Implementing boundaries in your relationships

Boundaries are relatively new to me and definitely something I’m still working on. However, implementing boundaries and honouring them has without a doubt, changed my life. 

For the most part of my life, I’ve been a people pleaser. Someone who had a very uncomfortable need to be liked. I wanted to be everything for everyone and be everybody’s “go-to” friend or family member.  This led to me believing that my own worth was heavily tied up in pleasing others. I would pay special attention to the positive feedback I received for being “nice” and pleasing others and I derived almost all of my self-worth from putting the feelings and needs of other people well above my own. When I would neglect my own needs to help somebody, or do what somebody asked, or would give excessive emotional labour to someone, I would get a rush that I was ‘their person’ and that I was special to them. They came to me for help and that would almost make me smug! I must be a good person if they’ve chosen me to help them!! 

I would pour so much energy into being there for other people that at the end of the day, when I was left on my own, I was exhausted, mentally drained and had next to no relationship with myself. Then, in 2018, I found myself in a very dark place. My brain was telling me I was a disappointment, I was lazy, that I wasn’t good enough and that nobody actually benefitted from me being in their life. I thankfully got out of that mess and began a long journey of healing and unlearning some incredibly toxic behaviour patterns. Then one day whilst scrolling through Instagram I found a post about boundaries. This was genuinely the first time I’d ever heard about the idea of having personal boundaries with yourself and in relationships. I scoffed and continued reading to see what rubbish this person was spewing but the more I read, the more things made sense. I had zero boundaries. Not one. I never said no to people. I never put my physical or mental needs first. I would compromise my moral or beliefs to make others feel comfortable. And I apologised A LOT. An example of this is if friends wanted me to go out after work but I was too tired, I would still say yes in fear of them being upset with me. I’d much rather be tired than have upset my friends. And then if I ever did say no, it was followed by 1000 apologies.  

After I read that post I did some more research. I read up on boundaries for hours! I learnt that boundaries represent physical and emotional limits that you don’t want other people to cross. They help define your sense of self by separating your needs, desires, thoughts, and feelings from other people. I realised that it was no wonder I felt like I was lazy because all my energy was going into fixing family and friends’ problems, being in situations I didn’t like, going out too much when I didn’t want to and not caring for my basic needs. I sat down and wrote out things that didn’t make me feel good and then found ways to get it out of my life. This is the hard part, implementing them.  

Sitting down and telling somebody you have a new boundary that you hope they will respect can sometimes seem like an attack. Boundaries are often mistaken as putting limits on a relationship or someone being “difficult” or “too sensitive”. If you’ve allowed someone to come and sit with you in your place of work during your shift every week for a year and all of a sudden you ask them not to, then that may bring up some feelings of rejection. This is why it’s important to be direct with your boundaries and communicate them clearly. Say what you need, why you need it and what effect it could have on your relationship if this boundary is crossed. Expect resistance but don’t let it deter you. The only people who get upset about you having no boundaries are the ones who were benefitting from you having none. Someone who valued your feelings and cared for you wellbeing would respect that this is what you need to have a healthy relationship with them. If asking someone to respect your needs causes tension in your relationship, then that relationship was not benefitting you in the first place and is possibly one for the bin. 

Once I set some boundaries with family and friends, I started to realise just how many people took advantage of me being a people pleaser. As I mentioned before, I used to HATE being disliked (and still do to some extent) so I would do anything for anybody at any given point. This was UNHEALTHY. Now that I no longer do this or no longer keep quiet about things that upset me, I’m “difficult” or “dramatic” or have even been accused of losing love for certain people. That is simply not true. I still love these people but I love and respect myself more than to allow myself to be exhausted by the unhealthy methods I used to use to show love. Setting boundaries is GENEROUS. Boundaries teach others how to love us. Never feel guilty for saying no. Or for loving yourself enough to no longer accept what you used to. You disrespect yourself every time you say yes when you really mean no, or when you give in to something you don’t want to do, or when you compromise your own comfort to please others. If people respond poorly to your boundaries, then it’s time to show those people the door. They don’t respect you or your needs. Don’t allow yourself to be treated poorly just because you love them. Love yourself more! 

Types of boundaries: 

There are five different types of boundaries you should be focusing on; emotional, mental, physical, time/energy and material.  

Emotional boundaries are having limits around inappropriate topics, emotional dumping and you or others dismissing your emotions. If a certain topic upsets you, state that you don’t want to engage in a conversation about that. If a family member uses you for free emotional labour and you find that all your conversations with them are them venting at you or using you for free therapy, then implement a boundary that limits how often they can do this. 

Mental boundaries could be having the freedom to have your own thoughts, beliefs, values, and opinions. People have different opinions of things, whether that be in politics or in pizza toppings. Trying to persuade another person can turn into a shouting match or intimidation, allow yourself and others to have different opinions on things without getting angry at each other.  

Physical boundaries can be about touch (who, where, when) personal space and unwanted comments regarding appearance or sexuality. For me, I don’t like people touching my face. This is a massive invasion of my personal space for me and triggers emotions I don’t like. I have this boundary set for every single person I am close with, it is about me, not them. 

Boundaries with your time and energy are similar to emotional boundaries. These can be when people can or can’t contact you, how often people contact you and what about, lateness, favours and free labour. For example, if somebody is constantly late or cancelling plans then ask them to inform you in advance so you don’t waste your time. Or better yet, ask them to value your time as they do their own.  

Material boundaries are related to your possessions. When they can and can’t be used, how you’d like them to be treated. This can be as simple as taking your shoes off in somebody’s house.  

What boundaries sound like: 

“I respect that you disagree with my opinion, but don’t force your own onto me” 

“If you can’t speak to me without (shouting, calling me names), then I am going to end this conversation.” – Then end it. 

“Let me think about it and get back to you.” – Before committing, ask yourself if you have the time, support and energy to help out? If you do, great. If you don’t follow up with a decline. 

“I won’t be able to make it this time.” –  You don’t always need to give a reason. No is a complete sentence.  

“I can understand that you’re angry, but I won’t be shouted at.” –  Then leave this situation or end the phone call. 

“If you text me, I will text back at a time that works best for me.” – If someone in your life continues to incessantly text, or get angry with you if you don’t answer their text immediately, your boundary may have to be more direct.  “If you continue to disrespect what I have asked, I will block your number.” – Then follow through. 

“When hugging me please don’t touch my waist, it makes me uncomfortable”  

“I would appreciate you not bringing this up anymore.” 

“I am going to step away from this topic now. There is no more to discuss.” – If the person continues to try and argue the point, you don’t need to respond. 

Why they are important: 

Healthy boundaries are necessary components for self-care. Without boundaries, we feel depleted, taken advantage of, taken for granted, or intruded upon. Whether it’s in work or in our personal relationships, poor boundaries may lead to resentment, hurt, anger and in my case, burnout. They help you practice autonomy and the process of creating and implementing boundaries helps you get to know yourself and your needs. Knowing what your mind and body calls for and demanding it is empowering! Only YOU know what you truly need and only YOU can ask for it. 

What they are not: 

Boundaries are not something that keeps people apart! Boundaries are teaching someone how to love you. How you wanted to be treated, what’s okay and what’s not. It’s a free guide to love you in the right way! That should only bring you closer together, right? Boundaries create a healthy separation between you and the people around you. They give you the freedom to have you own privacy, personal space, your own thoughts, needs opinions and ideas! They allow you to have the comfort to be yourself rather than an extension of someone else or who someone else wants you to be. They help us become able to live for ourselves, rather than through this desire to please other people. 
Boundaries are NOT to control others. This is a common misconception! They are here for your own wellbeing and to protect you from being mistreated.  

Things to remember when setting boundaries: 

It’s an ongoing conversation. What you’re comfortable with today might not be something you’re comfortable with tomorrow. Try and communicate in the best way you can! 
Some people will dislike you setting boundaries and that’s okay! They’re showing you that they were in your life for all the wrong reasons and that it’s time for that relationship to end.  
Setting boundaries and honouring that can be HARD. So, start small. At some point, you may feel guilty or nasty but persevere. Changing the dynamic or habits of a relationship can be uncomfortable, but if they love and respect you, they will ride the discomfort out.  

Since learning about boundaries and implementing them in my own relationships, my mental health has improved drastically. I have so much self-respect, I know myself better and the relationships I have with other people are stronger and more enjoyable.  Yes, I’ve lost a few loved ones on the way but it has been worth it for my own wellbeing. Figure out what you need. Being there for people and giving them what they want is great but you can’t pour from an empty cup. Look after yourself first. 

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