The #1 Thing You’re Forgetting When Setting Boundaries...
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Boundaries are great. A quick Google search will result in dozens of inspirational quotes and memes about the importance of setting boundaries- and for good reason. Boundaries serve as basic guidelines that establish how you want to be treated by others. But you can set boundaries all day and still feel like shit at work or in your relationship or with family members. Why? Because you’re forgetting the most important part of boundary setting: yourself. You are setting boundaries that focus on establishing guidelines for how people can behave around you - something you don’t have control over. This means that the success of your boundaries hinges entirely on the belief that people will respect your boundaries simply because you set them. But what happens when someone doesn’t? (See “feeling shitty” mentioned above).
I like to think of it this way: You’re standing on a beach. You use a stick to draw a big circle around you so that you’re standing in the middle of the circle. This circle in the sand serves as your boundary. Most of the time, you focus on setting boundaries to limit what comes into your circle from the outside. But you forget to think about limiting what you personally send out from inside your circle. You’re setting boundaries for what you allow from your workplace, family, partners, friends, etc., but you are forgetting to set boundaries on how much you allow yourself to give.
Define what a boundary is to you
I have frequently struggled with giving my time, energy, love, or emotions, to people who are unable to give anything in return - which leaves me drained and hurt. So I define my boundary as, “A line where my responsibility ends and another person’s begins. A line that stops me from taking responsibility for the things that people need to do for themselves.” My boundary definition has taught me how to recognize when it is healthy to continue sharing myself with others and when I have given enough and it's time to step away. Take some time to create your definition of a boundary.
Get clear on the difference between boundaries for others and boundaries for yourself
For most of my life, I took responsibility for the emotions of everyone around me - and it was exhausting. I was constantly sacrificing my energy and time and emotions to try and fix or figure out or heal the emotions of the people around me. After a while, I started setting boundaries that I thought would be helpful. “People need to respect my needs as well,” I proudly stated. But guess who that boundary focused on? (If you guessed “other people,” you win!). That boundary was a great start in prioritizing my own needs but it certainly didn’t stop me from continuing to take responsibility for other people’s emotions. I needed to set a boundary for myself. “I can witness someone’s emotion, and I can recognize the deep pain and call for healing that emotion is indicating, but I will not take on that emotion as my own.” Boom! That is a boundary.
Tweak your preexisting boundaries
A great way to start creating boundaries for yourself is to think about the boundaries you already have, then tweak them to focus on you instead of other people.
For example, maybe your boundaries look something like this:
“My family needs to respect my decisions.”
“My coworkers need to appreciate my ideas.
“My partner needs to know my worth.”
The core idea of these boundaries is significant, but shifting the focus from other people (who you can’t control) to yourself will make them much more effective. Also, try adding specific actions to your boundaries. These actions will hold you accountable for maintaining your boundaries.
“When a family member criticizes my decisions, I will have a serious conversation with them about the way I feel disrespected.” Or “If a family member continually disrespects my decisions, I will reevaluate that person’s space in my life.”
“I will vocalize my ideas during meetings. If my ideas are consistently overlooked, I will gently confront my coworkers or I will start looking for a new job.”
“I will not invest in a partner who makes promises but doesn’t follow through. I will stop offering emotional energy when my partner demonstrates that she/he is not capable of receiving or holding space for my love.”
Be prepared for mixed reactions
The minute you start setting boundaries for yourself, big changes start to happen. All of these changes will propel you closer to your true self and calling. Many people will admire and respect you for the boundaries you set. That said, there will also be people who resent you for your new-found limits. I don’t need to specify which group does and does not deserve your investment.
Setting boundaries can be difficult - especially when the process involves people you truly love and want to keep in your life. Start small.
“When my boyfriend asks where I want to eat, I will tell him that I want Chipotle instead of pretending like I don’t care and letting him decide.”
“If I don’t hear back from that job today, I am not going to assume that I didn’t get it and spend hours of energy feeling sad. I will continue to apply for other jobs until I hear from them.”
Your natural desire to give love and energy to the people around you is beautiful, and I never want to stifle that gift. I do want to help you share yourself in a way that builds you up and keeps you full. Setting boundaries for yourself is a powerful way to set standards for the people you interact with while also taking responsibility for how much you allow yourself to give. Click here to set up a free Discovery Call this week so I can support you in creating and maintaining your boundaries.