The Hard Truth About Boundaries
By Amanda Singer
Setting boundaries isn’t easy. However, boundaries are also essential for our self-care and well-being. I recently listened to a wonderful podcast called Do The Thing by Melissa Urban (co-founder of the Whole 30) and her guest that week Dr. Nicole LePera (holistic psychologist) about setting and maintaining boundaries in our life. I have worked hard to establish boundaries. While I’m pretty good within most areas of my life, there is always room for improvement. I found the podcast and Dr. LePera’s Instagram account (@the.holistic.psychologist). She posts about self-care, trauma, healing, and boundaries. It was super helpful and got me thinking more about boundaries and those of people in my life.
Before I delve in much more, let’s get one definition of what boundaries are. Boundaries are a clear personal limit for how people behave toward us. There are many different types of boundaries, a few of which are time, physical, conversational, and relationship boundaries. Time boundaries are how much time you spend with someone, doing something, or time boundaries at work. Physical boundaries are around physical proximity, sexuality, and how much space you share with others. Conversational boundaries are topics you’re open to discussing and not discussing and who you’ll discuss those topics with. Relationship boundaries are boundaries mutually agreed upon with your close friends and partner. While there are other types of boundaries, I find that these four resonate with me.
More recently, I’ve found that I’ve been thinking a lot about boundaries with different people in my life. I’ve realized I have done a reasonably good job of setting boundaries at work, with my clients and with my time. When it comes to working, I have a much harder time setting and keeping boundaries with very close friends and family. I think this is something most people struggle with. Setting boundaries with people closest to us isn’t something we’ve necessarily been taught and can leave us feeling guilty of our decision. How do you set boundaries without feeling guilty? I’ve found that you probably can’t. However, you have every right to claim your limits. How people respond is feedback to how you’ve done setting your limits. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t as you go. What makes it hard to set boundaries with those closest to you is that they’re also most likely going to be the ones to get upset about it. Therefore, they are the ones that will make you feel guilty. However, I try to remember that “the only people who get upset when you set boundaries are the ones how benefited from you having none.” Those closest to us, whether that be friends, parents, siblings, or other family members come to expect us to act in a certain way. Very often, they will take advantage of the fact that you haven’t set boundaries with them. Once you do, they may feel hurt, angry, or upset. If they do, it’s probably because they somehow benefited from your lack of limits. Now with those in place, they’re not sure what to do.
One of the things I find essential with setting boundaries is that you have to communicate with the people that you’re trying to set the boundaries with. Now, this doesn’t mean you always have to sit them down face to face and explain all of your new limits. But it does mean that if you set them and don’t somehow communicate them, how are others supposed to know why things have changed. When you’re clear around what boundaries you’re setting and why you’re setting them, it makes it easier for others to react more positively. It also helps you to stick to those boundaries better than you may have before.
“The act of setting a boundary is for us, not to control the behavior of another person. Boundaries are our firm line in the sand of what we will & will not accept. How a person responds is for them to decide. Our work is to hold the boundary regardless of the response” (@the.holistic.psychologist). I’ve found that it’s challenging to hold my boundaries no matter how the other person might respond. When they do react with anger or being upset at what I’ve done, it makes me question whether I set the right boundary. What I have to remind myself is that by placing a limit is for me. Although it might affect them, it’s up to them how they let themselves respond and up to me to hold my boundary no matter what. Holding boundaries can feel very uncomfortable, but where we grow are in those times of discomfort and learning to breathe through it knowing that you’ve set your boundary for a reason.
Something I found useful in my own life around relationship boundaries is asking the person I’m talking with, “Do you want my opinion or my support?”. This allows the other person to tell you what they need and then makes it easier to engage positively. When another person comes to you to talk about what’s going on in their life, they may want your opinion, but I find far more often they just want your support. However, most people’s default is to give our advice when that might not be what they wanted. This simple question has allowed me to respect my boundaries as well as the person I’m speaking with and make sure that I provide what they’re looking for.
While setting boundaries is undoubtedly tough, it’s not impossible, and even taking baby steps can make a whole host of difference in your life. Give it a try and see how you can grow.
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