Boundaries in relationships are tricky. They involve planning ahead of time, remembering what you planned, and sticking to your plans consistently. However, boundaries are necessary for all of us to one extent or another. They keep us sane. There are also many types of boundaries: those with other people, with our time we devote to activities, with our money and belongings, and pretty much anything else.
For the purpose of this post, I’ll keep it simple. For now. Maybe later on I’ll write a whole series of posts about boundaries… the many ways not having them is harmful to your mental health, the types of boundaries you can set, etc.
Below is a list of 1) signs you need to set boundaries, and 2) how to make them as effective as possible.
Signs You Need Relationship Boundaries
If you need boundaries in relationships, it’s gonna show. Maybe it won’t show in the way you look, but it will show up in the ways you behave, the choices you make, and the ways you cope. Eventually, it’ll probably show up in the way you look too! (Hello, puffy eyes and permanent RBF.) Consider the signs below and whether any apply to you.
You’re exhausted all the time. Physically, emotionally, spiritually… you just feel drained. Feeling exhausted all the time is not normal, and unless you have a medical condition to blame it on, you should look at who or what is doing the draining.
You complain a lot. Time to take some power back! Pinpoint what you complain about the most and then start thinking about what you can do about it.
You rarely have time for yourself. There are some exceptions to this. If you’re a mama like me, you get put on the back burner a lot, and that’s normal. Please don’t set boundaries with young children, and find other ways to get your needs met (see “Ask for help” below). In all likelihood, though, if you’re feeling this way, it might be because you’re being taken advantage of by people who don’t actually need you. Or, you’re absorbed in activities that you don’t truly need to be part of.
You’re stressed. Can’t sleep at night? Jittery and anxious? Thoughts on overdrive? There are many ways stress presents itself. It doesn’t hurt to ask other people if you’ve seemed… different lately. Many times, stress is more obvious to other people than it is to the person suffering from stress. You might end up getting a response like, “Well, your dead-eyed stare IS really creeping me out.“
You lack personal identity. What are your hobbies? How do you like to relax in the evening? What makes you feel most like yourself? If you have a hard time answering any of these questions, it could be you’re giving too much of yourself to others.
You feel you’re losing your personal identity. Maybe you used to be able to answer the above questions, but now you feel you’re changing. If you can’t succinctly say why and how you’re changing, or you know it’s not for the better, you could simply be losing yourself. That’s not a good place to be.
How to Set Effective Boundaries in Relationships
If any of the points above apply to you, it’s time to take action. Read on for a few tips that will help you set strong boundaries and start living in the way that feels the most like you.
You’re telling, not asking. You don’t need anyone’s agreement or permission to set boundaries in relationships. If it’s interpersonal relationships we’re talking about, you’re stating what you need from them in order to be okay. Someone who respects and cares about you will respect your needs. If they don’t, it tells you a lot about what kind of friend/partner/family member they are.
Set consequences. The severity of those consequences will depend on how severely your boundaries are being violated. If someone is smoking around you knowing you’ve just quit smoking, that’s disrespectful. Tell them if they start smoking while you’re talking to them, you’ll walk away. Then follow through with it. If you can’t be around a family member because they’ve hurt you time and again, your boundary may need to be not being around that person anymore. There’s nothing selfish about protecting yourself.
Don’t be rude. The goal is to be assertive, not rude. Keep the focus on you, not the other person, by using “I” statements. For example, “I get anxious when you ask me to [blank]. I’d appreciate it if you could [boundary], otherwise I’ll have to [consequence].” Definitely don’t go on and on about why and how much their behavior bothers you. The only purpose that serves is catharsis on your part.
Cope appropriately with guilt. There are going to be times you have to set bigger boundaries in relationships, and you might feel selfish. The other person may even call you selfish. Oftentimes, this means you waited too long to set boundaries, and they’ve become used to certain ways of behaving around you. They may also depend on you for things that should never have been your responsibility to begin with. Pushback is normal, but remember this pushback is only ever about them, not you.
Ask for help. With certain types of boundaries, like time, you may need to admit you can’t do it all yourself. Referring back to the needy children topic, enlist the help of a family member or friend to babysit occasionally. Allow your significant other to do the evening chores so you can relax.
Set rules about your time and surroundings. If you’re overwhelmed by people or what’s going on around you, consider the environment you’re in and the time you spend there. Maybe a particular activity or atmosphere is toxic to you, or just causes additional stress. Here is where really knowing yourself becomes important. Knowing what causes you to feel uncomfortable is the first step to figuring out why. From there, you can determine if continuing to engage in that activity/being in that particular setting is really necessary.
That’s a wrap on the basics of boundary-setting. It’s never easy, and more often than not, it’s a process. It may be an indefinite journey of reinforcing the same boundaries in relationships and/or within yourself. But you will, in the end, find more peace.
Have you ever set boundaries, and if so, what was your experience like? Let me know if the comment box below! AND, be sure to subscribe to my brand-new newsletter!