A good way to look at boundaries is that boundaries are the space between where you end and another person begins. Setting boundaries can protect you from toxic relationships and stress, while serving as a roadmap for those in your life to understand how you need to be treated – minimizing unnecessary friction in relationships. If left unchecked, a lack of boundaries can lead to tension, misunderstanding, and resentment.
So how do you know if you have a boundary issue? If any of these statements ring true, you could likely benefit from some work on your boundaries:
- You fall hard and fast for new romantic partners (or friends) – before you’ve really gotten to know them.
- You feel the need to explain yourself or get defensive – even when you don’t believe you’re at fault.
- Just like Taylor Swift, you swear you don’t love the drama, but it loves you.
- You often feel the need to “save” people. (You might refer to it as “helping”.)
- You often feel taken advantage of, or underappreciated.
- You seek validation or approval from others, and feel hurt if it isn’t readily given.
Healthy boundaries usually go hand-in-hand with a good sense of self-worth. If you know who you are and what you want, it’s easier to explain it to others. You’ll also be much more comfortable enforcing your boundaries, if you aren’t looking for validation from others.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.
So what does that mean for you, if you have lower self esteem? The great news is, that while the act of setting and communicating your boundaries might make you feel uncomfortable, or guilty at first, with practice, enforcing your boundaries will help build your self-esteem and self-identity. And the stronger your identity, the less likely you’ll be to sacrifice yourself in order to enable others or make them comfortable.
How to begin to set boundaries:
- Identify your limits, and name them. Journaling is great for this!
- Pay attention to when you feel hurt or resentment. Chances are a boundary has been crossed.
- Communicate your boundaries clearly. You’re not required to explain yourself, but when setting new boundaries in an existing relationship, it can be helpful to the other person if you explain your feelings.
- Give yourself permission to say no, and don’t feel the need to explain it, or make up an excuse.
- Remove yourself from situations when triggered.
- Take responsibility for your own happiness (this might involve checking in on your inner child – if you need a refresher, check out our blog on re-parenting here)
- Allow others to be responsible for their own happiness.
Learning to set boundaries is an empowering act of self-care – protecting your time, energy and emotional wellbeing. The tricky thing with boundaries is to remember that they are a two-way street. This means, if you draw a line in the sand that others aren’t allowed to step over, that means it’s best if you don’t step over it either.
You might be good at communicating your needs, and saying “no”. But if you know you have a bit of a people-pleasing streak, be careful not to end up doing the very thing to which you initially said ‘no.’ . This can create gray areas where neither you nor the other person are 100% clear on who is responsible for what. Not only do you begin to lose your sense of identity, but you’re signaling that your boundaries are fluid, which opens up the door for others to disrespect them down the line.
But aren’t relationships about compromise, you ask? Well, yes, when the compromise involves give and take. If you have had a healthy conversation with a loved one about both of your boundaries, and you have both identified places where you’re willing to make sacrifices because you want to, then you can adjust your boundaries. Just make sure you’re adjusting for the right reasons. Fearing that your partner might leave you, or being guilted into something you’re uncomfortable with are red flags.
If someone reacts negatively to you communicating your boundaries, it’s either that they benefited from you not having any before and the relationship was more one-sided than you would have liked to admit, or maybe they just need time to adjust to the new relationship dynamic and the role that they play. We often forget that when we work on ourselves it can feel threatening to those we are close to. Our growth could be shining a light on the areas where they feel stuck, which could make them feel uncomfortable. That’s okay. It doesn’t mean you need to adjust your boundaries – it just means that others aren’t always able to meet you where you are – they might have to do some growth of their own first.