Setting good boundaries can be simple. But our relationship with boundaries can make the process a bit more complex. After all, we have a history of relationships and interactions and experiences that have shaped our thinking about boundaries, that have shaped how others perceive us, and how we perceive ourselves.
We hold a collection of assumptions about what boundaries really are and what they actually look like.
In addition to thoughts, assumptions, and perceptions, we also have emotions. And emotions often feel big and all-consuming, and can be quite persuasive.
What can help is to write about all these things. Explore and examine them. Identify what’s standing in your way, so you can remove it, or work with it, and move forward.
Write about your thoughts about boundaries and how they affect relationships. Boundaries are rude and callous. They keep people out. They prevent people from getting closer. (And maybe find the facts, and write about those, too—like how healthy relationships always have boundaries.)
Write about why boundary setting is hard. I never really learned how to do it. It intimidates me. It’s something new, and I have a hard time with new things.
Write about your fears and worries about setting boundaries. I’m worried people will reject my boundaries and reject me. I’m worried people will stop thinking I’m reliable and dependable and someone they can trust and count on. I’m worried people will get upset with me, and think I’m a selfish person and partner and parent.
Write about your ability (or inability) to set boundaries. I don’t think I can do it. I think I can do it if I had help with _____ and ______.
Write about the emotions surrounding boundary setting for you—emotions that might completely contradict themselves, and that’s OK. Guilt. Anxiety. Sadness. Excitement. More guilt.
Write about how awful and awkward setting a boundary feels. It’s like my whole body is screaming when I say no. I’m just so used to accepting every invitation and request and work assignment that saying no feels unnatural and wrong.
Write about your history with setting boundaries. Maybe you’ve tried to set boundaries before, and it didn’t work out. Maybe your household didn’t have many boundaries, and everyone just expected everyone to know what they needed and wanted, and there was an air of resentment and anger when that didn’t occur.
Write about your past experiences in relationships (and your present ones, too). Do you feel like your voice was honored and respected? Did you speak up for your needs clearly and directly? Or did you employ passive-aggressive tactics? Did you wait for someone to pick up on your needs or ask if you’re OK?
As you’re writing, remember to be curious. Don’t judge yourself (your past self, in particular). So often we think, That was sooo stupid. I can’t believe I did that. But criticism stops us from delving deep, and discovering important insights.
It’s helpful to know where we’re coming from when we’re trying to make a change. Because then we know what to target. Then you can address a specific concern head-on, or learn a certain skill (e.g., communicating clearly and effectively), or give yourself a pep talk that zeroes in on the guilt you feel. Of course, you can start setting boundaries right now (or at any time), as you explore your history with boundary setting and your assumptions and emotions around it.
Either way, the key is to get a whole picture of what’s going on, because we are complex, multifaceted beings. And because you deserve to honor your experiences and history and emotions and concerns. And you deserve to set boundaries, too.