Simple, yet hard
Not gonna lie, boundaries are tough. It is a reoccurring theme in many of my readings. It’s a reoccurring theme in my own personal life. We care about and feel so much for others (especially empaths), so it can be a real challenge to stand up for ourselves. We want to make those around us happy, and many of us find ourselves sacrificing our own happiness for them. To a lesser extent this is OK, such as buying a cookie for your child instead of a Starbucks drink for yourself, or watching your boyfriend’s favorite TV show with him instead of your own. These are acts of kindness, and polite gestures of love that bring us joy when we bring joy to the ones we love.
When I talk about boundaries in this blog, I’m referring to circumstances in which we need to stand up for ourselves because someone does something personally to us to be mean, guilt us into doing something, control us, or manipulate us. Our personal boundaries are our own limits that we set with others that define what’s acceptable or unacceptable. Our boundaries are the energetic and psychological limits of our own being—where our desires stop and another person’s desires begin.
Boundaries are so important
Boundaries become blurred when we focus too much on people-pleasing, or “going along to get along”. Having a hard time with boundaries usually coincides with strong empathy—the ability to feel the emotions of others. It’s hard to stand up for yourself when you can feel the agitation coming from someone that doesn’t like it when you say “no”. But you wouldn’t feed a child chocolate all the time, right? The child might get fussy when you have to say “no” to dessert before dinner, but it’s what’s healthy for them. The same thing can be said for boundaries in a relationship. Setting boundaries keeps you from enabling others (encouraging dysfunctional behavior), and supports a healthy relationship.
When we don’t speak up for ourselves, people will walk all over us, and end up disrespecting us because they don’t know any better. Boundaries are necessary for any healthy relationship. Your partner, friend, or loved one needs clarity. As the old saying goes, “good fences make good neighbors”. They need to know when you’ve reached your limit, so it’s really important that you vocalize this. As empaths, many of us sometimes make the mistake in assuming the people close to us are mind readers, or can “pick up” our vibes or when we feel uncomfortable.
No, they can’t. This is why boundaries are so crucial because they’re a part of communication within a healthy relationship. Normal, healthy and mentally stable people will respect you when you state a boundary. People who are not mentally stable, manipulative, narcissistic, or controlling will become upset, try to guilt you, or maybe even become angry. This is an important fact to note because many of us struggling with boundaries often have boundary issues due to a difficult past.
Boundaries & Toxic Relationships
As I said previously, many of us find difficulty with establishing boundaries because of difficult pasts. This can be due to childhood traumas, toxic relationships, domineering parents or bossy friends. Toxic relationships are highly allergic to boundaries. So naturally, when we’re recovering from a toxic/dysfunctional relationship, we may find ourselves conflict-phobic. We’re practically trained to be a pushover in a toxic relationship as a survival instinct. People who are toxic, abusive, or manipulative to any degree detest boundaries—they often get upset, or perhaps even violent if we aren’t 100% compliant with their wishes. So don’t beat yourself up because boundaries are a challenge. Know and understanding the root of the cause can help us heal from the “pushover” mentality, and begin to find our voice. Thinking back into childhood or past relationships is key to recognizing any dysfunctionalities that may have been present.
Dysfunctional relationships include “Alpha” friends & family. These are people that think “my way or the highway” with their relationships. Personality traits include being bossy, dominating a conversation/situation, usually a big ego, and believing they just know what’s “best” for you. These are usually people that have an opinion on the things that just about everyone around them is doing wrong. They always have an answer as to how everyone else can be happy if they just listen to their alpha friend. They may try to push you into doing something that you feel uncomfortable with because they want to “teach” you how to be an adult/strong/like them. Alphas firmly believe they not only know what’s best for everyone, but have the keys to everyone else’s happiness and therefore often times assert their own opinion, usually when it wasn’t asked for.
Sounds familiar? Alpha friends can be tough to set boundaries with because they’re not bad people—just dysfunctional in how they think. The boundaries we set with alpha friends are very healthy for them, because yes, it may make them feel uncomfortable—but it will help them respect us more. The dysfunctional issues that Alpha friends have usually coincide with their own insecurities. They feel the need to have an opinion in our relationship with them in order to be valued. As their friend, setting boundaries with them will help them see their opinions aren’t a necessary part of having a valuable relationship with us—that our relationship with them is more than that.
How do I know when I need to set a boundary?
You know you need to set a boundary when you feel uncomfortable with something, as it’s happening. This can include feelings of anxiety, being scared, your body tensing up, feeling sick to the stomach, feeling used or manipulated, feeling drained, feelings of resentment and even money issues. These feelings are our body’s way of letting us know that we’ve reached our limit. So it’s crucial, but important, that we practice setting boundaries as the uncomfortable situation arises. This can be challenging because it requires us to be emotionally aware of ourselves. Being emotionally aware of ourselves, just like setting boundaries, takes practice.
…And pushback is going to happen. For those of us who are conflict-phobic, the people around us may be resistant (at first) to the boundaries we begin to set for ourselves because they have probably gotten used to us not having any. It may be hard at first, but setting boundaries gets easier and easier the more we do it. Boundaries help garner respect from those who sincerely care about us. Setting boundaries help us start to gain more confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem.
I’ve touched on boundaries before (from an assertiveness standpoint) in a previous blog (here), but these phrases are worth reiterating because assertiveness is a way to define your boundaries. So, here is a list a phrases you can put in your arsenal that are great for stating your boundaries without pointing fingers or triggering a conflict:
“I’d like to clear something with you”—good if you would like to set some initial boundaries
“I really care about our relationship, so I need to share my feelings in order for us to clear them”—a great, gentle way of setting boundaries
“I feel,” “I felt,” “to me”…—these are all great starts to assertive statements
“I feel uncomfortable with the direction this conversation is going”
“I’d rather not discuss this”—when a topic comes up that you find uncomfortable and would not want to talk about
“I only have __ amount of time to talk”—great for people who talk too long on the phone, or who are energy vampires
“How interesting, why would you ask me that?”—a great question for people who inquire too much
“I would like you to respect my point of view”
“I don’t believe what you’re saying”
“I don’t believe you meant to hurt me with the words you chose, but that is what happened”
“Excuse me, I wasn’t finished talking”—this is a good phrase to use for people who have a tendency to interrupt you
“I’m just not comfortable with that”
“Are you OK? You seem upset.”—This is great when someone is being aggressive or passive-aggressive with you. This forces them to inflect (briefly or not) on their own emotions and to begin expressing them to you. This is good with helping others become assertive.
I once had a very close “alpha” friend I had to set boundaries with. They watched me grow up, and as I matured, I began to immerse myself into my spirituality. Like many of us who genuinely grow as spiritually awakened people, I became more sensitive to energy, and found I could no longer watch drugs and violence on TV like I used to.
I came over to my friends house one day and they insisted on watching a very low-vibrating TV show that I was reluctant to watch. As we sat together watching the show, I could feel my stomach churning. My skin was crawling. I felt scared, a little angry and a little helpless. Then a voice in my head whispered, “you don’t have to do this”. It was like a wave of peace washed over me. As the character on TV tried to shoot heroine for the third time, I stood up and said I couldn’t watch this show anymore. My friend attempted to persuade me to continue watching the show, but I re-stated my boundary and left the room.
I ended up going home soon afterwards because my friend chose to continue to watch additional episodes of the show—making me choose between my boundaries and enjoying their company. We don’t talk anymore, but to this day, I don’t regret my decision. Why? Because I asserted myself and stated a limit. Those who love us more than their own selfishness will respect those limits. Our friends may not like the boundaries we set, but people who are truly capable of respecting us will respect our boundaries without judging them, or making us feel “weak” for not doing exactly what they want us to do. Setting boundaries with others is a great gauge for determining how much our friends truly respect us.
Setting Boundaries with Ourselves
Setting boundaries may also include setting boundaries with ourselves. It’s a level of honesty we need to have with ourselves in order to advance our souls in life. Setting boundaries with ourselves is less common, but just as important as setting boundaries with other people.
We know we need to set boundaries with ourselves when we realize we’re producing dysfunctional behavior within ourselves. This dysfunctional behavior can be a result of things such as our own feelings about others, substance abuse, bad influences from other people, and even environmental triggers. Setting boundaries with ourselves can include cutting off people, drugs (such as alcohol), triggers for bad habits, environments (such as not going to the bar anymore), and even changing thought patterns. In order to set boundaries with ourselves, we need to have self-discipline, and a willingness to be humble.
I once had a friend I was very close to—a best friend. I cared (and still do) deeply for them, and for a couple of years denied the deeper feelings that existed for them. I stuffed those feelings deep down in denial—because I was afraid of losing such a close, deep and valued friendship.
Not being honest with myself and not setting boundaries with myself led to dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns. The pain of not being honest with myself and others became unbearable. I had to take a good look in the mirror and ask myself what was right, honest, moral and true. I asked myself, “What is best for everyone?”
I realized that distancing myself from this person was best for all—not because of anything they did, but because I realized I had reached my own personal limit. I needed to set personal boundaries within myself (and stop the dysfunctional behavior)—so in order to do that I had to back away from the relationship. I opened up and honestly stated my feelings and boundaries to all parties involved. In the end, I know it in my bones it was the right thing to do. And when you do the right thing, regardless of how hard the choice, it always works out to the highest good for everyone involved.
Setting boundaries elsewhere
Boundaries are something you’ll find yourself applying to all facets of life, again and again. Whether it’s at work, with your family, or with your friends—boundaries are just a necessary part of life. I guarantee you will be respected more if you set limits. You will be surprised!
Setting boundaries at work sometimes means you can’t do something, and need a deadline extension or assistance. This means you’ll need to swallow your pride, and admit you’ve reached a limit. Remember, you’re not a robot. Asking for help is what builds trust in a workplace environment. This can also mean that you will not be accessible outside work hours. Some workplace cultures include working overtime (especially for salary employees, unfortunately)—this is not only unethical, but very bad work-life/home-life balance. Sometimes you’ll need to state a boundary and say that you will be unavailable at certain times. A good company culture will respect this.
Setting boundaries with family lets them know how you wish to be treated and loved. Remember, people aren’t mind-readers (for the most part)—and you shouldn’t expect them to be, either. They may not like it at first, but if they love you from a place bigger than their own selfishness or comfort zone, they will respect you. Family should never be exempt from moral standards and boundaries you have for yourself and those around you. Just because you’re related to someone, doesn’t give them permission to treat you less than you deserve—the same goes for your friends. People who love you won’t use you, or make you feel guilty when you don’t do what they want (especially if you’ve already established a boundary about it).
Those who give you anxiety aren’t a part of your tribe.
Sometimes we may find we need to permanently cut someone off. This is a hard, tough and a difficult decision to make. When we cut someone off, it’s because they’ve chosen to consistently put their selfishness before the good of the relationship. We should only cut someone off if they’ve proven that they have no respect for our boundaries, regardless of how many times we’ve stated them. People that no longer need to be in your life are people who only intend to manipulate, abuse, coerce or guilt you into doing something you don’t want to do. These are people that are incapable of respecting you as their equal. If they can’t respect you, how can you have a functioning, trustworthy relationship with them?
Sometimes these people are friends, sometimes they’re family members. Cutting family off can be even harder than cutting friends off. Not only because you’re related (or potentially close), but because there’s a cultural stigma prevalent in our society that criticizes cutting off familial relationships, regardless of violence or toxicity. The absurdity of this stigma can be highlighted in a comparison through a different scenario:
What if you had a boyfriend (or girlfriend) that was an abusive alcoholic? What if you were in a relationship with them for a few years, and finally worked up the courage to leave them? What if you chose to never speak to them again because of their abusive, violent behavior? Many of our peers would applaud us for leaving an abusive significant other, but if that exact same scenario happened with a parent, criticism would arise. How is abuse from a parent any better than abuse from a boyfriend/girlfriend?
Hint: it isn’t.
So if you’re having trouble cutting someone off, especially if they are family, run the boyfriend/girlfriend scenario through your head. That can help you gain a more rational perspective on the situation, and help you determine if you need to cut someone off permanently.
Saying “no” can be a beautiful, empowering, and even terrifying thing! When we say no to the things that drain us, it gives us the ability to say “yes” to the things that bring us joy. You don’t owe people an explanation. You don’t have to respond to that text. You don’t have to go to the party if you don’t want to. Other people aren’t entitled to your time. You don’t “owe” others a part of yourself. You give it freely because you love and care about others. Never feel guilty for standing up for yourself.
As I’ve said multiple times, boundaries can be hard. They’re tough, and difficult because they demand us to express our limits in the now—and that takes practice. It takes being gentle with ourselves. It takes baby steps. But most of all, it takes stepping forward and valuing ourselves as autonomous, human beings. The more you value yourself, the clearer your borders get. The more respect you get from your peers. After all, if we won’t stand up for ourselves, who will?