Have you ever felt like a friend or loved one was walking all over you? Maybe you’re feeling like a doormat? Maybe it’s your best friend or your spouse. Perhaps your brother or sister seems to feel entitled to your time and resources. Does your church expect you to be present whenever the doors are open and shame you if you don’t volunteer in a particular ministry that you receive benefit from? These are instances when healthy boundaries are due.
There seems to be a negative connotation on the word “boundaries” whenever I bring it up to people. I remember having the same negative inference to the word when I first learned about applying boundaries to my own life. It’s almost as if we think it means having a brick wall up, blocking all access and leaving others out in the cold.
Boundaries, however, are a very loving thing to establish in your life because it gives others appropriate access to you without harboring resentment and avails you to give fully and wholeheartedly where you commit. It also shows others how you expect to be treated, and it shows others that you value and respect yourself. The more you protect and respect yourself, the more others will respect and honor you and your boundaries.
So what does having boundaries even mean? What does it look like?
Well, let’s think about what a boundary is. We have boundaries everywhere in our lives. We have fences in our yards, walls to our house, locking doors, tree lines and bushes that indicate property lines, parking spaces, traffic lanes — these are all boundaries that say “Do not cross or there will be consequences.”
The difference in these boundaries and our personal healthy boundaries is that you can physically see them. We have a visual that shows us how far is too far, and where we need to be to be safe. We don’t have that in our social and emotional lives, do we?
In social interactions, Americans have about a three-foot personal space on average for casual interactions. Europeans it’s a little bit closer. Other areas of the world are closer or farther – it just depends on the country, but within that personal space we feel threatened or violated. So if someone comes too close, we back up or put our hands out. If it is imminent threat we may use a weapon for protection. This physical response isn’t possible, however, when it comes to our minds and emotional safety.
If you are asked to serve on a committee and you decline, but the other person threatens to hurt your reputation if you don’t, is that crossing a boundary?
If you’re cleaning your house and your spouse tells you you’re not doing it right or well enough and starts picking away at the few things you’ve missed, but you’ve worked all day and thought you were making accomplishments – is that crossing a boundary?
If you’ve decided that you’re not going to get into arguments with others anymore and stop explaining every decision you make, but you continue to do it – did you cross your own boundary?
These are three very small examples of what a boundary in social and emotional interactions means.
It’s an invisible line that says “I will not allow you to treat me this way, or do this thing that hurts me” and it also says “I will not *react* to things that happen and allow my emotions to get the best of me.”
Ok so now that we have established the fact that we HAVE to have boundaries to keep ourselves from being doormats, what does that look like?
I had a hard time with this one. I wrote a list of boundaries about three years into my marriage because I was tired of being treated like a child, a doormat, and a blow up doll. I wanted to be treated like a human being with individual rights and purpose. I wrote down exactly how I didn’t want to be treated any more, and I called these boundaries. I had a counselor helping me at the time and she was great but it wasn’t clicking. She told me to make consequences for these boundaries – that was SO hard!
Here’s how it works, though.
You decide what is unacceptable “I will no longer accept [name what you won’t accept anymore]”. Say it out loud.
Then you decide what will happen if that line is crossed “If you do [this thing I’ve said no to] I will [what you need to do to protect your space?]”
So for example: “I will not accept being pressured and manipulated into taking on extra work every time it comes up. If you try to pressure and manipulate me after I have declined, I not engage in debate or explanation, I will continue to simply say “no” you may have to be mad about it. I will leave the conversation/room/house/building, etc if you get aggressive. “
As elementary as that sounds – that is the formula. Remember the acronym “K.I.S.S.” – Keep it simple, sweetness! When you give too many details and start trying to explain *why* you have a boundary, others tend to try to talk you out of it. So it’s important to remember – simply say no.
Here are a few more examples:
- I will not allow others to coerce me into things I don’t want to do. I will be a broken record of “no” without explanation.
- I will not allow others to treat me disrespectfully. If they do, I will disengage from them and remove myself from their presence.
- I will not hand out money like it’s candy to others. I will set a budget for giving, and when it’s gone it’s gone.
- I will voice my opinions where appropriate. If others disagree I will expect to agree to disagree.
In the Freedom Project coaching program, we spend a lot of time on your personal boundaries and what you specifically struggle with and how to create bulletproof boundaries for your life. Scheduling a complimentary call with me will give you a chance to see how I can help!