the one who is always doing and giving.
Relationships are all give and take. Sometimes you are there for them and sometimes they are there for you. It won’t always be about you. But, if it’s never about you…that’s a good sign that they don’t see you as an equal, that they are taking way more energy than they are giving back, and you need to set a boundary with them to protect yourself and your well-being.
For example: they expect you to remember their birthday, and get upset when you don’t, but they never remember yours; they expect you to drop everything when they have a crisis, or need something, no matter what is going on in your life; or they leave it to you to plan all of the get togethers, to be responsible for always calling them, keeping up with them, etc., and they rarely, if ever do the same for you.
The keyword with all of that being they “expect” it. Just like we have those that we can’t seem to please, we also all have those people that we would move Heaven and Earth to help if we are able to. Those people that we know would do the same for us in a heartbeat. Those people that are grateful when we do help them. The ones I’m talking about needing to set boundaries with are those that expect you to show up and they wouldn’t do the same for you. They may say they would, but you know in your heart that they wouldn’t, or they have proven that they won’t.
4. You feel unsafe in any way.
This one can be anything from feeling physically unsafe around someone, to feeling mentally or emotionally unsafe around someone. If you’re gut is telling you that you aren’t safe, trust it and get out of the situation. Get qualified help if necessary, but never stay somewhere that you don’t feel safe.
5. You feel that the relationship is no longer right for you.
Sometimes we grow apart. We learn the lessons we were meant to from one another, and the relationship fizzles out. Not everyone that comes into our life is meant to be there forever. If you feel like the relationship you have with someone has run its course, wish them well, and move on.
Setting boundaries sounds hard, and uncomfortable, why would I want to go through all of that?
It’s not always easy. People don’t like it when their safety net, their punching bag, their free pet sitter or babysitter, or their scapegoat is suddenly gone. They don’t like it when we stand up for ourselves because it disrupts their way of life.
But…this is about you, not them. Their issues with your boundaries are about them, but the boundaries themselves, are for you.
The biggest thing that you gain when you set a boundary is freedom. Freedom from someone else directing your schedule. Freedom from someone else telling you how you should or shouldn’t feel, what you should and shouldn’t do, wear, or be. Freedom to think for yourself, plan your own life, and work towards your own dreams.
You gain self-confidence because you don’t have someone constantly treating you like you’re not good enough (or telling you you’re not good enough).
You gain peace of mind, because you aren’t worrying about what they think, what they might say, or how they might treat you.
Because of all of this, your health improves and your overall happiness improves.
Even if you know you need to set boundaries with someone, it’s still not easy, especially if you’ve never done it before.
To help you get started, here are a few things that I’ve learned thus far in my life about setting boundaries:
1. No matter who they are, people will test your boundaries when you first set them.
This goes for people who will respect your boundaries as well as for people who won’t. People will want to see if you’re really serious, if this is “just a phase”. They will want to know how far they can push you, how close they can get to your boundary without crossing it. They want to know what they can still get away with.
2. Setting boundaries for the first time can be scary and uncomfortable.
Just as much as you setting a boundary changes the other persons way of life, it changes yours too. You’ve likely been saying yes and doing things for others for a long time. So it may take you some time to adjust to this new feeling, this new way of doing things. Stick to it.
I’m not going to say that it necessarily gets easier the more boundaries that you set, because it can be hard with anyone depending on the situation and the person, but doing creates more confidence. As you set more and more boundaries with people, and stick to them, you’ll start to trust yourself more.
3. Be prepared for some people to get mad.
If you’re someone who has always said yes, who likes to help people, and/or who does whatever it takes to get along and keep the peace, when you start setting boundaries with people, some of those people aren’t going to like it. They are used to using you whenever they need you. You’ve taught them how to treat you, you’ve shown them that this is ok by not putting a stop to it before. When the program changes, they aren’t going to like it. Don’t expect it, but also don’t be surprised by this reaction.
People also sometimes respond by telling you that you’re selfish, you’ve changed, and many other forms of trying to make you feel guilty or ashamed of standing up for yourself. But all of these responses are based on their own fears of not having you around anymore; their own fears of having to deal with things themselves.
4. Start with setting smaller boundaries first and work your way up to bigger ones.
Practice saying no in smaller ways, in smaller situations, and as you get more confident you can say no in bigger ways. For instance, unfollow people first, rather than unfriending them entirely if you need to. This way they don’t know right away and you can ease yourself into it. (Honestly, they may not notice either way.)
5. Ask for help.
Ask your spouse, partner, or a friend to back you up, or to be there for you in moments when you’re feeling like letting your boundaries slack. Sometimes they can remind you more about why you set the boundary to begin with than you can remember in the moment.
6. Keep a journal of things that have happened with the person/people you are setting a boundary with.
Not as a tool to be used in an argument, or a way of proving that you’re right, but rather as a way of reminding yourself that you aren’t crazy. You can look back and see a pattern of how you feel around the person/people you are setting boundaries with.
7. Setting a boundary can look like whatever you want/need it to.
Maybe you need to cut all ties with someone and move on from the relationship completely. Maybe you know your limits with them, and know that you can handle them for a few minutes, for an hour, a day, or a week, but no more. Wherever that limit is, that’s where you set your boundary.
If you can handle an hour with them before your energy starts being depleted, offer to go out to lunch with them, instead of going to your house or theirs. Let them know you have to leave at a certain time and stick to it. Being out, instead of at someone’s house, makes this easier because it’s more natural to eat and then leave, rather than sticking around.
If you need to cut ties with someone entirely, do so no matter who they are. Yes, even if they are family. Just because someone is family doesn’t mean they own you or your time. If someone is being disrespectful of you, your significant other, your time, or your energy, you are perfectly justified in stepping away from that relationship. At the very least until they learn to respect you.
If there are those you can’t walk away from entirely for whatever reason, do everything you can to minimize how often you are with them.
8. It is especially hard to set boundaries with those you love.
You want to do everything for them. You want to think that they can do no wrong, and that they are just misunderstood, but sometimes, most times, they are taking advantage of the situation, they aren’t keeping themselves in check because you’ve never made them do so, and they are being selfish and mean.
9. Some people will naturally migrate out of your life.
If they were only around because of what you could do for them, when you’re no longer at their beckon call, they won’t want to be around anymore; they won’t need you. This is very disappointing and hurtful, especially if you thought you had a good relationship with them, but, would you rather disrespect yourself by allowing them to disrespect you and your time? Would you rather have people around you who are fake and only there when they need something from you, or would you rather have people around who genuinely care about you and your well-being, even if it’s not always perfect for them?
Like I said above, not everyone is meant to stay in our lives forever. As much as this is painful to realize, it’s unfortunately a necessary part of life.
10. You also have to set boundaries with yourself.
We need to check in with ourselves from time to time and make sure that we aren’t the ones overstepping our bounds. We need to make sure that we aren’t trying to control what is happening in someone else’s life and calling it “helping”.
One boundary that I’ve had to set for myself is trying to make myself responsible for other people’s relationships. I have tried too hard to control certain situations, to “help” people get along better, or to make things easier on someone who is consistently unhappy. I have to remind myself that I am not responsible for other people’s relationships, for other people getting along, or playing nice with each other. I am only responsible for how I treat others and for my relationship with them. Anything else is on them.
11. Learn what you can from any and all situations as you’re setting boundaries.
I watched a really great video today on how to set boundaries energetically as well. (In case you’re interested: Bridget Nielsen – “Cord Cutting and How to Clear Your Energy (Setting Boundaries)”)
One of the things that she points out is that those people we need to set boundaries with are there for a reason. They are there for us to learn something from, or to resolve something within ourselves.
Parisa Shelton said (in her Unity program, Day 12), “Sometimes the most difficult people around us are our most profound guides”. We see God, the universe, our angels, spirit guides, etc. as our guides through life, but those who challenge us, those who trigger us, and those who drive us crazy, are our guides as well. They lead us to parts of ourselves that need healing, that need to be released, and that need to be shifted.
12. Setting boundaries shows how much you respect yourself, how worthy you feel like you are of respect.
If you find yourself really having a hard time with setting boundaries with people, check in on how worthy you feel like you are of respect. When we don’t feel like we’re good enough for other people we often allow them to treat us however they want to because we think we should just be happy they are hanging out with us. When we don’t feel worthy of love and acceptance, we allow others to give us the opposite of love because we feel like we don’t deserve love anyway.
You deserve and are worthy of all of the good things life has to offer. Repeat this over and over again to yourself until you start to believe it.