Setting Personal Boundaries – 5 Steps that Build Strong and Supportive Relationships
“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.” ~ Brené Brown
”If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done!” Have you ever felt like that? It seems like most of the work falls on your shoulders when you have family gatherings. Relationships where you’re the one who does all the giving, while others do all the taking, are exhausting. How can you break this cycle? The answer lies in understanding the importance, and power, of setting personal boundaries.
It’s important to note that this imbalance within relationships form over time and are often the result of unintentional patterns of behaviors. For example everyone in the family thinks, “Aunt Olivia always plans Thanksgiving, so I’m not even going to worry about it”. They’re not unkind people. They just aren’t taking into consideration that Aunt Olivia might like a break or some help at the very least.
This imbalance often happens in the business world, also. One person may tend to shoulder most of the responsibility and they take on most of the work. This take-charge kind of person “trains” the rest of the team to step back and not get in the way.
Or perhaps you have a boss, coworker, “friend”, or family member who always leaves you feeling drained, exhausted and tense every time you’re around them, and you’re not quite sure why?There’s nothing you can do, but avoid them, right? Not so fast!
You can use your power to change situations like these. “But Maria, no one argues with Aunt Oliva or the boss”, you might say. Your power doesn’t mean arguing or turning it into a confrontational situation. You exert your power by clearly defining, setting, and communicating personal boundaries.
Setting personal boundaries is achieved by utilizing the following 5-step pattern…
I cannot overemphasize the need for being clear about your own boundaries before you make a stand for them. When you’re uncertain of your own boundaries or you don’t clearly communicate them, you’ll cave in and say “yes” to things that make you unhappy and uncomfortable. It can even make you take on everyone else’s “stuff” to the point you don’t know who you are any more.
If you’re not used to setting personal boundaries, it can be difficult at first. It requires honesty and integrity to gain the clarity of who you are and what you need. Then little by little this self-knowledge will give you the inner strength to tell people, with conviction, respect and tact, what you need from your relationship with them.
Setting personal boundaries is a lifelong process, because you change, your circumstances change, and your relationships change. However, everything’s easier when you have a system. And there is a process for setting boundaries that’s an easy-to-follow pattern…
1. Give yourself permission to set personal boundaries. Your feelings are real. And you need to honor your present preferences and limitations. It’s okay to say, “No”. In fact, it’s essential. You owe it to others to be honest with them, because a relationship built on self-deception can’t be sustained.
TIP: Don’t take everything upon your own shoulders or let in baggage that isn’t yours. Remember that when you set a limit with others, the way they react or respond is information about them, not you.
2. Build personal boundaries based on how you truly feel. Discomfort and resentment are two emotions that signal that your boundaries are being trampled on. Identify exactly how your boundaries are being crossed. Consider whether it’s the overall experience that you resent, or whether it’s how something was phrased or presented.
3. Be specific about your boundary limits. Where do you draw the line in the sand? What are your values, preferences, and needs – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually? Remember that having identified these once long ago isn’t going to serve you now. You’ll want to revisit this often, since you dial them in, as you grow and gain more insight or information.
TIP: Formulate a kind and tactful way of declining instead of a blunt NO. It could be something like, “What a great opportunity! I’m so sorry I’m not able to take advantage of it right now. But I know someone else will do a great job of it.”
4. Practice mindful self-awareness so your personal boundaries really support you. Most people set boundaries out of frustration because they are “fed up” with a situation or a behavior instead of basing their boundaries on their own preferences, needs or values.
TIP: It’s important to decide on our personal boundaries during meditation or introspection time, not in a time of crisis. When you’re firmly grounded and centered, you’ll have self-confidence and won’t be plagued with guilt. And when you’re tuned into your body sensations, you’ll know when a boundary has been threatened. At those signals, you can mindfully choose how to respond, rather than emotionally reacting in a way you regret.
5. Communicate your personal boundaries without complaining. People don’t know your boundaries unless you tell them. You can’t expect them to be mind readers or to intuitively know what you need. Be sure not to point fingers and make it about them. This is you respectfully explaining your limits, so they know where they stand with you. The people who matter will respect you more and like you better for it.
TIP: It’s important to realize that the people who take offense are giving you information that you can use to assess if there’s something in your relationship that needs to be fixed or if you need that person to leave your life.
Setting personal boundaries takes strength and courage, and I’ve found that a practice of embodiment gives you the support you need. Living an embodied life every day, makes these times of confrontation happen less often. I’ve found that combining embodiment coaching and somatic coaching is an ultra effective way of clarifying your personal boundaries. Why not schedule a 30-minute complimentary consultation with me so we can explore your options? I’m happy to meet by phone or via Zoom.