Have you ever felt at a loss when you wanted to say ‘no’ to someone? Most of us put ourselves in a difficult position sometimes because we can’t think of a way to do so. Personal boundaries are an essential part of our personal or work life. They are important to create and uphold a healthy self-image regardless of one’s gender, race, status and level of awareness.
Our boundaries can be a measure of self-worth and act as an empowering means to preserve our personal integrity. They are the tools with which we practice assertiveness, self-acceptance and increased trust. And knowing how to set boundaries is important to maintain healthy personal or work relationships, for authentic communication and to make decisions that are in alignment with one’s truth.
— Brene Brown
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others
Types of personal boundaries
Personal boundaries can be hard to define since they are different from person to person. However, they more or less refer to the idea of drawing a line between what is okay and what is not okay. They reflect your personal values and priorities, and act as a framework for acceptable behaviour. Boundaries are often self-serving and protect you from being used, controlled, pressured or manipulated.
Though not all boundaries are well-defined, they are of different types. Some of them can be physical boundaries to protect our personal space, time and privacy. Emotional boundaries protect our emotional well-being. They often come into place in situations like how others treat and talk to us. Like for instance, arguments with someone close to you, or disagreements with coworkers.
Some of them can be material like anything you are willing to give or share with someone. Mental boundaries specify your freedom to have your own thoughts, values, beliefs and opinions, even if it means not aligning with those of others’. Irrespective of what they may be, they always exist at work with coworkers, or at home while engaging with family or friends, whether you communicate to others about them or not.
Why are they important
We all have our own personal lines of comfort and discomfort. The thing is that sometimes we don’t know where the boundary need to be, or don’t realise until someone crosses it and then we feel angry or disappointed with ourselves and others.
There are many reasons to have personal boundaries. However, not everyone has the same reasons and they depend on what your individual awareness is. We aren’t capable of guessing what another person’s boundary may be either. Similarly, not everyone may like or understand your personal boundaries or your reasons for having them. This is because each one of us experience life differently and have different needs, priorities, and values.
Most of us are taught from very early on to bend and mould ourselves to make others comfortable. We’ve been taught as to what is right and that offending others is wrong. As a result, we try to put the feelings of others ahead of our own needs, to the point that we do so sometimes at the expense of caring for our own needs and emotions.
Sometimes we are not in the headspace to help others, especially when we are dealing with our own problems. And if you happen to be a people pleaser, you may look for a sense of approval and tend to dismiss or hide what you truly feel. Such a violation of personal space can cause resentment, anxiety, and stress in our relationship, both personal and professional.
Since creating personal boundaries almost always involves being assertive in saying ‘no’ to someone or something, most of us consider it as a selfish act. We think that they will damage relationships and think that people will dislike. This is only partly true. Having personal boundaries can cause discomfort to few people, but creating will also cause many to respect you. They make you empowered and make you feel in control.
What it looks like when you lack personal boundaries
By not having proper boundaries in place, you may struggle with lack of healthy self-image, and end up in toxic one-sided work or personal relationships. Poor boundaries create a perpetual cycle of victimhood where one places all the blame on circumstances rather than being accountable.
When there no boundaries set, you experience negative emotions like guilt, or end up feeling like taken for granted. You feel responsible for others’ happiness and this often makes you worry about what others might think of you.
Without them, you can have an unhealthy habit of saying ‘yes’ to everything to everyone at the expense of your own well-being. When you say ‘yes’ when you want to say no, you end up overcommitting to work or projects that you cannot deliver. This eventually lead you to stress and burn out.
Lacking boundaries, one might struggle with chronic self-doubt, or fail to speak up when they are mistreated. Not being able to communicate your needs clearly often results passive/aggressive behaviours.
On the flip side, establishing healthy boundaries and not allowing others to make decisions for us is empowering. It is a form of self-respect and is part of having an healthy self-image. They are necessary to maintain healthy physical, and emotional space, for mental as well as psychological well-being.
How to say ‘no’ with better boundaries
If you have never experienced healthy boundaries, it can be however challenging to know how to set them. And even those who do know what healthy boundaries looks like can often find themselves in unhealthy relationships, especially with family members, friends are coworkers. There is nothing wrong with making compromises or being accommodative, but if they are too frequent they can leave you feeling resentful. Here are some things to be aware of to establish healthy boundaries.
Know who you are.
One way to establish and enforce healthy boundaries is to increase your awareness of things that you can control. Like for instance, being aware that you are not in the mental space to emotionally help someone, you can effectively communicate it to others. Otherwise, you can easily let others cross into yours where you end up feeling not being emotionally capable enough to begin with.
Self-awareness gives you clarity on what your boundaries need to be. Asking yourself, What is the other expecting from me? Am I overextending myself to please him/her? What is the limit I can set considering my present circumstances?
Know your non-negotiables
Determine what you want to achieve by setting a boundary. Are you looking to create emotional space? Or are they to clarify what behaviours are acceptable and what are not? When you know what you need clearly, it will be easier to establish firm and healthy boundary. Similarly, when you don’t know what your values are, it’s not possible to assert a boundary. Your beliefs are a measure of what you truly value.
Spend some time determining what is acceptable and what is not or what is the margin of error you are willing to accept. Ask yourself, What are my most important values and priorities? What is non-negotiable for me? What I can be somewhat flexible about?
Know how to say ‘no’
Toxic people often resist other people’s boundaries. Communicating your boundaries is as important as having them with such people to avoid argument. When you let the unacceptable behaviour even just once, you are demonstrating that it is acceptable. It is with such people that you need to be clear since they never learned to accept ‘no’ as an answer. They will keep pushing for the ‘yes’ thinking that if they try hard enough, you may comply.
Don’t try to convince or compromise, but make sure to tell them this is the way it is going to be and that you are doing so not to push them away, but to give you both the space you need. Here are some phrases to try when communicating your boundaries.
- I made a resolution to say ‘no’ more often
- I don’t want to say ‘yes’ and then let you down.
- I can’t say ‘yes’ to this.
- I don’t want to say ‘no’, but I have to.
- I am not comfortable with that
- May be later or next time.
Know how to be assertive
Be assertive with those who repeatedly violate your boundaries. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to communicate your boundaries, some may break them and it is important to remember that anyone who doesn’t respect your boundaries ultimately doesn’t respect you.
Consider communicating to them how their behaviour has made you uncomfortable, why it is unacceptable and what you need from them in future. Quite often, it is the people who are manipulative or those who have a poor sense of self overstep others’ boundaries. Reflecting on, Is the person who is frequently violating willing to change? Is s/he willing to work in improving the relationship you have with them? Or Is s/he sensitive to your needs and feelings? will help you gain better perspective as to whether or not you want to continue the relationship.
Know how to respect others’ boundaries
When you set unclear boundaries, like mixing up your needs, emotions and responsibilities with those of others, you create stress for yourself and you take away the other person’s right to have their space. Treat the others the way you want to be treated. If you want your friends and family to respect your boundaries, ensure you are doing the same for them.
Check and ask if someone has the emotional space to share your negative emotions. This way, you are mirroring how you want to be treated. Emotional boundaries often are established when each one takes responsibility for the part they play in a conversation. You are not obliged or indebted to uphold every commitment. And understanding the same holds true for the other helps you respect their boundaries when it comes to certain commitments or conversations.
Know how to care for yourself
Many of us view setting boundaries as a selfish act, but they are important to maintain healthy relationships. If you feel you are being taken for granted in a particular relationship, it is time to take a hard look at whether or not they are respectful of your emotional or mental boundaries.
When you get into the habit of nurturing yourself, you are sending yourself the message that you are worthy enough to say ‘no’. Keeping a journal in which you note your thoughts, needs and feelings helps you practice self reflection. Taking time to meditate, and setting daily goals each day aids in determining what is negotiable and what is not.
Know your worthiness
We all come across difficult people, those with passive-aggressive behaviours, bossy or with manipulative tendencies. Whatever the problems you face, you can help yourself if you realise your worthiness. Identify when you start to feel manipulated by people who think they are entitled to. Is it when they are unhappy? or Is it when you are not measuring upto their expectations? or Are they taking you for granted.
This normally happens when someone has made themselves more important than you. Reflect on your negative emotions, believe in your self-worth, and change how you feel about having firm and healthy boundaries in place. Treat yourself as equal and assert your boundaries when someone is dismissive or overstepping your boundaries.
Know how to be consistent
Saying ‘yes’ sometimes and ‘no’ at other times confuses others as to what they are violating, especially, if it is your workplace or working in a larger group with diverse people and cultures. What is acceptable to one might not be acceptable to another and it is easy for people to get confused as to where the lines are drawn.
Most people will immediately adapt to set boundaries when they become aware where they are overstepping. Being honest and firm can help the others understated you are not simply dismissing them. Remember that you cannot control how people respond to the boundaries you set. Stay firm and consistent in setting a boundary that works for you and not hold yourself accountable if someone is angry or trying to make you feel guilty.
Do you have strong personal boundaries and How assertive are you in clearly communicating them?
Which areas of your life can you improve by setting a few personal boundaries ?
What types you can set starting from today?
What are some of your strategies to handle those who violate your boundaries?
Do you often feel guilty of setting boundaries with people in your relationships?
How often do you go that extra mile to please others?
Setting firm and healthy boundaries is often a challenging task, especially, when it comes with those in your relationships and also with whom you share a working or professional relationship. However, learning to set healthy boundaries is a form of self-care and without them you can feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, or manipulated. In a way, they let you prioritise your own values and needs.
Our experience and what we are comfortable with often guides determines the boundaries we set. If you are thinking of setting a few, you can start small, in interpersonal situations with people you know and do so in a positive frame of mind. No one can be successful in the first time, give yourself permission to try different strategies and choose one that fits you the most.