Defining Your Boundaries
Updated: Sep 29, 2019
What are your boundaries in relation to others?
More often than not, we discover our boundaries post hoc; when others cross them. That’s how we often realize what makes us go “ouch!” The more we develop our self-awareness though, the better we can conceptualize what our personal boundaries are ahead of time, so that we can subsequently communicate them to others.
Healthy boundaries are the key to healthy relationships. Unhealthy or undefined boundaries underlie dysfunctional relationships. Defining and expressing your boundaries means respecting your needs, emotions, thoughts and asserting them to others in order for you to be in peace and balance when relating to others.
Self-Awareness about your Core Values
Your boundaries are essentially an expression of your core values.
Take some time alone and reflect upon what is truly important to you, what you absolutely need in order to be content in your relationships to others. Know thyself!
What you can and cannot tolerate?
When and how do you know that someone is pushing your buttons?
What do you value most in yourself, and others?
What do you admire in others?
What constitutes a no-go zone for you (e.g. what would be an absolute no-no for you to continue a relationship to another, should it not be respected)?
What values have been instilled to you in your family environment?
What are the rules you try to live by?
What are the things that hurt you in your family environment, that you would not like to see repeating in your life as an adult?
The better you get to know yourself, the more you increase your self-awareness and understand what is significant for you.
Boundaries Are Not Static
Boundaries are flexible. You are evolving and growing as a person, therefore your boundaries may be changing too. That’s absolutely expected and “normal”.
What was tolerable to you as a teenager may be out of the question to you now.
That also explains why older people tend to be stricter and more absolute about what is ok to them and what is not to be withstood or tolerated.
A reason for this is that , the more you grow older, the more you get to value your time and yourself in total. For instance, when you were younger, perhaps you could tolerate someone being abusive to you, because you secretly hoped they would eventually change. As you get older, you may realize you don’t have time to spare and waste on people and relationships that do not promote your self-worth and growth.
Although some core boundaries may remain the same for you ever since you were little, chances are your life experiences so far have taught you about what upsets you and what not.
Let your Past Relationships and Mistakes Teach You
Our relationships are the greatest learning arena for us. Hopefully, an individual aims for better and healthier, improved relationships as they get older. Think about what annoyed, hurt or upset you in the past, and you would absolutely not want it anymore in a new relationship. This is a boundary. Respect it.
We often learn by negative consequences. Even if your past has been painful, it contains invaluable lessons that you can perceive as gifts. Every experience teaches you something additional about yourself.
Be compassionate with yourself; for example, instead of blaming yourself for staying in a toxic relationship, be grateful for this experience.
Think of your past lover or friend that hurt you, and silently think for yourself: “Thank you, for teaching me what love / friendship is not. Now I know better about what real love actually is to me, and I commit to acting in improved ways for my Present and Future.”
Your Boundaries Reflect your Self-Esteem
Low or absent boundaries indicate low self-esteem. Having boundaries is healthy, because it shows your care about yourself and you value yourself enough in order to be courageous to express what is important to you and what you will not tolerate. If you have a low self-worth, it may be harder to set boundaries to others.
In the beginning of relationships or friendships, we may be reluctant to express our boundaries out of fear of rejection or criticism. We may therefore come across as much more flexible and relaxed than how we truly feel inside. Be aware of this fact and make sure to express what is really important to you to your partner. Salient boundaries in intimate relationships may have to do with significant issues such as communication, honesty, loyalty, exclusivity, and transparency.
Even though you may worry that expressing your boundaries to your partner may push them away from you, clearly defining what is not ok to you and being assertive about what you are looking for will actually show them that you know what you want and you are not afraid to ask for it- which is undoubtedly attractive.
Your Boundaries are About You- Not Others
You cannot change or fix others. It sounds obvious, yet we seem to forget or disregard this simple truth. Repeat it as many times as you need , until you fully absorb the meaning of this phrase.
Your boundaries are solely about You. You can only change yourself and the way you react to others, you cannot control another person’s behaviour.
If your partner is not acting kindly and respectfully to you, you cannot make them start doing so, no matter how many times you repeat your request. Imagine this scenario: a couple is fighting, and the one partner verbally abuses the other. The victim keeps repeating “You cannot talk to me like this”- and they stay in the situation. Nothing changes.
A healthy boundary setting is if the victim decides valid consequences on the unwanted behaviour, should it occur again. “If you talk to me like this again, I will be gone”. That reflects a personal boundary.
Another example is if you do not want to answer your phone during work hours. You cannot convince anyone not to call you during work hours- what you can do, however, is stop picking up your phone- after first having explained to them that you don’t want to be disturbed by phone calls when you work unless it is an emergency.
You only have control of yourself. Others are going to attempt and test your boundaries, check whether they can be flexible, and how much you can tolerate.
But in the end, it is You who determines what you choose to do, should your boundaries be repeatedly and systematically crossed by someone.
Express your Boundaries Clearly, Assertively and Firmly
Whenever the time is right for you, your task is to express your boundaries to others in a clear, firm and polite way. Be as direct about your boundary as possible. It is preferable to express boundaries without high emotion, but rather calmly and strictly.
If you feel you need to explain the reasons behind your boundary, do so, but do not apologize for having a personal limit. Being assertive can be challenging if you are not used to that, for example if you grew up in an environment where you did not feel allowed to have your own demands and wishes, but it becomes easier the more you practice it.
Carefully Regard the Consequences
It is one thing to express your boundaries to the other, it is yet another to know what the consequences will exactly be , when they are crossed. It is your responsibility to decide what you do to protect your space and boundaries.
Stay reliable and authentic to yourself- decide, when will enough be enough? Think of the fable with the shepherd who kept crying wolf, till no one believed him when actually a wolf attacked his sheep. It is the same with boundaries; you are not going to be taken seriously unless you are determined to follow through to what you inform others you will do, if they cross your boundaries. Respect is earned with reliability.
Actions Speak Louder than Words
Being authentic and honest to your true Self entails having continuity and consistency between your words and actions. If you say one thing, yet do another, you will come across as unreliable and untrustworthy. This applies to setting boundaries as well. Be prepared to follow through with appropriate action in order to show others that you say what you mean, and mean what you say. This is a clear indication of your integrity as a person. If someone continually disrespects you, show them with your behaviour, rather than telling them- provided that you have already expressed to them that a certain behaviour constitutes a personal boundary to you.
Don’t Do Unto Others What You Don’t Want Done Unto You
Be well-grounded, aware and conscious about your boundaries. If a personal boundary is a core value to you, then this means you would never inflict the unwanted behaviour you do not want done to you, to anyone else.
For instance, if you regard cheating as a definite boundary for you to leave a relationship, it should come without saying that you are also not going to cheat on your partner, under no circumstances. Boundaries should be mutual. If you are not prepared to respect your own boundary, why should it be expected that anyone else should show you the same respect? You would come across as erratic, chaotic and untrustworthy then- and rightfully so.
What If You Haven't Been Clear Enough?
Perhaps you feel as if you haven't expressed yourself clearly or directly enough with regards to what is a definite no for you. Although it may come as a surprise to others if you express sudden discomfort with a behaviour that did not seem to affect or annoy you so far, it is never late to authentically express yourself.
Your boundaries define You. Even if you haven't displayed your own limits till now, dare to stand up for yourself. You can embrace your vulnerability and even explain how come you had not dared to speak up thus far. Better late than never; every small step towards being more truthful to yourself and others signifies a victory.
Find the courage to be You, fearlessly and shamelessly. The ones that matter to you the most will most likely appreciate this. You have nothing to lose from finding this courage; only benefits to gain.