How do I begin to set boundaries? It's such a common question, and today I want to start talking about the answer.
Need a quick recap? Check out Personal Boundaries 101 for a primer on what boundaries are and Have You Got Boundary Issues for a quick check in on what it looks like to have healthy and unhealthy boundaries.
Let's agree that having healthy boundaries is helpful to living a life you love and being treated in the way you want to be treated. Can we also agree that for a lot of people (particularly women), having, articulating, and enforcing boundaries feels hard and almost foreign.
Why is that?
Personal boundaries is not something we're taught well as we grow up. In fact, most kids are taught the opposite as they are expected to do what their parents say without question, no matter how it makes them feel.
So as an adult, with a little awareness that your boundaries are not as strong as you'd like them to be, how do you begin to set personal boundaries for yourself?
Notice Your Current Boundaries
What boundaries do you currently have? Not just the good ones. All of them. What are the boundaries that you live by and that you allow other people to treat you by? Write them down.
While you are writing them down, here are a couple of things to consider.
True boundaries are rules that don't change. They don't change because it would be *easier* in this situation. Boundaries don't change because of what another person wants or how you are worried they might react. They are non-negotiable rules for how you wish to live.
Boundaries and preferences are two different things. If you have a strong preference and aren't sure if it's a boundary, ask yourself this question. Would I be willing to sacrifice this if it was important to the other person? When the answer is yes, it's a preference. If the answer is no, it's a boundary. Boundaries are non-negotiable.
Begin to Set Personal Boundaries
Knowing what your current boundaries are, take a good honest look at them. Are these the boundaries that you want to have? Do they bring you joy? Do people treat you the way you wish they would? Do you spend more time doing what others think you *should* than you spend doing what you *want*?
How do you want your boundaries to be different so that they can support you in living life on purpose? Living a life you love? What boundaries do you have that serve you right now? With the boundaries that don't serve you, how can you change them so that they begin supporting you too?
Write it down.
Enforcing Personal Boundaries
With your boundaries written down, you have a clear idea of what the boundaries are that you wish to have in your life.Setting boundaries isn't a solitary activity. When you are clear on your boundaries, you need to communicate them.
Setting boundaries isn't a solitary activity though. If only it were so easy that we could write something down and it instantly became true! When you are clear on your boundaries, you need to communicate them.
Once you are clear on your boundaries, you need to communicate them. Sometimes this is a sit-down conversation with a loved one to talk about things you need to change in the relationship. Sometimes it's a moment-by-moment opportunity to say "hey, here's what I need right now."
This is about enforcing your boundaries. Enforcing your boundaries is a 2 step process:
- When you notice your boundary being violated, take a deep breath and say "I am not available for...If you do this again, I will..." (this sounds easier than it is, but I promise the more you do it the better it gets (and interestingly, the less you have to do it))
- If the boundary gets violated again, being sure to follow through on the consequences.
This follow-through is the key to enforcing boundaries. People who are comfortable with their own boundaries will generally respect yours once they are expressed. Other people may not always get it the first time. Enforcing the consequences of violating your boundary helps them to learn that you mean it. And it helps you to learn that you deserve to be treated well (because you do!).
This has been a pretty quick guide in how to begin to set personal boundaries. If you'd like to do a deeper dive into this with me, there's a great opportunity coming up to do just that!
Photo Credit: Steven Depolo | Flickr