Do you have a difficult time sticking up for yourself? Do you find yourself giving in to pushy people? Do you “overlook” or try to ignore comments that are hurtful?
In a world where we are taught to “be nice” as early as infancy, often times our own personal boundaries end up taking a back seat. An accomplished author and past supervisor of mine, Beverly Engel, once made an important distinction for me – be KIND not NICE. In her book Nice Girl Syndrome, she goes more in-depth with that thought, however, for our purposes it is important to note that you can be kind without giving away part of yourself.
EssentialLifeSkills.Net describes personal boundaries as “physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others”. Learning to acknowledge, set and communicate your own personal boundaries is a healthy practice that is vital in establishing healthy relationships with others, as well as, maintaining a sense of self. Personal boundaries are how we distinguish our own thoughts, feelings and ideas from others. When “being nice” continually takes precedence over your own boundaries you begin to experience sensations of feeling unimportant or in some cases invisible.
This practice of making personal boundaries known can be difficult, especially in individuals like myself, who have a tendency to want to make everyone happy. However, it is important to remember that you will never make EVERYONE happy and if you regularly ignore your own limits and boundaries both your mental and emotional health suffer.
As an example, I have had a difficult time telling people my own feelings when I feel it may contradict the feelings of someone I care about. However, not only did that portray that I do not trust that individual enough to believe they can take care of their own uncomfortable feelings, but I also began to resent the time spent with them because I was unhappy. This is unfair to both you and them. As I become more self-aware and more invested in my own happiness, I am beginning to learn that conflict is ok in relationships and I do not always have to go along with something just because someone else would like me to. Healthy relationships can tolerate the conflict and will become stronger as a result.
Setting Personal Boundaries
I recognize that initially setting personal boundaries can, not only be scary, but it can be overwhelming as well. Especially if you tend to be the “people pleaser”. First and foremost it is important to remember that people pleasing is a symptom of a good heart, therefore it is difficult for you to disappoint people because you want to do good. You are not wrong for having personal boundaries, you are not selfish and people will not decide they no longer want to be around you (if this is the case then that is an unhealthy relationship and one I will talk about later in this blog). You can still be “good” and “kind” while maintaining boundaries. Just because you are taking care of your own needs does NOT mean you are making others worse in turn.
While I could give you an idea of how to go about discovering and establishing healthy boundaries, I found that life coach, Cheryl Richardson on Oprah.com does an extraordinary job of breaking it down into 3 simple steps and gives wonderful examples:
Step 1: Self-Awareness
The first step in learning to set boundaries is self-awareness. For example, pay close attention to the situations when you lose energy, feel a knot in your stomach, or want to cry. Identifying where you need more space, self-respect, energy or personal power is the first step.
Step 2: Setting Your Boundaries
Learn to set boundaries with others. Start setting simple but firm boundaries with a graceful or neutral tone. This will feel uncomfortable at first, but as you take care of yourself, the personal power you gain will make it easier.
Be sure to have support in place before and after each conversation. If you can’t find support from a friend or family member, you may be successful finding a friend online.
Vent any strong emotions with your partner before having your boundary conversation.
Use simple, direct language.
To set a boundary with an angry person:
“You may not yell at me. If you continue, I’ll have to leave the room.”
To set a boundary with personal phone calls at work:
“I’ve decided to take all personal calls in the evening in order to get my work done. I will need to call you later.”
To say no to extra commitments:
“Although this organization is important to me, I need to decline your request for volunteer help in order to honor my family’s needs.”
To set a boundary with someone who is critical:
“It’s not okay with me that you comment on my weight. I’d like to ask you to stop.”
To buy yourself time when making tough decisions:
“I’ll have to sleep on it, I have a policy of not making decisions right away.”
To back out of a commitment:
“I know I agreed to head up our fundraising efforts, but after reviewing my schedule, I now realize that I won’t be able to give it my best attention. I’d like to help find a replacement by the end of next week.
When setting boundaries, there is no need to defend, debate, or over-explain your feelings. Be firm, gracious and direct. When faced with resistance, repeat your statement or request.
Back up your boundary with action. Stay strong. If you give in, you invite people to ignore your needs
Step 3: Strengthen Your Internal Boundaries
An internal boundary is like an invisible shield that prevents you from taking in a comment without checking it out first. For example, when someone accuses you of being arrogant, stop and consider the statement before taking it in.
When you use this internal shield, especially with difficult people like an ex-spouse or critical parent, it gives you time to ask yourself the following three questions:
- How much of this is true about me?
- How much of this is about the other person?
- What do I need to do (if anything) to regain my personal power or stand up for myself?
Boundaries and Unhealthy Relationships
As aforementioned, maintaining my personal boundaries has been a struggle of mine that I have been improving on as of late. During this journey of self awareness and boundary communication, while I have found a great amount of support from most individuals, I have also found individuals in my life that have made it difficult. Through this exploration process I have come to see that there were individuals in my life who preferred I remained “invisible” so they could impress their own ideas onto me and I have since learned those are unhealthy relationships. As I began to identify those unhealthy relationships, I came to the realization that I did not need nor want those types of people in my life.
When you first begin to enforce your boundaries after a lifetime of “people pleasing” a certain amount of push back is to be expected as the people in your life adjust to your new found voice. However, in healthy relationships, after the initial adjustment period, the relationships become stronger. You begin to connect with people in your life on a much deeper level allowing for both individuals to safely express their own feelings, thoughts, and ideas.
On the contrary, there will be individuals who chose to be in a relationship with you BECAUSE they could convince or manipulate you into doing what they want. These individuals will not take kindly to the change and your growing sense of self. They may use tactics such as guilt, manipulation and cruelty to keep you doing what they want because it is comfortable for them. It is important that with these individuals you, not only maintain your boundaries, but also make them very black and white allowing for no questions of clarity. If you feel as if your boundaries are still being plowed over, you may want to consider how healthy this relationship is and what they are contributing to your life and you as a person.
If you need additional help with your specific situation and enforcing your own boundaries, please feel free to contact me for a consultation.