One thing we aren’t carrying in 2022 is other people’s weight. That means their opinions, problems, unsolicited advice, fears, etc., can all stay 6 feet away. While that sounds good in theory, the truth is those of us who haven’t historically established boundaries have to learn how to implement, communicate and uphold them. Here are six facts about establishing boundaries.
#1 Boundary setting is a process.
For many of us, telling people they can no longer interact with us in ways they are used to will not be a walk in the park. If a friend is used to venting daily, if a certain someone is used to hitting you up during creep hours, or if a family member is used to commenting on your love life (or lack thereof) they don’t immediately stop just because you’re ready to implement a boundary. It will be a learning curve for both of you. Expect to have a few exchanges as you learn to articulate what you need and they, hopefully, seek to understand and adjust.
#2 Boundaries require us to value our peace above all else.
The reason most people need to set boundaries is because there’s an overvaluing of other people’s needs. We center their expectations, desires, and emergencies over our own capacity and peace. In order to value and protect your peace, first identify what brings you to and keeps you in a state of serenity. Finish the statement, “I am most at peace when…” This may require you to take a day away from all outside noise (phone, email, social media, etc.) to sit with yourself and only do things that relax, recenter, and refuel you. That is your place of peace. When you choose to engage with other people, pay attention to how those exchanges affect you. Do they leave you anxious, frustrated, drained, ashamed, or overwhelmed? If so, a boundary needs to be established.
#3 Boundaries have to be communicated.
People can’t be held to expectations they don’t know exist. When you identify that your peace has been violated, that’s an opportunity to have a conversation about your boundary. Get clear on what you need and what you want to come from the interaction. A boundary can be as simple as, “I need you to check-in with me via text before calling to make sure I have the time and mental space to dedicate to our conversation.” A more extreme boundary may be, “Auntie, I love you, but your comments about my relationship status make me feel pressured and anxious. I hope there’s a way for us to engage without that commentary.”
Note: It is usually helpful to be honest about how the violation makes you feel. Although some will try, people can’t argue with how something impacted you. Give them a chance to respond, then tell them what you need (your boundary) as a final step.
#4 Boundary setting will likely expose you to backlash.
Though uncomfortable, it’s completely normal for there to be pushback to your boundary. Your need is rubbing up against someone else’s expectation and that creates friction. That’s okay; it’s how we grow personally and in our relationships. If you find that you struggle to have these conversations or are repeatedly not being received well, try reviewing what you want to say with a trusted friend or therapist to make sure your communication is clear and palatable.
#5 Boundaries must be upheld in order to be successful.
Don’t give in no matter how hard it gets! It’s likely people will try to guilt or manipulate you into bending on your boundaries with accusations of unreasonability, dismissiveness or reminders of “all they have done” for you. These tactics are ultimately manipulative and rooted in a prioritization of their needs over yours. You have to prioritize yourself in order to teach others to do the same. There are various ways to respond to these shame-filled approaches such as choosing to disengage or politely informing them that you hear their concerns and stand by your boundary.
#6 Boundaries aren’t meant to end relationships; they help to balance them.
As you learn to center your needs, be mindful that others still have their own. The objective is not to cut off everyone that needs something from you. Rather, boundaries are an opportunity to prioritize both individuals. More than likely, there’s a way for you to show up for others without compromising your peace and ultimately, that is the goal. However, until you are able to do that, there may be a period of extreme boundary setting as you learn to find a middle ground.
At the end of the day, all of this is a journey. People who are meant to be with you in this season, will grow with you as you prioritize your peace while others may take time to come around. Be gracious with yourself and others, and celebrate the small wins along the way!