What’s an Emotional Boundary?
The word “Boundary” often gets a bad rap. If you see it as a barrier between yourself and others, you are not alone. In truth, boundaries offer opportunities for closer and more open connections. I like to say that boundaries are the place where two people meet and there is an understanding and respect for each other’s needs and limits. This type of understanding brings people together, not further apart.
Boundaries Can Be Difficult to Set
Most people don’t have natural boundaries, we learn them. We first encounter boundaries as children. Boundaries look a little different when you are younger, but they are the beginning. In healthy families, boundaries are modeled by your primary caretakers. For example:
You wanted to go to a friend’s house when you were young, so you asked mom or dad for a ride. One or the other says they are unable to give you a ride. They follow that up with a short explanation of why i.e. “I have to finish this or that”. “I’m too tired right now to get in the car and drive”.
In the examples above the person (mom, dad or other) is letting you know that they are unable to do what you asked for in that moment. Most likely, as a kid you were unhappy with the response, but you were also learning something important. Your parents had limits on what they could and couldn't do at any given moment. They weren't trying to be mean or deny you.
Boundaries Protect your Mental Health.
Many people give beyond their limits and end up drained of energy, resentful, stressed out and downright angry. What happens when we don’t set healthy boundaries is that we end up carrying the emotional weight of others to the point of exhaustion. Humans were never supposed to do everything for everyone. Whatever your feelings, they are all healthy and normal. It will get easier with time as you continue to key into your own needs. Listen to your body and see how it reacts when one of your boundaries has been trapsed over. You’ll feel it in your gut, chest, shoulders, etc.
Know Your Boundaries
Do you know what your boundaries are? If you don’t, you can’t expect others to know them either. The people in our lives are not mind readers. Even loved ones can be oblivious to our needs, and it isn’t that they are being selfish or uncaring (although some are). Don’t get angry with their lack of understanding, especially if you are just beginning to set down some limits for yourself. Be clear, kind and loving and if necessary, offer a short explanation.
You May Get Some (or A lot) of Pushback
Saying “no” however gently, is hard work. If you were that person who jumped in enthusiastically to do everything, it will undoubtedly make you feel uncomfortable when you don’t jump. Or you gently end a conversation that’s going nowhere. Or you turn down an invitation to some activity or event. Likely, you will question, in any or all these situations your right to say “no”. On top of this you may also have to field off criticism for your actions. Accusations of being selfish or self-involved are commonplace.
It isn’t just you. Keep in mind that people don’t like limits. You. me. anyone. No matter what they are.