Do you struggle to make decisions, find yourself in dramatic or difficult relationships, or fear letting people down? Do you feel responsible for making people in your life happy? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be struggling with creating and maintaining relationship boundaries.
A huge component of enjoying healthy, successful relationships is our ability to understand and implement boundaries. That sounds great in theory but what does that even mean?
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits that mark your limits on your life and relationships. These boundaries can be mental, physical, or sexual. All humans create boundaries to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how to respond when someone passes those limits. Some people have overly flexible boundaries. They may be unwilling to say no or always accommodate others’ needs. Some have overly rigid boundaries to the point of being righteous and judgmental. Ideally, healthy boundaries fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
Why are boundaries important?
Boundaries are vital to a strong relationship and improved self-esteem. They help you establish the limits within your relationships and provide others with guidance on how to be in a relationship with you. A recent article in Psychology Today explored the importance of boundaries in all areas of life…professional, social, legal, etc. The bottom line is boundaries help you and your relationships feel safe.
How are healthy boundaries created?
Determining what your boundaries are can be hard and implementing them can be even harder. With some self-exploration and practice, you can work towards identifying and establishing healthy boundaries. Try these five simple steps:
Know your boundaries.
We learn boundaries from watching others be in relationships. You might take a moment to think about the influential relationships in your life. What positive examples did you witness? What are some things you may have been exposed to that didn’t feel healthy or comfortable? Decide what you will and will not tolerate in relationships with others. Write those things down.
Listen to your gut – We all have an internal “warning light.”
This is what tells us when others have crossed the line, acted inappropriately, or disrespected us. Usually, when you start feeling uncomfortable or your internal warning light is going off – it’s because someone is testing your boundaries. People, by their very nature, will test boundaries. Remember, they are seeking guidance from you on how to be in a relationship with you. If you always say “yes” when you want to say “no” or you don’t speak up when someone offends you, that person will continue to push your boundaries.
Say them out loud.
It can be hard to say no or let someone know they are crossing your boundaries but over time, and with practice, you will be able to soften your responses. Most people worry that if they say no, or assert their own needs, they will hurt someone’s feelings or the person will not like them. Know that you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. Don’t let someone guilt you into crossing your boundaries. They may react at first but they will ultimately respect you more for setting limits and letting them know what to expect from your relationship.
Know that you have a right to set personal boundaries.
Other people’s feelings and needs are not more important than yours. People often struggle because they put the needs of other people above their own. They think being a giving partner, parent, employee or friend is part of being in a healthy relationship. While this is true, finding a balance is so important. By continually sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others, you will wear yourself thin both mentally and physically and jeopardize your health and happiness. If you’re not healthy and happy as an individual, it is impossible to be in a healthy and happy relationship.
Ask for help.
It’s okay to ask for help. If you are struggling with relationship boundaries you might need help in determining what is healthy versus unhealthy for you. Find someone in your life who has good boundaries and find out what has helped them.
Sometimes we need help addressing things that interfere with creating better boundaries. Consider scheduling an appointment for therapy. We can help you understand how you relate to others and help you achieve your goals for personal and relational growth.
You might also enjoy our blog How to Be Your Most Empowered Self.