Learning to establish boundaries is vital for personal growth and well-being. In order to achieve this, we must learn to identify our rights and needs and then become skilled at assertively taking care that these needs are respected. This process allows our true selves (our wants, needs, desires, thoughts, values and feelings) to emerge.
Healthy boundaries are the fences that keep us safe – something we may not have experienced in childhood. Take a moment to consider the boundaries in your childhood home? Did others respect your physical and emotional boundaries? Were you able to set boundaries with others? Most often, we were not taught to consider our needs or wants and to set boundaries for them.
Thus, a key in setting boundaries is knowing our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits in the first place. Be clear on what will or will not be accepted from others or a situation. When a new situation or decision comes along, we can then check with these established limits. In this way, we honour want we truly want and can then set appropriate boundaries.
When we feel angry or resentful, or find ourselves complaining, we probably need to set a boundary. Remember, we are probably angry that we let a boundary be crossed in the first place. We need to determine what to do or say to rid ourselves of this resentment.
After we identify the need to set a boundary, do it clearly, respectfully and succinctly, without charged emotion. Communicate the boundary assertively by using phrases such as, “I would like,” “I need to” or “I would prefer.” Know that we are doing nothing wrong in setting a boundary. There is no need to apologize, justify or rationalize our needs. We have a right to set boundaries just as others do.
When we set new boundaries, others, especially those accustomed to controlling or manipulating us, may become disappointed or even upset. Keep in mind, we cannot set a boundary and take care of someone else’s feelings at the same time. As long as we are communicating the boundary in a respectful manner, we are not responsible for others’ reactions.
If others get upset with us, that is their issue. In fact, they are not really annoyed at us; they are upset with the reality that their needs will now not be met as much (or at all) as before. Detach from their reaction (this is the hard part!) and observe. Use the ‘broken record’ approach (e.g., “I’d like to leave now. [listener dismisses our comment] I’d really like to leave now.”). In some cases, it may be necessary to end the relationship.
For the most part, setting boundaries is appreciated by everyone as it establishes healthier relationship dynamics and demands self-awareness and growth. Perhaps this holiday season, we can challenge ourselves to re-establish some healthy new boundaries with family and others. What a lovely gift for all!