Everyone is talking about them, exploring them, looking at them, but are we actually implementing them? Putting them into practice?
So just in case you haven’t seen the buzz around this subject.....
What Actually Are Personal Boundaries
Well, personal boundaries are pretty much like the boundaries we have around our home or our property that keep us safe from intruders. Sometimes they can be seen, other times not so much, but people know they are there. They are delineations around our personal property that we can legally enforce by using the law of trespass.
Our personal boundaries work similarly in that we can set them around ourselves to keep ourselves safe. However, they may only be visible if we bring them to the attention of others. Mostly, but not always, we are the ones personally responsible for enforcing those boundaries, and there’s the rub! Might it be so much easier to allow others to enforce them for us, yet so disempowering perhaps?!
So four things can be required from us:
Choosing our boundaries
Setting our boundaries
Drawing awareness of these boundaries to others
Enforcing our boundaries
Looks simple and straightforward enough doesn’t it?
The fact is, that none of this is simple. Other things can come into play such as:
Wanting people to like us
Not wanting to be judged
Low self esteem
Not wanting to upset or incite the anger of others
All of these things and more can have a bearing on us setting boundaries, they can allow for circumstances where we talk ourselves out of being boundaried and we run for the hills instead!
So are we agreed, this is tough?!
Let me give you a scenario.....
‘You have helped a friend out three times at the last minute looking after their child because they HAVE to be somewhere important. You swear this is the last time, but when they ask you a fourth time they add that they might lose their job. You back down.’
A challenge isn’t it?
If you had actually said ‘No’, what WOULD they have thought of you?
You might imagine them now, relating this to other friends saying.....’and do you know, when I said I might lose my job, they STILL said ‘No!’ I mean, what sort of a person does THAT?!
Yes, what sort of a person DOES that? A person with healthy boundaries does that!
This is why we have to take the whole boundary thing seriously, and consider exactly what it might mean for us. Possibilities in this particular scenario include:
Loss of ‘Friends’(?)
Loss of ‘Face’
Loss of being ‘Popular and Liked’
Loss of ‘Status Quo’
Taking the (misplaced?) blame
But hang on..... what might we gain?
The Respect of others
New and healthy relationships
A new perspective on life
Recognition that others are responsible for their own actions as are you!
So how do we go about this....?
Small steps and being gentle with ourselves is the way!
Identifying the fact that this will take time. That it is something that can grow and be built on, layer by layer
Noting that others who want to trample all over our boundaries are perhaps unboundaried themselves
Not beating ourselves up if we ‘get it wrong’ - and by the way, no matter how clichéd this sounds, there is no ‘getting it wrong’ it’s just another valuable learning experience.
It’s about ﬁrst looking at our lives and deciding what feels important for us -
What we hold dear
What sits well with us and what doesn’t
Asking....... am I in tune with these things?
Am I living my life authentically?
Or am I living it according to others so that I ‘FIT IN?’ (ouch!)
So that I’m LIKED? (ouch again!)
So I’m seen to be doing the ‘Right Thing?!’ (By who?)
So this is the point where you look at what feels more important -
You - living out your life as a ‘real’ person or
You - possibly feeling that you are living out your life forever pleasing others until you are totally exhausted and eaten out with what? Resentment....Anger....what is that emotion for you? Try and feel it now
So if you have made the choice to look at living a ‘real’ life read on.....
The ﬁrst thing to explore is:
What might my boundaries look like?
What feels important?
Looking at your own SelfCare and how much weight you want that to carry
What is acceptable to you and what is not?
What is ‘overstepping the mark’ for you?
ALL of these questions and more of your own can be answered by looking deeply within and taking the time to reﬂect.
Once you have done this you can choose exactly what boundaries you want to put in place.
Beginning with just one boundary and adding others as you gain conﬁdence can be a good place to start....
Lets in this instance choose a boundary to outline how this might play out.
‘If I have explained I cannot do something for someone and they still ask or expect it of me, I can say ‘NO.’
So using the earlier scenario again....
You have chosen your boundary
You put it in place
You explain to your friend after the first time, or BEFORE the first time, if this feels right for you......
‘I’m not going to be able to do this (again) because this doesn’t work for me.’
Your friend tries to trample over your boundary but you enforce it by saying...
‘No, I can see this is really tough for you, but I have clearly explained this doesn’t work for me.’
Apologies are not necessary because you have already laid out your boundary.
So what might happen in this particular scenario?
Your friend may do as indicated earlier and relate back to other friends.
You may lose this friend....and others.
But the possibility exists that you may gain their respect if they are true friends.
Their response will tell you ALL you need to know
You lose a friend (what IS a true friend?)
You gain your self respect (I spoke my truth)
You gain self esteem (Wow! I managed that)
You feel empowered (I’ve done this once, I can do it again)
YOU FEEL REAL!
You can use this template for all kinds of different scenarios - with friends and family, at work, leisure. Whatever applies to you.
So yes, boundaries are not easy but they are powerful tools that can be used in the pursuit of authenticity.
Just by reading this alone you can imagine the changes that might be involved, but ultimately setting boundaries is ALL about VALUING yourself so that you can become the person you truly are.
Maybe try practicing your chosen boundary in a soft situation until you gain conﬁdence
I wish you well, and if you would like help with boundary work please get in touch.
Yvonne (Vonny) Prout, MBACP Counsellor works from her private practice Accanto, in Newton Abbot, U.K.