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Boundaries: What They Are and Why They Are Important

Updated on May 22, 2019
Jessica Beasley profile image

As a product of a dysfunctional family, I find fulfillment in sharing my personal heartache to help others going through difficult times.

From a very early age, we are told “love knows no bounds” and that we should “love without boundaries”. I feel those notions are beautiful in theory, but don’t always play well in real life. They may even be completely impractical in most family dynamics. When I say that, I absolutely do not mean that we shouldn't love fully or unconditionally, but the truth is, we need boundaries. I believe one major misconception with the idea of boundaries is that if we have them we are selfish, unloving, and ungenerous. Also it could feel like we are not good brothers, sisters, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, friends, employees, Christians, etc. That simply is not true my friends. Boundaries are necessary for us to be our best and for your relationships to flourish. Boundaries provide proof to yourself that you love yourself enough to make YOU a priority. That in turn makes you better for the people you love. Think about this; what good are we to help others if we don’t help ourselves? Boundaries are essential in having healthy, fulfilling relationships.

My story

A few years ago, I had the unfortunate task of having to set boundaries with my immediate family after almost 30 years of operating a certain way. When I realized that I could continue to blame them for how they treated me or realizeit was me who allowed, my entire world changed for the better. It was by no means easy, but i started to change the way i responded and what I allowed and slowly but surely, I got better at it. My mother and my brother have responded well to my setting boundaries (after some time) and we now have much healthier relationships with each other. We treat each other differently and, needless to say, much better. Unfortunately, my relationship with my father has not had such a positive outcome. When I tried setting boundaries with him, he tried every which way to get around them through trying to manipulate me into getting what he wants. And after a while, I realized he would never be able to follow and respect my boundaries. My boundary issues with my father include him inserting himself into my life and using me and my resources to fund his life and his agenda. I am then left with anger, confusion, and the knowing that I am merely a means to an end. At some point, I had enough and realized it would never be any different, at least not without some major changing on his part, and my work was done. So I used to be someone who had a hard time setting boundaries and I have slowly gotten better and now have better relationships and confidence in my ability to choose who deserves a spot in my life. And I wish that for everyone.

Sometimes the best thing you can give someone is "No" for an answer.
Sometimes the best thing you can give someone is "No" for an answer.

What are boundaries and why are they important?

A boundary is the invisible line that separates you from someone else, be it, physical, emotional, or psychological. If someone seems pushy, abusive, demanding of personal information, your time, or personal space, there may be a boundary violation happening.

Boundaries are essential in not only self care but self love. When we take care of ourselves, we can take care others better. When we love ourselves, we can love more fully. Without boundaries, we can often get resentful and feel drained on all levels. When that happens we often don’t even know why we feel that way, but all too often, it will be because we have been lacking adequate boundaries in our relationships leaving us depleted. Boundaries also help you respect and love someone else, because generally, if you have adequate boundaries, you will respect others boundaries as well.

Why are boundaries so difficult to set?

Often we have a hard time saying no because we think if we say yes just one more time, that will be the end and we won't get asked anymore. We think that everyone will be satisfied and what we give will finally be enough. We feel that if we do something else we may finally feel rewarded by what we do for others. Really what you end up feeling is drained, bitter, anxious, angry, resentful and deprived of doing what you would like to do. It leaves us little fuel to really give and what good is that? I know so many people who live in fear that ifthey implement boundaries, people will be upset or mad with them. I tend to believe that if people get "upset" with you, the odds are that you found people who do not and will not respect your boundaries and will keep you on a hamster wheel if you let them. People that love you will respect you for it and you may even inspire them if they're struggling. It takes some time and it is not easy to start, but after time it gets easier and has a snowball effect.

Sometimes setting boundaries isn’t very hard, in fact, there are times it can be very clear. If someone physically abusive or steals from you, you will usually be well aware that a boundary has been crossed (implementing the boundary might be another story, but you will at least be aware). It is often the more subtle boundary violations that we have a hard time distinguishing. It is sometimes difficult to spot because it usually involves people we love, our religion, or our livelihood in some way. It is possible for your parents, friends, and other loved ones are violating your boundaries and that is when it is the hardest. Just because you set a boundary, doesn’t always mean that someone will respect it. So boundaries also can act as a buffer to see who can be in your life and who can’t, as in my case with my father. We want to be well liked, kind, giving and we tend to think if we have boundaries, we are not those things. That is not true but even knowing that, doesn't make it easy. We find ourselves needing a new way of thinking.

Set healthy boundaries and set yourself free!
Set healthy boundaries and set yourself free!

Do I need to set boundaries in my life?

You may not have a clear answer as to whether or not you need to set better boundaries in your life. If you're one of those people, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I feel bad/guilty that what I do and time I spend with others isn't enough?
  • Do I do these things in order to satisfy others?
  • Do I feel like I have no time left to do what I really want to do?
  • Do I find myself doing a lot of things I don't want to do?
  • Do I feel drained rather than rewarded for these things?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may not have strong boundaries.

How do you set boundaries?

First and foremost, slowly! I say slowly because it will not come natural to most of us. Most often, we realize we need boundaries when things have gotten out of hand. It didn't happen overnight and, therefore, cannot be fixed overnight. You will take steps forward and and then backwards but persistence is the key and will get better at it if you keep on.

It can be you beloved mother whom insists on coming over unannounced and it bothers you. Or your friend who keeps you on the phone for hours and you wish she didn't. We can blame these people or we can realize that the power is in us to fix it. So you need to realize first and foremost that setting boundaries is your responsibility and your problem to fix, not theirs. It is about taking responsibility for the problems and the solution. It starts with you and only you. This is probably the biggest and hardest step because you cannot fix what you don't recognize. In setting boundaries, you don't simply implement them with words, but also actions. Odds are that you have already tried talking to loved ones about how your boundaries are not being respected and are now blue in the face. Actions will provide success here. You need to set the boundary and carry it out. It is teaching and training others how to treat you. There will be times when it is difficult but just be persistent, it will not happen overnight.

If you need extra help

I write this article as a friend. I am not a counselor or a therapist. If you would like more in depth help with this issue, there is a terrific book that I highly recommend. It's called "Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life and it was written by John Townsend and Henry Cloud. I was in the throes of boundary issues and not knowing what to do or where to start. I was driving home from work tonight and someone had called into the Delilah show on the radio. Her problem seemed so similar to mine. Delilah recommended this book. I jotted the title and author down (while driving). I purchased the book immediately. I kept it around for a couple years while I worked through getting better at setting boundaries. I recently passed this book onto a dear friend that needed it. Below I have an Amazon link if you wish to check it out and purchase it.

Share your thoughts!

Have you ever had to set boundaries with loved ones or your job? Was it difficult? How has your life been made better since implementing? Comment and share your experience below!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Jess B


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