In one of the groups I’m a part of, someone asked about how to set boundaries and how to enforce them, because she realized she keeps letting others cross them. And the thing is, most people will always try to push our boundaries more and more, as far as they can. It makes sense since it benefits them. It’s up to us to respect our boundaries, because when we do, the others either perceive our boundaries and respect them, or when some people don’t, we respect them by leaving that situation or relationship. But how do we do that? How do we respect our boundaries even when we feel we might lose someone or something?
Well, I’ll share with you how I learned to do it. This has been a long journey for me because a big part of myself was a people pleaser and always tried to make others happy. Why? So that they will love me, stay in my life and give me what I want. But unfortunately, or, dare I say fortunately, it doesn’t really work that way. It was very hard for me to admit it to myself that this is actually emotional manipulation. When we give people what they want so they give us what we want, we are manipulating them into feeling guilty if they don’t, because we did what they wanted. Like parents guilting their children into doing what they want because they did so much for them. There are people who fall into this trap and give into this circle of guilt that goes from one to the other and then there are people with narcissistic tendencies who don’t really care and just take advantage of the ones who try to make them happy. They know exactly what to say and how to manipulate them into giving in and doing what they want. Neither is healthy and neither is helping you being true to yourself or respecting you and your needs.
So then what’s the solution? Well… my journey to heal this has revealed multiple layers of this issue and even though I’ve come a long way and I respect my boundaries in most situations, it is still unfolding and I still find myself breaking them in certain situations. And that’s okay, because I know that every time this happens, it’s the Universe showing me a different aspect I have not seen or acknowledged before and it’s an opportunity to heal and integrate another part of myself. This is why I do my best to be compassionate towards myself in this situations. It’s not always easy, and when I can’t, I forgive myself for not being able to meet myself with compassion. This is the key to this whole process. Because it is a process, it takes time and it comes with plenty opportunities to choose compassion for yourself over beating yourself up (this was my natural reaction and sometimes it still happens). The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Having said this, let’s dive into what boundaries are, how to set them, why we allow ourselves and others to disrespect them and, most importantly, how to start respecting our own boundaries. Something to keep in mind is that people who disrespect their own boundaries are very unaware of other peoples boundaries. When you respect your own boundaries, you become aware or other peoples boundaries and instinctively respect them. It goes both ways. Cool, right? 😉
So, what are boundaries and why do we set them?
In order to set boundaries we have to start being aware of what makes us feel uncomfortable or unsafe (emotionally and physically). When we become aware of this, we can set our own rules regarding what is acceptable (healthy) for us and what isn’t. It’s a very important step, which is more of a process actually. Because after we set the boundary, while practicing it, we will realize if we have to fine tune it since when we practice we get more clarity. We also figure out if it is a very hard/strict limit or maybe it can be flexible, depending on the situation.
For example, allowing unwanted advances from a man is a hard limit (one you’re not willing to break) while not going out to drinks after work might be a more flexible one. Normally you don’t do it, but if one day you’re feeling like it might be fun and you’d like to do it, you go and enjoy it. It’s okay to “break” the rule if you want to. Nothing is set in stone, because ultimately setting boundaries is all about making sure you feel good and to prevent situations when you don’t. It’s about knowing and honoring your values, your integrity, your personal space and your emotions. You will know when a boundary is crossed even if you didn’t realize yet that it is a boundary, when you feel discomfort inside in a certain situation. Analyze and explore what made you feel uncomfortable and why, to get clarity about that boundary.
A critical step in setting boundaries is communicating them. We can’t expect people to know what we like and what we don’t, what we accept and what we don’t. There are some boundaries we communicate from the start and others which we communicate when we feel the person or situation is going in a direction that might violate our boundaries. It’s all about allowing your intuition to guide you about when to communicate them and to do it with respect (for yourself and the other person) and compassion. Trust me, if it’s important to communicate a boundary in a certain moment, everything inside you will tell you to do it.
Setting boundaries means no more people pleasing
If you are like I was (and sometimes still am), and you don’t know if you should say it because you could upset the person, or are afraid you’ll both feel uncomfortable, or that it will bring up an unpleasant conversation, it’s okay. Just try to remind yourself that it’s better to go through the discomfort of communicating your boundaries, whatever this might bring, than to go through the discomfort and frustration of having to do something you don’t want to do. Not to mention the resentment you create towards that person and towards yourself. Trust me, this lasts much longer and it is also damaging to your self esteem and your emotional health. You will go through discomfort anyway, so you might as well choose the one that empowers you and helps you have healthier relationships (with yourself too, not just with others).
If you’re afraid you’ll loose that person if you communicate your boundaries, let me ask you this: do you really want to have in your life people who don’t respect you or your needs? Because the people who don’t care enough to respect you, are the people who are in your life only to take advantage of you. It hurts to realize it, I know, but it’s also liberating to see the truth.
If you feel that you can’t communicate your boundaries, that you are not safe to do so, than this is the starting point of your healing. Exploring the fear of speaking up for yourself and everything it brings up. If this is the case, I make sure you work with somebody who can hold the right healing space for you. Your intuition will tell you who is the right person. Trust it.
Since it’s so uncomfortable and hurtful to allow others to cross our boundaries, why do we do it?
From what I’ve learned, it all comes down to what we have to gain by allowing it or what we have to lose by not allowing it. In our subconscious mind, there’s always an assessment: will respecting my boundaries hurt me more than disrespecting them? If you are doing it, the answer is clearly yes. The subconscious mind is always choosing “the lesser harm” for us, is trying to help us. So how can we change this?
For each situation, we have to look at what we stand to gain and what we stand to lose if we respect our boundaries. But more than this, the key is to ask ourselves what are our needs in this situation? What do we want to get from it / from the other? In my experience, most times, it all comes down to being loved, being seen, being accepted, being appreciated, being valued, being respected. We have to see what it is in that exact situation and then learn how to give it to ourselves.
You might want this from them, but keep in mind that someone can only love you as much as they can love themselves. And let’s be honest here, how many people truly love themselves? Someone can only accept you, value you, respect you as much as they do themselves. But, more than that, it is our job to love, accept, appreciate, see, value and respect ourselves. Because the part of us that wants this from someone else is an inner child who did not get this from our loved ones and more importantly, from us. They have come to light to ask us for all that. When we see that parts of us and we accept them, value & appreciate them, respect them and most importantly, love them, they heal. They are no longer a broken part of us, they integrate and become one with us. We are now together and they trust we can always provide what they need. This is the key to life, not just setting boundaries. To become whole. It’s a lifelong journey, but what I can promise you is that it’s the most rewarding one.
When we do this, when we become aware of what we (and our inner children) need, and we give that to ourselves, we no longer have to play the game of manipulating the other to give us what we want by doing what they need. Because in the process of doing that, not only do we not get what we need most of the time, but we wound ourselves more by disrespecting ourselves, by putting others first, by not showing up for ourselves, by giving our power away.
I know it’s not an easy process. It’s messy and it hurts because it brings up to the surface so many wounds and unwanted feelings that were stuffed under the rug. But when we go through it, when we face our inner children and we feel all those ignored feelings that cripple them and us, we start to heal. Those feelings are released and make way for more of the good stuff. Each one of this moments creates a ripple effect that transforms our life in the most wonderful ways. The more we honor ourselves and fulfill our needs, the less we’ll need others to do it and the less prone we’ll be to allow them to disrespect our limits. Our life simply improves immensely.
I know it’s not an easy journey, and many times it requires support from the right people, but it is always worth it. I hope you’re brave enough to start this journey (know that if you don’t feel ready, it means it’s not the right time yet) and that you surround yourself with people who can help and support you. If the people around you are not like that, maybe it’s time to let them go and find your promised people. And if you feel I might be one of them, reach out to me. If it’s aligned with the both of us, I’d love to be one of your guides in this challenging but rewarding journey.