It is not surprising that boundaries are the things we struggle with most. It is not shocking because we grew up in a world that told us our boundaries didn’t matter. We lived with people who made irrelevant our opinions and interests. They controlled what we did. They forced our priorities. And in many cases, they make it clear that they owned our bodies. And when we attempted to have boundaries or even to exist in the world at all, we were often met with retaliation, rage and a general withdrawal of “love” and support. As children, these responses were life-threatening. And that was unacceptable. So we had to switch into survival mode. And boundaries do not exist in survival mode.
But in adulthood, a lack of boundaries will not serve us. It creates a huge mess instead. People come from miles around to control us. And we are used to these patterns, so we don’t know how to stop it. We feel immense guilt every time we try. People reject us repeatedly. And deep down inside, we are angry. We are so incredibly angry. So today, I want to give you some tips for setting boundaries in the real world. Some of these tips are practical and some are thoughts you can use as mantras if you like. But these have helped me escape a world of miserable boundary invasions and I want the same for you.
Practice with electronic communication. We live in a world with more virtual reality than reality. That has a ton of downsides. You can read about them all over the internet. But for those of us who need to practice boundaries, it can be very convenient. Use it to your advantage. Practice boundaries by slowing down your responses to electronic requests. Spend some time with your language in response. Write a draft and come back to it. If you aren’t ready to respond strongly to a request face-to-face, ask them to send it in a text or email so you don’t forget. Use this societal obsession to your advantage.
If you aren’t quite ready to use “No!” as a complete sentence, lie. I know this sounds like I am being a bad influence. I am not talking about big lies here. But if you aren’t ready to say no without an excuse, make one up. You are busy doing something (even if that is a night of movie watching by yourself). Or you are not feeling well (which applies to your emotional state too). If you don’t want to do something, but aren’t feeling ready to just say no, you have my permission to stretch that truth.
Schedule things at convenient times. If you have “over-reachers” who always ask for help with something at specific times, schedule self-care appointments during those times. Be busy doing what matters to you. That avoids the lie and will send the message to the boundary invaders that you are done being available to them.
There is no “sorry” in boundaries. You get to say no to others without being apologetic. This is so important. You can list all the excuses you want, but you are not allowed to be sorry for not allowing a boundary invasion.
Watch for patterns. If someone is always invading your boundaries, that’s not going to change. Even if they tell you it is going to change, the chance of that happening is one in a million. They will continue to behave exactly as they have always behaved unless they are taking steps to heal their own trauma in deep, emotionally expressive ways. So, if someone is exhibiting patterns of boundary invasion, put up your most rigid wall. They aren’t changing.
There is nobody important enough to make you miserable. When you were a child, you had to let everyone matter more than you. You had no other way of surviving. But it doesn’t have to be true anymore. There is nobody in your family, no parent, no spouse, no best friend, no adult child who gets to trigger you with patterns of boundary invasion and stick around. Please know this. If you don’t prioritize your own well-being, nobody else ever will.
Face the guilt. If you take action on these tips, you will be inundated with guilt. You will hear all the old messages from childhood. You will feel like you are a horrible, horrible person. It will be hard to live with yourself because of the noise on the inside. And the people who hate your boundaries will only fuel the chorus. But you can help it to dissipate. You can write from it. You can let that inner guilt express without changing your boundaries or caving to the inner pressure. It is old messages that don’t apply to you anymore.
Try some of these tips in your own life. If you are struggling to take back your life, fight the old tendencies and make some changes. You are worth these changes. Your life can get better, but it won’t happen without your willful action. So get out there and set some boundaries. You are a person too. And you deserve boundaries.