Have you ever offered to do something for someone else but ended up depleted and resenting them? If so, this may be a sign that your relationship boundaries are blurred. Lack of emotional and physical space between you and another person can foster confusion, disillusionment, and resentment. However, setting healthy boundaries puts you on track to psychological, physical and emotional well-being. Think of your boundaries as a critical safety net for your health.
There is no magic wand to set a boundary; it takes learning, planning and practice. A critical first step is to notice how unhealthy boundaries may have crept into your relationships:
• You keep doing more and more – at home,work, church – to feel fulfilled, but you end up mostly just exhausted.
• You live your life wishing that others around you will change.
• You have few hobbies because you are so involved in what others are doing.
• You are often unclear about what you like or dislike and look for others to guide you instead.
• You typically change yourself to fit the mood of others around you.
• You have difficulty stating your feelings or your needs.
• Your main concern is to keep things stable around you or even just to get by.
• You tolerate problems or “look the other way” while you or someone close to you is treated without respect.
• You don’t trust your intuition.
PUTTING YOURSELF IN FOCUS
The key to establishing healthy boundaries is working on getting clear about what you want and what your beliefs and values are. In the process you will find awareness and clarity about who YOU are and what makes you important. Defining where you begin and end in relationship to others helps others know what you will or will not tolerate. Here are some examples of healthy statements to build your boundaries:
• “Rather than ignore my feelings or intuition when I am treated negatively, I choose to engage in my feelings. This will help me protect myself from further hurt.”
• “I have the right to be seen, heard and understood. Others may not violate this boundary by overpowering, manipulating or attempting to control me. I will stand up for myself so others will learn to respect my rights.”
• “In order to protect my dignity and privacy, there is a line I have drawn that others may not cross.”
• “I will no longer be aloof or abruptly leave a relationship without communicating. Instead, I will speak my truth and trust in my own ability to maintain my own emotional health and well-being.”
HEALTHY BOUNDARY BUILDERS
I encourage you to grab some note cards and work through these steps:
1. Write down two specific examples/behaviors in which you don’t feel respected in a relationship.
2. Identify your feelings during those moments. Identify what you need for yourself at those times.
3. As you write down your answers for 2 and
3, what do you tell yourself about having those feelings or needs? (e.g., “I shouldn’t ___” or “I ought to __” or “It’s not good for me to think that way.”)
4. Write out on a 3×5 card your truths: My feelings are ____. I need ______. Try not to use the word “you” in these sentences (e.g., rather than “I need you to ___,” write “I need to ___.”)
5. Practice stating your feelings and needs literally, out loud. You may feel embarrassed or even afraid to say these things at first. Just read right off your card!
SUPPORTING YOUR HEALTHIER BOUNDARIES
Getting support when you start to set healthier boundaries is extremely important. You may try role-playing with a friend (who can listen without giving advice), or you may want the help of a trained therapist. Friends, family or partners may not be used to hearing you state your own needs or boundaries, and this will rock the boat. Others may try to push you back to the status quo. These growing pains are normal, so be gentle with yourself and remember you are changing patterns that have been inside for a long time. It takes practice and dedication to stick to your plan, but inside is a more beautiful “you” waiting to be discovered, unbound and explored!
Shelly Winemiller is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who started Wellspring Family Therapy Center in Rochester. She can be reached by email at email@example.com