We’ve all been there.
A friend guilt trips you into going out when you clearly don’t want to because they insist you “never do anything” and you feel like you’re the reason your friendship isn’t as strong as it was.
A co-worker constantly unloads all of her personal problems on you, sometimes as soon as you walk in the door, because you’re a “good listener”, and you don’t want to hurt her feelings.
You’re having yet another “debate” with a family member and find yourself having to agree just to keep the peace and shut him up.
You tell people you hate drama but always seem to get caught in the middle of it.
You feel like you are responsible for things that aren’t even your fault, and you find yourself apologizing or defending yourself for them.
You are drawn to people who need to be “fixed”…and you feel like if you can “fix” them, you’ll gain their approval, love, and appreciation.
You struggle to say no or turn people down because you are afraid of making them “angry” or disappointing them.
Does this mean you’re weak? Does this mean you’re a pushover? Does it mean you’re a victim?
It just means you need better boundaries.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are GREAT! But for a lot of us (especially women) they can be challenging to set and stick to.
Boundaries are essentially guidelines that help us navigate our relationships. They exist to help us take good care of ourselves, mentally, emotionally, and physically. When you have healthy boundaries in place, it helps to cultivate a strong sense of identity and helps you define who you are as an individual.
Boundaries help you determine what you will and will not hold yourself responsible for.
They’re also a crucial component of self-care. Poor boundaries can lead to things like resentment, anger, mental exhaustion, and other negative emotional states because we cannot clearly communicate what we want, need, or think.
“Healthy personal boundaries = taking responsibility for your own actions and emotions, while NOT taking responsibility for the actions and emotions of others.” (Mark Manson)
Interestingly, studies have found that people with high self-esteem have strong personal boundaries. It stands to reason, then, that if you practice sticking to strong personal boundaries, you can build or strengthen your self-esteem.
When most people hear the word “boundaries” they immediately think of things like fences. They think it’s all about isolating yourself from others, or creating conflict by drawing a line in the proverbial sand.
In fact, healthy boundaries are simply a great way to set standards for how you’ll allow others to interact with you. They can help manage demands on your time and your emotions.
Why are my boundaries so wishy washy?
Here’s the thing about boundaries: they’re influenced by a lot.
• Our cultural background
• Where we live / our community
• Whether we are introverts or extroverts (or somewhere in between)
• Our upbringing and family dynamics
• Our experiences throughout life
How you were raised, where you grew up, the things you experienced, how you view yourself, how you were taught to view yourself and your needs…all of these things contribute to whether or not you are able to set and uphold strong boundaries.
The good news is boundaries are flexible. The evolve, just like your values, over your lifetime. This is why you’ll find the older a woman gets, the less shit she will take from people.
I will never forget someone close to me once saying, “The older you get, the more negative and angry you get.”
Of course, that’s what people say when you start to hold them accountable for how they treat you.
The reality is, most women don’t get angrier or more negative as they get older (there are always exceptions to that statement). We have accumulated a wealth of experience and as a result many of us start to set stronger boundaries (or standards) for what we will and will not allow.
But I refuse to believe that women need to wait until they’re in their 40’s or beyond to become experienced or enlightened (or angry) enough to start setting those standards. Anyone can set strong boundaries, and should, at any age. Holding them simply takes consistent practice.
Okay so what makes a strong boundary?
There are two foundational pieces to setting strong boundaries. The first is understanding that no matter your age or your circumstance, you have rights. I give you Sarah’s Basic Rights of a Woman.
Sarah’s 10 Basic Rights of a Woman
- I have the right to say no without guilt or explanation.
- I have the right to be treated with respect and kindness.
- I have the right to make my needs as important as anyone else’s.
- I have the right to forgive myself for my mistakes.
- I have the right to accept who I am as I am right now.
- I have the right to ask for what I need without shame.
- I have the right to say no to other people’s unreasonable expectations of me.
- I have the right to speak truthfully.
- I have the right to make choices unapologetically.
- I have the right to be wrong.
Once you embrace these rights fully, you’ll find honouring them so much easier. It’s only when you honour them fully that you’ll stop spending time and energy trying to pacify or please those who dishonour them.
The second thing to be aware of is your values. Your values are the beliefs you hold about the world and your place in it; your personal code of conduct. They are the things that you have decided are of importance to you. They’re like guideposts, helping you decide what is worthy of your energy and what is not.
Values are also fluid and they, too, will evolve as you go through life. It’s a good idea to revisit your values from time to time, to see whether they’re still representative of who you are today.
For example, when I was starting out in my professional career, money was important to me. It was important to earn as much as I could to save and be able to do the things I wanted to do (ie: buy a house, travel, etc). So for me, working all the hours God sent wasn’t an issue. Financial security was a strong value.
When I had children, my values shifted. I still held financial security as a strong value, but now spending time with my kids was more important. So, working crazy hours was no longer in alignment with what I held to be important. I had to adjust how I worked, where I worked (I ended up leaving my beloved profession of event planning because it didn’t allow me to live in alignment with my values anymore) and what I was saying yes to.
What’s important to you? Need help determining your values? It’s part of my foundational Awakening Program – a self-paced coaching program supported with 1:1 coaching sessions to help you get back in touch with your essential self. Click here to learn more!
Okay, so how do I set better boundaries?
There are 2 steps to setting stronger boundaries.
Step 1: Define your desired boundary
Boundaries will look different depending on the relationship in question. Whether it’s people at work, people in your friend circle, your partner, your kids, your parents, etc., you first have to determine what you want out of each of those relationships.
For example, maybe you need your kids to leave you in peace for 30 mins after the workday is done. Or perhaps you want your partner to take the kids out for one afternoon a week. Maybe you need your parents to call before they come over to visit, instead of just popping by. Perhaps you want your friend to stop being late every time you make plans to get together.
Whatever the boundary, be clear about what you need.
Step 2: State your needs and clarify their value
Just because you’ve defined your needs in your own head doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly be made real. You need to communicate those needs to the party with whom you want to set the new boundary.
You have to tell your friend that when she’s late every time you make plans, it limits your time together because you’d like to get home to your kids before bedtime.
You have to tell your partner that you need an afternoon off each week and allow them a chance to make plans with the kids, taking ownership of their time together.
And when you communicate your needs, be clear and to the point. State what you need and don’t over-explain. If you’re saying no to something, just say no. Don’t qualify it or go into an apologetic ramble. Remember, you have the right to determine what you do and don’t want to do.
Be sure, however, to explain the value of the boundary to help them understand why you’re making it.
“I need 30 minutes to myself when I get home from work so I can unwind and then focus on being present with you.”
“I would appreciate you being on time for our coffee dates because I have intentionally scheduled childcare / time away from the kids and I’d like to maximize our time together.”
“I’d appreciate you calling before you came over, so we are able to spend quality time with you when you get here.”
You’ll notice that it’s a clear statement of need and value. There’s no apology. There’s no over-explaining. There’s no justification or attempt to salvage perceived hurt feelings. There’s also no blame or finger pointing. (That’s just as important…remember, you’re taking responsibility for your actions AND emotions.)
Strong boundaries are a critical component to living an intentional life. When you’re able to set clear and healthy boundaries, you’re able to step more fully into alignment with who you are and what you value.
You’ll notice you start feeling more content with your decisions. You’ll start showing more compassion and kindness to yourself. You’ll start to feel less stressed and able to make decisions and choices with more clarity.
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