I used to think I knew exactly what went into stable, solid relationships with other people. I thought I knew how to have a healthy, emotional relationship with a guy. I believed I was a pretty faithful friend to those in my life. Then life happens.
I began to see major cracks in how I did relationships. All of this led me to see how I was dragging around past wounds and trauma into my current relationships. I saw how easily I would return to controlling and manipulative ways in relationships as a coping mechanism.
Ladies, this is a book every single woman needs to read. It has been a GAME CHANGER in my life and personal healing.
But let’s back the train up a little bit.
Why does a boundary matter in life and relationships?
A boundary is a property line; the line divides where your yard ends and your neighbor’s begins. More specifically, a personal boundary distinguishes what is your emotional or personal property, and what belongs to someone else. Now you cannot see your own boundary, but you definitely can tell when someone crosses it. When another person tries to control you, tries to get to close to you, or asks you to do something you don’t think is right, you should feel some sense of protest. That is how you know your boundary has been crossed.
Boundaries say, “I belong to me and you belong to you.”
Boundaries matter because they keep us emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically safe. They protect us and help us trust and listen to ourselves. Boundaries keep the good things in, and bad things out. When we don’t have clear limits, we can unknowingly expose ourselves to unhealthy and toxic influences and people.
YOU and only YOU are responsible for what is inside your boundaries. It is important in your relationships to be clear about your expectations and boundaries. Not in a controlling or manipulative way, but to be honest with others and yourself.
Think of it this way: you have a neighbor who keeps his yard a total mess . . . lawn unkept, dog poop and trash everywhere, and smells that could kill an elephant. If you randomly went into your neighbor’s yard and started cleaning it up yourself you would be trespassing, going into a place you are unwanted, and trying to clean up a mess that wasn’t yours to begin with. That is living life without boundaries: going somewhere uninvited to “fix” a mess that isn’t yours to fix.
If someone else is controlling your love, emotions, or values, they are not the problem. Your inability to set limits on their control is the problem. Boundaries are the way to keep yourself safe and strong.
What are boundaries?
- used to define the limits in relationships
- in place as trust is rebuilt in relationships
- healthy responses to when another person hurts you
- your protection against repeated harm
- life-changing tools to be implemented in all relationships
- the opposite of becoming responsible for another person’s problems or issues
What aren’t boundaries?
- methods of forcing behavior
- ways to control another person
- used to emotionally disconnect
- ways to avoid dealing with pain
- manipulation of other people or situations
- taking responsibility for another person/their issues
Three kinds of boundaries: personal, relational, and internal
Personal boundaries are about how YOU respond to yourself. Your own triggers, trauma, and emotional responses may sometimes lead you to unhealthy ways of coping.
Relational boundaries are set and lived out in all your relationships outside a significant other (spouse, parents, family, friends, co-workers, in-laws, etc). Your relational boundaries define how much emotional (or physical) space you need between you and others to feel safe. These boundaries define how you will respond when others act or refuse to act.
Internal boundaries are a little more tricky to explain. This is an example that works for me: Imagine inside your body is this invisible zipper, only you have access to it as the owner of your physical body. You can control how much it is zipped or how little it is zipped.
Only you can control how much you allow in to affect your emotions, feelings, and mindset. Internal boundaries are your own personal safety mechanism, your own zipper. My therapist has said to me many times before, “Patty, in that situation were you emotionally zipped up? Did you protect yourself before seeing or talking to that person or getting into that situation?” What she was helping me realize, is that I have the power to control how much I let other’s words and actions affect me.
What does this look like in real life?
When implementing boundaries in your relationships, I have found these three steps helpful and practical in my own life:
- Identify the people or situations in life you may need a boundary with. For example, you have a difficult sibling or parent you realize you need to deal with.
- Identify the boundary pushing behavior. You are very uncomfortable how your brother often tries to guilt trip you into helping or doing things for him. You feel intimidated and unable to express how this really makes you feel.
- Then, identify and name what your boundary will be.
The next time your brother Art tries guilt tripping you will share with him how that makes you feel. “John, when I hear you say you are annoyed I can’t visit that weekend. What I think is you don’t understand how busy my life is with grad school right now. And about that, I feel frustrated.”
Another example: You have a co-worker who constantly hangs out at your desk through out the day while you are trying to get your work done. She likes to gossip about other co-workers, and you feel you don’t feel comfortable, not to mention, distracted from your work done. You could say, “Sarah, when you stop by my desk regularly to chat and gossip what I think about that is that you don’t see I’m trying to get my work done. And about that I feel frustrated and annoyed.”
Or perhaps you have a mother in law who constantly gives your children gifts you are not comfortable accepting. You could say, “Judy, when you give gifts to the kids Derek and I do not approve of in our home, what I think is that you don’t respect our role as their parents trying to keep them safe, and about that I feel frustrated.”
Use a sound bite when you’re uncomfortable
When using boundaries, it is important how to talk with someone who is not emotionally safe or doesn’t respect your defined boundaries. This is called a feedback format or what I like to call “my sound bite.” That way, if I feel nervous or anxious in how to respond, I can go right back to this tool. The point is that you are trying to fully listen to the person, even if you’d rather punch them straight in the nose. Here is what you say bit by bit:
“When I heard you say . . . .”
Repeat EXACTLY what the person said word for word. By repeating what they said, you protect yourself from being accused or manipulated because you are repeating the words they just uttered. Simply repeat whatever the person said.
“What I thought about that is . . . .”
You are now stating your perceptions, thoughts, interpretation of what that individual said to you.
“And about that I feel . . . .”
Share your emotions on how what he or she said made you feel (anger, fear, joy, passion, pain, shame, guilt, love, joy, or guilt).
Whether you are married or single, we all desire healthy, safe relationships. These are some tools I have found helpful in my own life and I hope you will be empowered and encouraged by them as well!
If you’re looking for more specific help, there is also Boundaries in Dating, Boundaries in Marriage, and Boundaries With Kids. The principles are very much the same, but more tailored to these specific life situations.
We all desire meaningful, life-giving relationships in life. Healthy boundaries are an important tool for us as women to keep ourselves safe and have strong relationships.
So let’s go out there and have healthy relationships!
Written by Patty Breen. Find out more about her here.