What are boundaries?
Boundaries determine where you end and other people begin. In enmeshed family systems or codependent relationships there are few, if any, boundaries. Without boundaries, there is no you. In order to love yourself, you must know who you are. In order to know who you are, you must establish boundaries – you must clearly define the space you occupy in the world.
How do I set boundaries?
Speaking from personal experience, it’s a challenging task to begin setting boundaries if you’re a person who has struggled with them in the past. I recommend baby steps, and lots of patience with yourself.
You need to start your boundary journey knowing that you’re going to fall back into old patterns at first. And if you’re like me, your first attempts at setting boundaries are going to be defensive, angry, and/or timid. That’s ok. You have to start somewhere.
In order to establish personal boundaries, you need to take note when other people make you uncomfortable. Start with something simple. Do you secretly hate hugs? Figure out a way to communicate this to others in a good-natured way. Be honest. Smile and say, “No thanks. I’m not a hugger.”
Does this mean you’ll never be swept up in an awkward hug again? Of course not. When it happens, don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t maintain your boundaries. Just love yourself through it and move on. Whatever you choose to start with, make sure it’s a reasonable expectation of yourself.
For most of us, especially those who grew up in enmeshed families or have spent a long time in a codependent relationship, setting boundaries feels downright scary. Simply telling a pushy coworker you need to stop chatting so you can focus on your work makes you sweat! This is your fight or flight response being triggered, because you believe that any conflict is negative, and all boundaries are mean.
Let me just clear the air here. You’re not mean because you set boundaries. In fact, setting boundaries is nice. Wouldn’t you rather know how someone else is really feeling, and who someone really is, than wonder where you stand? The only people who don’t like boundaries are people who aren’t interested in really knowing who you are. Are these people with whom you want to be in close relationship?
A major part of redefining love is deciding with whom we want to share our whole selves. There is only so much of us to go around. Emotionally healthy people choose to share their whole selves with those who respect their boundaries, because their boundaries are essentially who they are.
You need to realize that if someone doesn’t respect your boundaries, then they don’t respect you. It really is that simple.
Setting boundaries is an act of love
Most parents know that it’s important for children to be told “no” once in a while. Since I believe that we are all growing until the day we die, we can all benefit from ongoing “parenting” from others. We are essentially all the village raising each other.
When someone sets a personal boundary for us, they are saying, “I love you enough to share my whole self with you.” How’s that for a compliment?! Instead of being offended by other people’s boundaries, we should feel flattered.
Once we have redefined love, setting boundaries becomes a lot less scary. Even though the other person may still not see it that way, within yourself you know that you are sharing your whole, honest self with the other person. And you don’t have to be angry or aggressive about it because you are sharing an act of love.
Suddenly, telling your enmeshed family that you are unable to attend the annual reunion becomes less scary. You love your family enough to be honest about your time availability and need for personal space, and you love yourself enough to take care of your own needs.
For those of us in deeply enmeshed families and codependent relationships, it can feel very foreign trying to figure out where you end and other people begin. If you are still having trouble figuring out what your boundaries should be, visit The 20 Permissions page on this site.
If you are experiencing physical or sexual abuse, simply setting personal boundaries for yourself is not enough! You need help! Physical or sexual violence is not because you haven’t set clear boundaries. In fact, it has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the abuser’s need for power and control. Speak out to someone you trust, and keep speaking out until you are heard and you are SAFE.
Copyright © Redefining Love 2018.
The author of Redefining Love is not a licensed mental healthcare professional. The information included on this site is for general informational purposes only. For mental health questions or concerns, please reach out to a licensed mental healthcare professional.