What Are Personal Boundaries?
Boundaries are the mental, emotional, and physical limits to how others can treat you, behave around you, and what they can expect from you. Not only do boundaries defend us from being violated by others, they help us to clearly distinguish who we are and what we need from other people and their needs.
Boundaries are vital for our healthy self-respect and self-worth. Enforcing healthy boundaries allows us to clearly voice our truth and communicate our needs. It gives us the space we need to show up as our very best.
However, without healthy boundaries, you will constantly be at the mercy of another person, allowing others to dictate how to think, act, and feel. You’ll find yourself spending all your time and energy doing what others want you to do, instead of making your own choices and completing what’s important to you. You’ll often find yourself feeling unfulfilled, frustrated, lost, and taken advantage of.
Signs of Weak Boundaries
- You don’t speak up even when you’re treated badly
- You give away too much of your time and energy
- You feel underappreciated and taken for granted
- You say “yes” when you really want to say “no”
- You feel guilty for doing something for yourself
- You constantly make sacrifices for others at your own expense
- You repeatedly find yourself in unhealthy, one-sided relationships
- You believe you must always put others before you to earn a place in this life
- You over-share details about your life, even with strangers
- You frequently “melt into” the people you like or admire and adapt their preferences and personalities
- You’ve been putting everyone else before you that you don’t even know what YOU want or need anymore
- You allow others to touch you even when you feel uncomfortable
- You are passive aggressive
- You always feel like the victim
- You have a hard time making decisions
If you identify with some of the these, don’t feel bad. I would’ve been able to check off ALL of the above in the past.
Benefits of Establishing & Defending Strong Boundaries
- You’ll be able to say “no” without guilt
- You’ll have more mental, emotional, and physical energy
- You’ll feel an increased sense of control of your life
- You’ll be able to speak up with conviction
- You’ll feel more appreciated and valued
- You’ll be able to take time for self-care without guilt
- Your self-esteem and self-worth with increase
- You’ll experience emotional and mental balance and fulfillment
- You’ll attract mentally/emotionally healthy & supportive people
- You’ll become compassionate of your own needs
- You’ll gain inner-strength and acceptance, and take back your freedom to be yourself
Hints to Help You Identify If Your Boundaries Are Being Violated
1. You’re constantly making excuses for other people’s poor behavior
- John yells at me, but only because his job is so stressful.
- Amy loves me, but seeks attention from other men because her parents’ unhealthy relationship has made her afraid of commitment.
- My coworker ignores me because I’m not interesting or important enough.
- Dan pushes me and hits me sometimes, but it’s because his ex wife makes him so angry.
- Sarah talks down on me, even in public, but she wasn’t like this when we first met. She’s just going through a rough time.
2. You blame yourself when other people treats you badly
- If I didn’t let myself go, he wouldn’t keep cheating on me. I’m lucky he still comes home to me.
- If I were prettier/smarter/successful, my mother would show me the same kindness she gives everyone else.
- My boyfriend is a very important man at his company. I appreciate any bit of attention he has time to throw my way because I’m just a server at the coffee shop.
- She takes me for granted because I’m not as educated as she is.
- My coworker always takes all the credit for our projects because he’s worked here longer than I have.
- My classmate wouldn’t bully me if I were more popular/prettier/wealthier.
3. Your preferences are brushed off
For example, you pick out a new dress for a special company event and excitedly ask your sister to come by so she can see it. She comments, “Well, that’s nice… but this one would look so much better on you” – as she pulls out an old dress you’ve worn countless of times and hangs the new dress back in your closet.
Another example would be, your friends are taking you to dinner for your birthday and asks you to choose where. You tell them about the new sushi restaurant you’ve been eyeing, but one of your friends insist she likes the all you can eat Chinese buffet better and decides you celebrate there instead.
4. Your gut tells you something isn’t quite right
You can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, but your internal warning system goes off. Here are just a few examples:
- Your husband is on a business trip. He insists on only calling you during his lunch break and never answers your calls or texts after business hours. You want to ask him about it, but you can’t get a word in during the quick afternoon calls.
- Your fiancé consistently acts distant whenever a particular person is around. Whenever you bring it up, he accuses you of being paranoid.
- A good looking man approaches you at the bar. As the conversation continues, you get an overwhelming feeling he’s not safe. He hasn’t done anything so you don’t want to hurt his feelings by walking away.
- A homeless man asks you for a few dollars because he’s hungry. You were on your way home from picking up a few burgers and offer him two. He refuses and insists on cash because “he doesn’t eat burgers.” You feel bad about turning away the less fortunate so you hand him a few bucks.
Why Do We Suffer From Weak Boundaries?
I’m often asked why some people seem to naturally possess strong boundaries, while others are just realizing later in life that they don’t have boundaries at all? This is because as children, our social learning came from modeling behavior, so if we didn’t have strong role models early on in our life whose behavior we can imitate, we were left in the dark.
Stop and think back to your childhood…
- Were you only rewarded when you sacrificed your needs and desires for someone else’s?
- Were you punished (by scolding, guilt-tripping, or disapproval) for saying “no”, speaking up, or having your own preferences?
- Were you obligated to emotionally support your parents and walk on eggshells?
These expectations likely conditioned you to believe that giving in to others and putting others before you = what a good boy/girl you are.
How to Create Healthy Boundaries
Many of us KNOW what we will or won’t allow to be done to us – and yet find ourselves in damaging situations such as narcissistic relationships. This is because there’s a difference between knowing our boundaries versus setting and enforcing them.
It’s easy to say, “I’m not going to let anyone treat me like trash” without realizing we’ve been making excuses for why we allow an intimate partner or parent to behave horribly.
In order for boundaries to actually do what they’re meant to do, you must clearly define your rules and consistently enforce them. And if you’re not accustomed to defending your boundaries, you will have to consciously and intentionally practice this at first, as it’s a skill that needs to be learned.
Creating boundaries is about how YOU value yourself – not based on what other people expect, think or feel about you. Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. You Have the Right to Have Boundaries
Surprisingly, many adults are not aware that it is a fundamental right of all human beings to have personal boundaries. You don’t have to “earn” it or receive permission. Having boundaries is part of being a normal, healthy person. Also, healthy boundaries contributes not only to your personal well-being, but for the well-being of anyone who comes into contact with you. This makes establishing boundaries an important responsibility.
2. Your Thoughts, Feelings, and Needs Are Just as Important as Anyone Else’s
No one’s thoughts, feelings or needs are above that of anyone else. The truth is, your needs are equally important as the needs of the most socially celebrated people in the country. Don’t let social status fool you – it’s simply an illusion. And in order to step fully into your life and value, you must learn to see yourself as equal to others and honor your authentic self.
3. Examine Your Own Needs
When you’re busy catering to everyone else’s demands, you lose touch with who YOU are and what YOU need. Take this opportunity to begin learning more about yourself by keeping a daily journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and needs. Practice mindfulness to discover the boundaries you need to set throughout your daily interactions.
4. Learn to Say “No” Without Guilt
Saying “No” is key in learning to honor your needs. Many people find it difficult to say “No” at first, but there’s really no reason to feel bad about declining a request or invitation if it negatively affects your well-being. Of course, you don’t have to be obnoxious about delivering a “No” but say it with confidence. People with strong boundaries will be able to respectfully honor and accept yours.
5. Recognize When People Cross the Line
If you lack or have weak boundaries, it will take practice to identify when your boundaries have been overstepped. Take time to review moments when you felt uncomfortable or disrespected by someone during the day. Tune into your body and notice when you feel tense or flustered. Use the 5 hints I’ve listed earlier in this article to get you started.
6. Stop Over-Committing
You are not obliged to please others at your own expense. Committing too much to other people creates stress and burnout. When you’re burnt out, you will be unable to show up as your best for what’s most important to you. So make certain to put on your own oxygen mask first.
7. End Toxic Relationships
With strong personal boundaries comes the need for strength and conviction. You’ll find that fake friends and relationships will self-destruct and fizzle away, and at first, this might leave you feeling guilty or like you’ve failed. Stay strong because you are worth it. Allow your boundaries to filter out those who are contaminating your space, and fill those spaces with new friendships that are supportive and uplifting.
The goal as you work on establishing and defending your boundaries is not perfection, but to protect your personal space so you have the freedom and confidence to show up as your best.
Remember, enforcing your boundaries might feel uncomfortable at first. You’ll feel like you’re behaving in a mean and unforgiving manner. But the truth is, clearly communicating what you expect from others and what they can expect from you is an act of kindness and respect for yourself and those around you.
For more information, I invite you to listen to my Choose You Podcast Episode #8: Setting Strong Boundaries to Protect You and Prevent Future Attacks.