I’m married to one of the calmest men on the face of the planet. He’s a rock. From time to time I am tempted to take his pulse and make sure he’s still with us. I love that about him. On top of everything else I find attractive in him, I especially love that he has great boundaries. And because of that, he rarely has the need to be angry.
I learned a few years ago that any time anger rears its head, it’s because:
a. Someone has violated my boundaries, or
b. I have violated someone’s boundary and they’ve let me know it, or
c. I never set a boundary in the first place, so I get angry that another person couldn’t read my mind and see where they were violating my space (emotional or physical).
Having healthy boundaries is a vital part of being an emotionally balanced person. We all need to know where we leave off and another person begins. Picture it like as if you are looking at your house and yard. Your fence line is your property line/boundary. When someone trespasses on it, it’s a violation that makes us angry. We get angry AT the other person because they violated our “no trespassing” boundary, or we get mad at ourselves because we never got around to putting up that fence so our boundary would be obvious and visible.
Boundaries aren’t bad or rude. They aren’t selfish or conceited. They are actually protective and nurturing. Without boundaries we are susceptible to the manipulation of others. We are more prone to allow others to use or abuse us. We all already have them in place – it’s natural. Some of us have let ours slip; allowed others to redefine them for us or just plain driven a truck through them.
Physical boundaries are our limits of what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable. These boundaries define who can touch us, how someone can touch us and how physically close another may approach us. At the beginning you were taught about “stranger danger.” That’s a big boundary: you cannot touch me. Others include boundaries regarding your things, material possessions, etc. Not so hard to accept? Well how about this one: My time is MY time and not yours, so I will use it how I want to. Ouch…that one is harder isn’t it?
The big one we all struggle with is emotional boundaries. You have the right to keep certain thoughts or feelings to yourself. If you make a decision, you really don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. Do you take responsibility for your own feelings and needs, and allow others to do the same? Or do you feel overly responsible for the feelings and needs of others and neglect our own?
What about this one: Do you allow others to dump their negativity on you? Do you realize you don’t HAVE to listen to someone whine and moan? It doesn’t make you nice. It makes you an accomplice!
Are you able to say “no”? Can you ask for what you need, or are your needs not important compared to others’? Are you a compulsive people pleaser? These questions help define the “property lines” of our emotional boundaries.
So why do we let others on our lawn? Maybe you want to appear “nice” or perhaps you are afraid of the other person. Maybe you have low self-esteem and don’t feel worthy of having your own boundaries. I’m here to tell you right now: you have the right to your thoughts, feelings and behaviors regardless of what others want or need. It’s time to gain your self-respect back and stop having a reason to be angry.
See, people in our lives are simply behaving in a manner in which they can get their needs met. That’s basic biology there. Our response to their needs is OUR choice and only becomes a problem when we put the needs of others first.
Healthy boundaries create healthy relationships. Unhealthy boundaries create dysfunctional ones.
How do you start? Identify and respect your needs, feelings, opinions and rights. That might be harder for some than others. For some, you may have been raised in a home where boundaries were never rights and violations occurred daily.
Here are some tips for setting healthy boundaries from the book, Boundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine:
- When you identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly – without anger – and in as few words as possible. Do not justify, apologize for, or rationalize the boundary you are setting. Do not argue! Just set the boundary calmly, firmly, clearly and respectfully. “Mom, I cannot come over to mow your lawn on Saturday; I am studying for a test. I will call you when I’m able to help you, or you can call a service.”
- You can’t set a boundary and take care of someone else’s feelings at the same time. You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction to the boundary you are setting. You are only responsible for communicating the boundary in a respectful manner. If others get upset with you, that is their problem. If they no longer want your friendship, then you are probably better off without them. You do not need “friends” who disrespect your boundaries. “Mom, I understand you are upset. You do not have the right to talk to me like that when you’re angry. You are welcome to call me later when you can talk to me respectfully.” And you have the right to choose to answer the phone when and if she calls back!
- At first, you will probably feel selfish, guilty or embarrassed when you set a boundary. Do it anyway. Then tell yourself you have a right to take care of yourself. Setting boundaries takes practice and determination. Don’t let anxiety or low self-esteem prevent you from taking care of yourself. Call someone, go for a walk, read a book, journal your thoughts and feelings — it will keep you from acting in guilt and violating the boundary you just set!
- When you feel anger or resentment, or find yourself whining or complaining, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, then determine what you need to do or say. Next, communicate your boundary.
- When you set boundaries, you might be tested, especially by those accustomed to controlling, abusing or manipulating you. Plan on it, expect it, but be firm. Remember, your behavior must match the boundaries you are setting. You can not establish a clear boundary successfully if you send a mixed message by apologizing for doing so. “Mom, thank you for calling. I hope we can talk about this respectfully. If the conversation veers to ugliness, I will hang up until you can be civil.” Remember, she doesn’t have to like your decision, but she does have to go along with it.
When I first met my husband, I was on the tail-end of learning to set boundaries with all the people in my life – friends and family. I recognized in him what I wanted for myself: respect for his behaviors and actions. He is a true “man of his word.” Amazingly, as I surrounded myself with healthy, boundary-respecting people, the toxic people in my life just kind of drifted away. Now it’s easier to set new boundaries because those I love and call friends are walking the same journey I am. One step at a time.
I challenge you to set a boundary; start with a small one. And if you think it’s impossible or terrifying, let me know – I can help – after all, I used to be just like you. 🙂