The Art of Setting Boundaries
Take 100% responsibility for getting 100% of your needs met 100% of the time...You know more than anyone about your needs.
The message written above was a note I wrote to myself when I was in Graduate School. As an individual who does direct service, I knew I had to begin embodying the above message if I was going to survive in this field. After all, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
When you are naturally a caring/ empathetic person, you often play a role as a care taker or giver without giving a second thought. Although this self-less act can be fulfilling, it may also be depleting if you are constantly giving to others but not yourself. Saying yes all of the time (even if you want to say no), trying not to disappoint others, doing things that you do not want to do, among other things, can take a toll on your well being. This can be depleting when you do not have firm boundaries about what you are willing to give.
Recently, I have began to do work on setting more firm boundaries.
Let me tell you: This is difficult.
Boundaries can look different for everyone. This can range from taking space when you need it, saying no, letting folks know what you will put up with (or wont put up with), etc. Boundaries are something I talk about a lot regularly.
Normally, I talk to parents about setting boundaries for their children. In those cases, I inform parents that they must set those boundaries and maintain them in order for them to work. Boundaries for children are easier to explain because they can revolve around having another piece of candy, wanting a particular toy, or different actions. When it comes to boundaries, children will test until they can see how much they can get away with and how they can be successful. This testing is also true for adults and boundaries.
Why do we need to set boundaries?
Check out this video by E Ortiz as she explains it perfectly.
We are the only ones that can set our own boundaries. This means, being clear with what it is that we are willing or not willing to do. It also means, saying No when you cannot do something that is asked of you and knowing that it is okay for you to say no.
An experience that I have had with this was when someone I was interacting with regularly, in a professional setting, would make inappropriate comments. It seemed as if no one had ever checked them about it.They would also share entirely TOO much information about their personal life with me (relationships, friendship, family situations) and I honestly, wasn't here for it. It was uncomfortable to have a conversation and hear those comments.
I decided to listen to that discomfort and ask myself why I was feeling it. After some reflection, I felt that the comments and sharing of information were inappropriate and I did not want to hear them anymore. I let this individual know that those comments were not appropriate, make others uncomfortable and I did not want to hear them.
I set my boundary.
The comments stopped to some degree BUT this individual would challenge my boundaries by saying things like, " I'm not trying to make you uncomfortable but....". In these instances, I would remind them of the boundary I set and would be clear as to how them beginning the sentence in that way did not make it ok. This type of behavior continued and I addressed it. When it did not change, I decided to discontinue my interactions with this individual because I was not willing to deal with that.
Awareness of your discomforts and dislikes is essential in setting firm and clear boundaries.
Image provided by The Moon Deck
There are so many emotions associated with setting boundaries. You may feel: guilty, selfish, unthoughtful, uncommitted, e.t.c. Honestly, you have to work through these feelings (I still am) and be okay with setting your boundaries. Boundaries are for everyone: family, friends, coworkers, strangers, etc. You must do what is best for you.
You are the only one that knows your own boundaries and can make sure that they are held.
Lately, I have noticed that others will try and make me feel bad about my boundaries. Mean, rude, sensitive, selfish are just a few of the names I have been called. At times I have felt bad or guilty for setting these boundaries and at the end of the day, I know that it is exactly what I need to make sure I maintain my sanity.
Full disclosure: I grew up with individuals who did not have any boundaries and that is what I grew to know. It was normal for others to pry into your personal life, be overly involved in your life, demand and expect things from you and not see anything wrong with asking for certain things. It was not until I was an adult that I began to find an issue with it. I had no idea how to stop this cycle. Therapy was a great start for me to begin this boundary setting. Little by Little, I began to set clear boundaries with individuals and I still continue to do so. There are moments where I do feel bad but it guilt that has been internalized and I advocate for what I need.
It is a life long process.
If you are trying to begin with this process or need some extra inspiration here are a few steps that you can follow:
- Journal—Write out what is bothering you, what you want to change, what your boundaries are and steps to take them. Any feelings come up around it, write about those also.
- Let go of the guilt—Only you know what is best for you and what you need.
- Practice—Need to have a hard conversation? Practice what you may want to say to the individual(s). The more you practice, the easier it may be for you to advocate for yourself
- Make a list—Make a list of the benefits of setting this boundary. How will it make you feel once it is maintained?
- Pros and Cons—Feeling nervous about doing this? List the Pros and the Cons of setting this boundary. Make sure that the list is about the pros and cons for you!
- Know yourself— Do what is best for your own well-being.