If you learn one skill as an adult, it should be on how to set good, strong and healthy boundaries. According to Dr Brene Brown who is a research professor in Social Work, those who practice living with compassion, have the strongest and most solid boundaries. In other words, you cannot have one without the other. It makes sense…if your cup is full and overflowing with self-compassion and solid boundaries, then you will have the capacity to give. You cannot give with an empty cup.
The trouble is, is that for many people, boundaries is a wishy-washy concept that isn’t talked about as a practical and essential life skill. People are uncomfortable setting boundaries and saying no, because they have either not been taught how to set them or have grown up in an environment without them. This is especially true for women who are socialised to please and to not make any waves. This is also true for introverts and empaths, who are often quiet, considerate, accommodating and agreeable people.
Perhaps you have tried to set boundaries before, but someone’s reaction to that boundary was so extreme, that you felt like you had no right to set the boundary in the first place. Setting boundaries can be hard and it can be uncomfortable, especially if you have been raised in a way where your boundaries were not encouraged or rejected. Nevertheless, you can set boundaries and all it takes is the first baby steps…
So, to begin with let’s define what a personal boundary is…
A personal boundary is knowing where you begin and where you end. Knowing where you begin is the following:
- Knowing what your rights are as a human being;
- Knowing and honouring your values;
- Listening to your internal yes and no;
- Trusting your body and gut;
- Knowing that you should be treated with dignity and respect;
- Making decisions in alignment with who you are;
- Having self-compassion to say no;
- Acting with integrity based on what YOU want;
- Trusting your own decisions;
- Taking responsibility for your behaviour and actions; and
- Advocating for what you need and want…
In sum, boundaries is knowing your own mind and trusting your own judgement.
Knowing where you end, means the following:
- Knowing that you are not responsible for another adult’s behaviour or reaction to your boundary;
- Respecting someone else’s boundaries;
- Treating others with respect, empathy and compassion;
- Knowing that you do not need to save or fix anyone; and
- Knowing and believing that you do not need to placate your values or boundaries.
Boundaries come with responsibilities. First of all to yourself. You have a responsibility to look after you and to treat yourself with the dignity, compassion and respect that you deserve. In this way, you teach others through cause and effect, that you will not tolerate anything that crosses your core values. As a result, the more boundaries that you set, the happier you will become. This is especially true for introverts who can experience sensory overload and need their quiet down-time and space in order to recharge. Staying true to you is the first step towards being more kind to yourself. There is nothing quite as blissful to the introvert than a good, solid boundary!
Boundaries can also cause conflict. Sometimes healthy people may not like or be happy with your personal boundary, and that’s okay. The signs that will tell you if a person is healthy to be around, is that they won’t react with anger or blame and they won’t attempt to gaslight you or try to override your boundary. If an adult consistently challenges your boundaries with any of these behaviours, then this may be a sign that this particular person is not going to respect you and it may be time to graciously move on.
Boundaries can sometimes, in extreme cases, cause necessary endings and beginnings. Sometimes those endings can be painful, such as, saying goodbye to a friendship or relationship. This can be even more painful if it pertains to a family member. Whether it’s a friendship, a relationship or family member, you do not owe your loyalty to another adult who mistreats, devalues or undermines your personal boundaries.
Setting new boundaries can also cause healthy relationships to blossom. When you have the necessary boundaries to reflect who you are and how you want to be treated, you will choose and attract people who are respectful and genuine. You will also have sufficient self-compassion in order to thrive in a mutual and healthy giving friendship/relationship. And with these types of relationships, not only will you have more energy and zest for life, but you will grow as an individual.
It’s essential to say “no” more than we do, especially if you are used to automatically overriding your inner ‘no’. I notice that I’m about to override my inner ‘no’ when someone asks me to do something that I really don’t want to do, and before I reluctantly say “yes” I take a deep breath in as though I’m preparing for this reluctant reply. Start to notice how you behave when you say yes to something that isn’t in alignment with who you are….you might catch yourself just in time.
Setting boundaries is a courageous and necessary step to affirm that you belong and are worthy of a your own self-compassion. You cannot abundantly give to another human being without giving to yourself first. So stay gentle with yourself, start with baby step boundaries, forgive yourself often and stick with those who respect where you begin and end.