There are those in our lives who are well-meaning, but always seem to try to take care of us, to make excuses for our behaviors, and enable our substance use. There are others who are always angry with us and judge us and belittle us. Then there are still others who treat us every which way in between those two extremes. How can we set boundaries in our lives?
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are the guidelines that we set for interacting with others. They indicate what we are comfortable with and what we are willing to tolerate from other people. When necessary, we may need to enforce our boundaries. When we do this, it is not punitive, but rather setting personal limits. Boundaries are not about changing other people, but rather creating a safe and comfortable set of guidelines for ourselves where we will not feel manipulated, abused, or otherwise have our values compromised.
We often inherit our ideas about boundaries from the values we were raised with. Whether it be through our families or community and social influences, we may have accepted boundaries that violate others’ well-being. Or we may have accepted boundaries that violate our own well-being. It is important that we are willing to re-evaluate our boundaries to ensure that they are congruent with our individual values.
Different Types of Boundaries
Everyone has different types of boundaries. Some people are easily manipulated and are driven by outside influences and the opinions of other people. They might feel guilty or be easily persuaded to do things that are outside of their values. However, at times, they may become frustrated and explode and lash out because they are so reactive emotionally. These types of porous boundaries are not healthy.
Other people on the other end of the spectrum are completely inflexible, unwilling to negotiate or compromise in any way. There is no place in this scenario for other people or their opinions, which can significantly impair having a healthy relationship. They are secretive and defensive, unwilling to share emotions. Once again, these types of boundaries are also unhealthy.
When we create healthy boundaries, we feel confident and assertive, yet at the same time, we are grounded in who we are and what our needs are. We choose behaviors that are acceptable and align with our values and our recovery, and we calmly refuse other behaviors, unwilling to allow ourselves to be manipulated.
We are consistent and firm in communicating our needs, yet we are also flexible in applying boundaries as needed based on our own decisions about what is acceptable to us. These are known as flexible boundaries and are much healthier. We are not imposing our belief system on others or forcing them to behave incongruently with their own beliefs. We are simply asking them to respect us as human beings and honor our needs and choices.
Setting Boundaries With Others
While it may be difficult for some of us to begin setting boundaries with others, this is a very healthy interpersonal relationship skill that will help us now and through the rest of our lives. We need to first identify what it is that we need, and what the behavior or behaviors are that need to be modified for us to be comfortable.
Once we know what we need, then we can approach the person calmly and grounded. We let them know the behavior or behaviors that do not fit within our own values and comfort level, and we can reinforce behaviors that are acceptable to us. Not everyone reacts positively to boundaries, but we will feel more authentic when we not only request but also apply our boundaries to the people in our lives.
There will be people who will push those boundaries, and as we stand firm, we may find that we may need to expand our boundaries to exclude more of their behaviors and possibly even the time we spend with them. This is what we refer to as our personal limits.
There is a point at which being true to ourselves and our recovery is more important than the feelings or even perhaps the association with someone else who continually manipulates or abuses us. That is our personal limit. That is the point when we stand up for ourselves and refuse to be taken advantage of by anyone else, no matter their relation to us.
How Boundaries Can Empower Us
By setting personal boundaries with others, we can significantly decrease the stress and emotional reaction surrounding our personal relationships with others. We make sure that we are heard, that our needs are met, all in a way that neither infringes upon nor attacks other people or causes them any harm.
As we set boundaries with others, not only are we empowered to live authentically and in a way that meets our needs and matches our values, we are also telling ourselves that we are worth it. That we are worthy of the respect of other people. And that is a gift that has no measure.
How can you set boundaries in your life? You can learn to confidently assert yourself with other people to avoid manipulation, harm, and abuse. To learn more about setting boundaries, please call AToN Center at (888) 535-1516 today. We can help you discover your values, assess your needs, and learn to set boundaries with the people in your life.