Every relationship, whether it’s with your parents, co-workers, friends, or romantic partner, needs boundaries. Simply put, boundaries mark the place where you end and the other person begins. They allow you to put your needs and well being ahead of those around you but more often than not, relationships are lacking healthy boundaries. How many times have you struggled to say “no” to someone because you felt guilty or obligated? How often do you smother or disregard your feelings when someone upsets you? Maybe you constantly say “yes” when people ask for your time and energy even when you are already exhausted and overcommitted.
When these things happen and boundaries are dissolved, it often leads to anger and resentment. You may feel like you’re being taken advantage of and used. The truth is you are not the victim. You can choose what to do and say. You have the power to establish healthy boundaries that protect yourself and your relationship. Here’s how:
Recognize and acknowledge your feelings
The first step in setting healthy boundaries is to know yourself. What do you like and dislike? What hurts your feelings and upsets you? How do you want to be treated? By evaluating past behaviors and considering your perception of yourself, you will start to see some patterns emerge. There are situations and places you’re sensitive to and areas where you may feel bullied or obligated to please others. By being self-aware, you can start to understand what you are and aren’t OK with.
Pinpoint when your boundaries have been crossed
Once you understand your sensitivities and feelings, you will be able to see the areas where your boundaries have been disregarded in the past. Is there someone at work who is always pushing their work load on you but you’re too scared to say no? Is there a friend who makes you feel drained and exhausted? Are you constantly giving to your partner but receiving nothing in return? Notice the situations and people who are constantly crossing your boundaries and making you feel taken advantage of or drained.
Begin building solid boundaries
Once you understand what and who is making you feel overwhelmed and drained, it is time to start evaluating those relationships and re-building your boundaries. In order to protect your feelings and needs, you’ll need to be firm in your resolve. Next time you’re in a situation where you feel taken advantage of, react in a calm but firm manner. If your significant other is in a habit of making critical comments toward you, ask that they don’t speak to you that way and that you won’t accept that sort of treatment. If a friend is always borrowing money without paying you back, tell them that you’re not able to lend them any more until they pay you back in full. Establishing effective boundaries is all about sticking up for your self and not apologizing or making excuses for the way that people and certain situations make you feel.
Prepare yourself for the reaction
Once you set or re-establish your boundaries you may feel guilty or there may be backlash from the person whom you had to set your boundary with. To prepare for one or both of these reactions, it is important to ground yourself and remember the feelings that led you to reevaluate and reset your boundaries. During this tumultuous time, take time for yourself. Meditate, pray, or repeat affirmations to yourself. Remember that your emotions are valid and expressing yourself does not make you a bad friend or partner. It is important that others hear and understand your needs in order to be a positive force in your life.
Stay strong and focus on yourself
Resist the urge to play it off like you overreacted or the way that you were treated was no big deal. Give yourself enough respect that you can honor your feelings and expect those around you to understand that. You’re in control of your life and it is up to you to protect yourself from feeling overcommitted, drained, or taken advantage of. The people around you that are able to respect this are relationships that you should value. This is a time to put yourself first and to remember that you’re in charge of setting and enforcing your own boundaries.