Personal boundaries are vital to a healthy wellbeing because they define the standards that must be met with regards to how we are treated by others and how we treat ourselves. Deciding what boundaries to set is only half the battle though.
Once you know what you stand for, what your boundaries are, then there's the matter of communicating and enforcing them. This is nobody's favorite part, but if you're coming from a place of self-awareness, and it's done with a bit of tact and sans judgement, it's not only possible, but beneficial to every aspect of your daily life.
Things get especially dicey when it's people we deeply care about, but that makes it all the more important to communicate. Boundaries are often viewed as a way to keep people out, but they're actually a way to know who to let in. Think of them as the bouncers to your wellbeing.
why you need to communicate your boundaries
Why we set personal boundaries is unique to each person, but generally, we all want to be treated with respect, fairness, and kindness. However, knowing the specific why's behind your own boundaries are what they are will help you be able to communicate more effectively.
There are some boundaries that require no explanation, no communication, and no exceptions such as physical or mental abuse. In most other cases though, if you set a boundary, you need to be able and willing to carry out what should happen if that line is crossed. At what point will you walk away? Some of you will be more strict, while for others, it will depend on the importance of the relationship, the number of offenses, etc. It's important to decide this upfront. That way, in the moment, when stakes and emotions are often high, you'll have your decision made already. If you struggle, even occasionally, with self-worth, it's a good idea to write down your boundaries and post them somewhere you'll see often, as a reminder to hold yourself and others accountable for how you're treated.
The people we are closest to such as parents, children, spouses, friends, etc. are often the people we need to communicate our boundaries to the most; not because they are bad or disrepectful, but because boundaries establish a safe zone in relationships, they make them healthier and emotionally safer places to be. They encourage acceptance of the fact that we are all different, keep communication open, and most of all, they demand respect. I accepted that my "friend" had different viewpoints on things, but I refuse to be talked-around or sacrifice my right to feel safe.
People aren't mind-readers, so communication is necesary to make boundaries effective.
how to communicate your boundaries
Before you start communicating your boundaries to people, you first need to understand WHY you set the boundary and WHAT you'll do if it's crossed.
Look inward when setting boundaries and ask yourself the following questions:
- What is this boundary protecting?
- How would I feel if this boundary is crossed?
- Why is it unacceptable to treat me this way?
- How involved in my life can somebody be who has violated this boundary?
- Do I understand that having and enforcing this boundary does not require me to explain myself to anybody? (Especially important with abuse)
Without knowing each others personal boundaries, it's tough to know when you've crossed a line or not, and everybody's lines are different. I've realized that if I am willing to terminate the relationship after a boundary is crossed, then I need to do 3 things (and only 3 things).
- let the person know what the boundary is (and it's up to me, not them, if I give an explanation why)
- let the person know what will happen if the boundary is crossed
- let the person know if the boundary is crossed
Think of it as you need to let them know the transactional things, but none of the reasoning behind them (unless want to). It is like buying something at the store. The store is required to 1. give you the price of the item (but not tell you why it's that price), 2. let you know what will happen if you take the item and don't pay that price (but not why that is the consequence), and 3. if you decide to take it without paying that price, let you know (while you're probably being arrested) that you're not allowed back in that store.
And if anyone places judgement on you or demands an explanation for what happens after a boundary breach, remember that it's your boundary, body, feelings, thoughts, and life, and that the details of why, when, etc. you set the boundary is absolutely none of their business, unless you choose to make it so. Whatever you need to put in place for the sake of your mental health and wellbeing is your business alone. Who you choose to share that with is entirely up to you.
how to enforce boundaries
Some of you might be thinking, "well, isn't it cruel to just cut somebody out of your life, even if they've crossed boundaries?" The short answer is no. As long as you've communicated these things to them, that is really all you can do to help them understand. They're a grown-up and they've made their choices. The long answer is, it can depend on you, the severity of the breach, the number of offenses, and the intentions of the offender.
There are certain things to be cautious of when heading into the "boundary breach" conversation. When a boundary is crossed, it's easy to get mad; your feelings are probably hurt and are definitely valid. It's perfectly fine to feel however you feel when boundaries are crossed, but it's imperative that you get yourself into a stable state of mine before attempting to deal with the person, unless, again, it's a matter of abuse. Nothing productive will come from rage texting or cursing at somebody. Throwing judgement on top of the heap will only make it worse too. You don't have to understand why somebody did it, only that they did. If they knew that was a boundary of yours (or it's an extremely obvious boundary such as personal safety), and If they had a choice (99.9% of the time, it's a choice), it only matters that they did it. Even if it was unintentional, they had the choice. "I didn't mean to (do the bad thing)" is maaaaaybe an explanation (pushing it), but definitely not an excuse. They had the ability to be intentional, to do the right thing on purpose, and they didn't.
Some people will have to work hard to not think and act in all absolutes; "she wronged me, we're done forever," and other people will have trouble sticking to their guns, "well, that's only the 12th time that's happened, maybe one more shot." It takes practice, and mistakes to set learn the severity and degree of detail that your boundaries need, and it's different for everyone.
Often times when you start setting and enforcing boundaries, you'll start to notice your social circle changing. I know that's been the case with me. I had a few friends who were fair-weather friends, some who fell off the face of the Earth when I stopped making 90% of the effort, and some where the bond between us was more of a misery-loves-company type arrangement. Even family and best friends come and go simply because we grow. I'm adopted, and I believe that you can choose your family. I don't think being a blood relative to somebody means you need to lower your standards or make exceptions for them. Friends can be family and family can be friends, but they all need to be held to the same set of boundaries.
We grow up and our lives take different shapes and directions, and the commonalities fade. It's important to acknowledge and reflect on times with important people in our lives, but realize that life can and will go on with or without them in your life.
You are the expert on you, and you know how you want to feel around people. If there are people in your life, or ways you treat yourself, that are unacceptable to you, have the courage to set and enforce boundaries around them. Don't ever wait for permission to be you or to stand up for yourself and the right way to be treated. You deserve to be happy, accepted, and loved, and anything or anyone whose actions or words make you feel less than can mosey on right along. It might be hard to accept, but trust me when I say, you don't need'em.