How many times do you tell people no? How many times do you tell people no when they are pushing your boundaries? Do you have boundaries, if so, how strong are they?
These three questions hold a lot of value and often are valued so little. What do I mean by that? Not many people know what boundaries are nor do they have boundaries established that they set with others.
So what are boundaries?
Boundaries are a way for you to establish respect for yourself and demand it from others. I say demand and not request, because they are not negotiable. If someone disrespects you and your boundaries, you therefore need to take steps to protect yourself.
Boundaries do not require a wall to be had in relationships, but rather think of a boundary as a bubble. You tell people physically how close they can come to you without popping your bubble. You teach people how to treat you and boundaries are a great way of going about this.
There are many forms of boundaries:
Physical boundaries can appear different for everyone. Maybe you have experienced trauma in your past and any physical contact with anyone makes you uncomfortable. That is okay. However, in order to set physical boundaries, you do not have to have a traumatic past. Everyone deserves to know their physical boundaries and know what that looks like when it comes to their comfort level with physical proximity to others. I like to explain physical boundaries as a bubble that you have around you. You decide how big this bubble is, what it looks like, and how close someone can get to your bubble before you tell them that you are uncomfortable. Sometimes, it is useful for some to imagine their bubble being guarded with spikes. This helps them reinforce their ability to feel safe within their bubble. Imagining how big you want your bubble to be and how far it expands can be helpful to determine prior to a situation in which you have to set a boundary with someone else. Sometimes people stick their arm out and determine that their bubble extends to the end of their finger tips. Boundaries look different for everyone. Some are more comfortable with close contact and some have a difficult time with it. Neither is right or wrong. This is also a great way to teach your kids about boundaries, as they have a great imagination. They can imagine a bubble being around them and not wanting anyone to pop it.
Many people tend to be 'yes' people, because they want to please those around them or they do not want to engage in conflict. They have found their way around these two things by saying yes all of the time. Can you relate?
The problem with saying yes all of the time is that you are constantly putting other's needs above your own and your happiness diminishes over time. By always saying yes, whether you mean it or not, you are not considering what is best for you or how you will be affected by saying yes. Then often times you suffer afterwards from saying yes. But instead of taking it as a learning experience, you continue to say yes, whether you actually mean it or not, because it's a pattern that has to be broken in order to be discontinued. Boundaries have to be practiced. Often people feel powerless after getting into such a cycle and can get lured in by others not respecting their boundaries. However, the wonderful thing about this is that all of the power is in your hands to change the way that others treat you. You teach people how to treat you. But if you continue to give the power to someone who is not in the place that they understand or accept your boundaries, they are going to continue to do what they need to do to get their own needs met.
So how do you start to feel like you have right to set boundaries? You have to decide that you deserve for your needs to be respected and know that they are important. You are the only one that can decide that your needs are important and fight for that. No one else will fight for your needs.
Isn't this the same as physical boundaries? Yes and no. No, because this takes physical boundaries to another level. Physical boundaries are applied to everyone that you encounter. Sexual boundaries involve only those that you are intimately involved with. However, I cannot say enough just how important these boundaries are. Just because you are in a relationship with someone, this does not mean that they get to touch you whenever, wherever and however they want. You can stick up for yourself and tell your partner if something that they do makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you are not in a relationship and you have someone who is constantly testing how far they can go. It does not really matter who it is, it is important that if you are uncomfortable, you tell them to stop and that you do not feel respected.
What if I make someone upset by telling them no?
To be honest, most often, people will be upset if you tell them no, especially if they are used to you always telling them yes. Often times when you incorporate boundaries into a relationship that has never had them, it is very common to have push back. Most people do not know what boundaries are, how they should be incorporated, and why they are beneficial. Every relationship would benefit from having boundaries, but most do not. Often times, the fear of how our actions will affect someone else can keep us from thinking about ourselves. We often do what is best for everyone else, because that is easier. However, then you are the one that sacrifices your happiness and well being. This will start to wear on you. Ultimately, clients come into their appointment with me saying how discontent and unhappy they are. This is often because they are putting everyone else before them. It is absolutely necessary to make yourself a priority and stand up for yourself, because no one else will.
How do you enforce your boundaries?
Some common examples of setting boundaries are:
When you say yes to everything, people stop respecting the value of your yes. If you never tell them no, they expect you to say yes, rather than it being a privilege. As soon as you are willing to say no and make yourself a priority, people start to respect you. People understand that they cannot just expect things of you. They start to understand that there is a possibility for you to say no and give you the respect to do so. Then when you say yes, they respect and appreciate that answer, rather than expecting it.
Do you know what your boundaries are?
Are there relationships in your life that need some boundaries to be set? How can you go about doing so?
Brittany Wingfield, MS, LPCC
I would love to hear comments on boundaries that you have established in your own life.