Let’s start with a bit of reflection. How many of these things do you do?
Change your opinions or decisions to match other people’s, even if they don’t align with your values?
Feel like you’re at the mercy of everyone else’s needs and priorities, with nothing left for yourself?
Struggle to say no to requests for your time or energy, even when you really can’t manage them?
Feel like you always need to keep others happy or make them feel better?
“Save” people from their problems so they don’t have to suffer?
Find it challenging to ask for help, because you don’t want to inconvenience someone or have them think you are a burden?
Continue to invest in one-sided relationships or relationships with people who criticise and hurt you?
If you find yourself doing any of these things regularly, you may find it beneficial to examine your personal boundaries.
Most of us are diligent about protecting our physical property with boundaries. We put walls and fences around our homes. We use security cameras and alarms. We lock our cars and put our valuables in safes. But how much attention do you give to creating boundaries to protect something much more important – you and your wellbeing?
Just like your home boundaries, your personal boundaries aren’t designed to keep everyone out. Rather, they define what’s ok and not ok in relation to you and how people treat you.
They are lines you don’t want people to cross, because of the impact on your wellbeing or the fact that they restrict you from being you.
Let me give you an example.
I work one day and 3 nights per week. That’s the right balance for me and my family, in this season of our lives. If needed, I can sometimes work an extra night or day, but these aren’t sustainable if they are regular. As well as working on More to Mum, I also do some corporate learning and development work. Over the last couple of years, through trial and error, I’ve defined some clear boundaries around this. I only take on corporate projects if they fit within my working hours. I’ve turned down work because I know that if I take it on, I’ll end up stressed and burned out, and my family will suffer. I also don’t like the mother I become when I work too much; I’m intolerant, impatient and not very much fun.
How can personal boundaries help me?
Personal boundaries help you to take care of yourself, protect your wellbeing and protect your precious energy and attention. They help you filter what is acceptable or not acceptable in your life and make healthy choices for yourself.
Personal boundaries can also help you feel more confident, as when you clearly define what’s right for you (and believe it) you will worry less about what others think about you in that area. You will be tuned into what you need and able to assertively ask for it. You’ll find that you get your needs met more often too!
When you have clear personal boundaries, you are taking responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and actions and also not taking responsibility for the thoughts, feelings and actions of others (which are their responsibility!). This helps you to protect your valued relationships and spend less time feeling angry or resentful.
By clearly being able to state your personal boundaries you will help others respect and treat you well. You’ll be better able to avoid toxic, unhelpful relationships.
Different boundaries may apply to different people and different situations. They don’t have to be one size fits all. Some may be quite rigid and others may be a little flexible. In all cases though, they need to be clear, communicated and be attached to consequences for people to respect them.
What types of personal boundaries are there?
Since your boundaries are personal to you, you can have boundaries around any area of your life as needed.
Here are some examples of the types of boundaries you could create.
- I will not lend my things to people who don’t respect and take care of them.
- If someone continues to borrow money without paying me back I will stop lending them money.
Personal space and privacy
- I will ask my friends to text or call before they drop over to my house.
- I will remove myself from any situation where people are physically aggressive with me.
- I have a right to have some time to myself, so that I can do things that are uniquely mine.
- I have a right to my own physical space around me and will speak up when someone is too close to me.
- People may not go through my personal belongings.
- I will not answer personal questions if I do not feel comfortable doing so.
- I will respectfully breastfeed my child wherever I am, when required.
- I won’t be having visitors for the first 24 hours after the birth of my baby.
- My mood is not dictated by my partner’s mood. I do not have to be sad when he is sad. I am responsible for my own feelings.
- I am not responsible for making sure everyone in my family is happy all the time.
- My feelings matter, I will not ignore them or dismiss them.
Thoughts, values and opinions
- I have a right to have my own opinion, even if others disagree.
- I have a right to stand up for myself if I need to.
- I do not need to consult other people about my decisions unless they are directly affected.
- I will not compromise my values, to fit in with others.
- If people make critical comments about my weight or appearance, I will ask them to stop.
- If people make inappropriate or suggestive comments about me or to me, I will ask them to stop.
- I will ask for help when I need it and let others decide if they can and want to give it.
Time, attention and energy
- I will respectfully say no, without guilt, when someone requests my time or energy and I can’t manage it.
- I will not answer my phone between 5pm and 8pm as this is family time.
- I have a right to self-care. I will make time for myself because my needs matter too.
- I will not invest in one sided friendships or relationships with people who continually put me down.
- If my friend repeatedly asks for help and dismisses my suggestions, I will recommend that she seeks support from someone else.
- I will not give an immediate response to requests for my help when it requires a lot of time and effort. I will allow myself time to consider it.
- I will not put other people’s priorities above my own priorities or those of my family.
- I can help, but I do not need to save others from their problems because this prevents them from experiencing the consequences of their choices and learning.
- When I am exhausted, I will reprioritise and create time for additional rest.
How to set healthy boundaries
We start learning about boundaries in childhood when we experience how our families create and respect boundaries. As adults, we may have trouble setting boundaries or allow our boundaries to be crossed for many reasons. For example, people pleasing, wanting to be helpful, difficulty saying no, low self-worth, low awareness of our own needs, fear of rejection or a lack of good boundary setting examples.
The good news is, it’s never too late to set healthy personal boundaries. It’s up to you to set and uphold your own boundaries, so that others can understand and respect them.
It’s important to remember that boundaries should be set with love, to protect your wellbeing and to help you take responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings and actions, and not for those of others. Setting boundaries out of anger, vengefulness or as a threat will be ineffective, as these intentions will undermine the value of your boundaries.
Here’s how to create personal boundaries:
1. Identify the area that needs a boundary
What do you feel uncomfortable, angry or resentful about? What do you find yourself complaining about often? Where do you feel overwhelmed, restricted or powerless?
2. Decide on your boundary to address the issue
3. Decide on the consequences for crossing your boundary
What are you willing and able to do if someone crosses your boundary? For example, if someone continues to criticise you, you could end the conversation. If someone drops over unannounced and you can’t accommodate their visit, you can ask them to reschedule. Remember:
- Flexibility is ok, as long as it’s not confusing
- The consequences should be designed to protect you, rather than threaten, criticise or blame the other person.
4. Communicate your boundary (and consequences for crossing it, if appropriate)
Communicate calmly, respectfully, clearly and firmly. There’s no need get angry, justify it or apologise for it. Sometimes others will react negatively to your attempt to set a boundary. You aren’t responsible for their reaction and a negative response doesn’t mean your boundary is wrong. Stand firm about your boundary and the people who love you will learn to respect it. This can be particularly hard for people who have weak boundaries themselves.
5. Follow through
if your boundary is crossed, then remind the person of your boundary and follow through with consequences to respect and protect yourself.
Lovely mum, without personal boundaries, you risk your own wellbeing and allow other people to determine how best to treat you. You also risk taking on too much responsibility for other people.
What’s 1 boundary you need to set? Work through the steps about for this boundary and start using it today!