Definition of Boundaries
Boundaries are often thought of as irreducible minimums that people set and communicate to others. They define human interactions, and some people end up thinking that boundaries are the responsibility of other people to abide by and adhere to.
This notion is however an incomplete definition. Boundaries are limits, rules, and guidelines that guide how you interact with yourself and others and how you respond when your expectations are not met.
As much as we set boundaries to direct other people to respect us, we also establish parameters that define the way we respect ourselves. Therefore, boundaries can also be referred to as deal-breakers that we can use to decide whether we can tolerate the intricacies of a relationship.
For instance, when someone disrespects you, your boundaries can direct you to break off the relationship and focus on a healthy engagement that fulfills your happiness.
Most people have boundaries that they exhibit in different situations subconsciously. For example, when one is accorded poor customer service in a firm, the person may decide to look for the service elsewhere. When a co-worker wants us to engage in covering up their blunders, a person of integrity may refuse to turn the other way and bring the matter to the attention of the management. All these pragmatic reactions are a manifestation of boundaries.
This now brings us to the point of deal breakers. When you have impermeable boundaries, you can be able to pay attention and identify red flags that are usually glaring when you analyze them from a rational point of view. You can then make a conscious decision to walk away and avoid making the bad situation worse. For example, when your fiancé exhibits some characteristics of emotional abuse, you can call off the engagement before the marriage to avoid a stressful divorce.
The Role of Boundaries
To better comprehend how boundaries work, you need to build your sense of agency. You can achieve this by adopting a mindset that directs your thoughts, actions, and feelings to avoid controlling other people. Afterward, exploring your choices and minding their consequences is an ideal starting point to regulate your actions.
Boundaries can be deemed as the first line of defense that regulates your behavior and responses to different events. It is hence a mechanism for self-care that enables you to enhance your self-worth by upholding your self-respect. You can learn to be true to your virtues and live by your words such as:
I deserve that.
I don’t want that.
When you prioritize and exalt your value, your boundaries will be cast in stone as your value will be non-negotiable. Anyone who crosses your boundaries will be communicating that they do not value you and you can choose to avoid getting into an entanglement with them. When you allow them to breach your boundary, you will be validating their actions and giving them the greenlight to overlook your needs and priorities subsequently.
Most people do not know what their boundaries are which obscures their understanding of boundaries. We can however learn the meaning of boundaries by contemplating the following mindsets: -
Saying “No” is okay.
I cannot fix other people.
I cannot take responsibility for others.
I cannot control other people’s emotions.
People don’t have to agree with everything I say.
I have the right to my own opinions, thoughts, and perceptions.
I cannot anticipate other people’s feelings.
When you create your boundaries, you will be an inward-looking person who focuses on exploring their interests while allowing other people to exercise their freedoms and liberties to the fullest. For instance, you can stop trying to fix other people to be better and instead focus on your boundary of “I cannot fix other people.”
But living by your boundaries can be challenging due to some natural inclinations that develop following social relationships where you can feel obliged to behave in a certain way to pacify people or to influence them to behave in a reciprocal way that you prefer. This is one of the factors that conditions people be pleasers who exhibit the characteristic of boundary ambivalence.
A primary motivator of this indecisiveness is fear. Most people pursue security in their lives. In their quest to maximize their safety, they can end up forgetting about their boundaries such as “People don’t have to agree to everything I say.” Which can be overwhelming especially when they deal with narcissists.
An additional motivation that makes you lower your guard is guilt. This feeling is a mental reaction to the failure to do something which results in regret. A person may then experience difficulties in saying “No” which can lead to an invasion of their privacy, freedoms, and rights.
To overcome the aspect of guilt, you need to protect your emotions, space, and energy and have the will to repel people who cajole, threaten, bully, or force you to go contrary to your values. This takes time to achieve and requires intensive internalization, soul searching, and shadow hunting.
Owning your responsibilities and letting others take charge of their lives is a mindset that can help you to establish boundaries. For instance, when your partner is violent and you kick them out of the house, you have nothing to do with their fate afterward as your priority is to make your environment peaceful and calm for your wellbeing.
Also, when you are unable to give someone a ride to an interview and they miss their appointment, you cannot shoulder the blame since they had the duty to use any resources at their disposal to arrive at the appointment in time. Anyone who tries to blame you for the outcome of their inadequacies will be crossing your boundaries.
When you are responsible for other people, they can demand that you anticipate their needs, wants, feelings, and actions before you make your choices. For instance, someone can say to you, “you should have known better and come home early”. This statement is a blatant infringement on your boundaries as the other person could be trying to condition you to behave in a way that suits them. This can be a lose-win situation where you receive the short end of the stick.
The source of your happiness should be within you. Once you allow other people to be the genesis of your bliss moments, you will have to break your boundaries by aligning your actions to their wishes. Since people are fallible, you will be setting yourself up for disappointment which can result in stress. Before you know it, you could spiral out of control in your quest to attain happiness by getting entangled in toxic relationships.
Another factor that enables you to create boundaries is understanding that agreeableness is neither guaranteed nor a right. This means that people are not mandated to say yes to everything that you say and do. It also means that you don’t have to be a ‘yes-person’ to live a fulfilling life. Also, when you say no, you don’t need to rationalize, editorialize, and defend yourself to seek validation. It is your life, and your boundaries should not be defined by others.
As you create or explore your boundaries, you are likely to encounter scenarios where you are naturally inclined to suppress your feelings to allow the feelings of others to prevail. You should avoid this by keeping in mind that your feelings are not inferior to anyone else’s and explore avenues of expressing how you feel in a cordial and honest way. Someone who wishes the best for you should be ready to accommodate and respect your feelings.
Emotional self-reliance is a fundamental pillar of boundaries. Ensure that you do not allow other people to determine your self-value. Whenever you experience low moments where you feel as if you are not up to the task, you can improve yourself and live to fight another day.
Summarily, establishing boundaries is a systematic process that depends on the role that you allow other people to play in your life. When you respect yourself, you will take nothing less from other people.
Internalize these words, “If you ever hit me again, I will divorce you”. When the person abuses you and you stay in the relationship, the other person can deduce that you are not committed to your boundaries which may be construed as a lack of self-respect. Since you don’t respect or value yourself, the abuser will continue disrespecting you and belittling you depending on their whims.
This is an illustration of boundary ambivalence. It is a situation where you do not abide by your boundaries despite being conscious that they are being violated. Unfortunately, the coping mechanism such as tolerating abuse sends a message that you have shortcomings and therefore deserving of all the mistreatment.
Fear and guilt beget boundary ambivalence. When you are under pressure or when you deal with people who do not respect you, your brain can respond to the stress by triggering a coping mechanism of tolerating the abuse. However, you can overcome these emotions by ceasing the attempts to control the reactions of other people. For instance, if someone gets angry, there is nothing you can do, or you should do about it rather than focus on your feelings.
Challenges of Creating Boundaries
We have explored the aspect of fear and guilt that impede the process of creating boundaries. But to effectively address this challenge, you need to examine the triggers of these emotions that we have discussed.
The first trigger that comes into mind is codependency. This is the fabric that binds trauma-bonded relationships together where the abuser manipulates the victim to believe that having boundaries is inappropriate and selfish. The problem is exacerbated by the toxic dynamic that further obliges the victim to take responsibility for the abuser. The value of the victim is consequently tied to the opinion of the abuser who will often rant and rave about how the victim is not meeting their expectations.
In a codependency relationship, people lose themselves as they attempt to fulfill the desires of the other partner. Due to the aspect of manipulation and cognitive dissonance, a person may have the illusion that they are in charge while they are being controlled. This results in enmeshment where boundaries are unclear or porous between the two people. Individuality becomes subdued and thoughts, opinions, and actions may seem shared at face value. The situation is toxic, addictive, and detrimental and it results in a trap that one may need professional help to break.
To illustrate a situation where codependency is a challenge to healthy boundaries, consider a case where parents are enablers of a child’s addiction to drugs. The parents lack boundaries which makes it hard for them to logically assess the impact of drugs on their child and take concrete steps to control the child. In their minds, they could be choosing to cave into the emotional demands of the child to pacify the situation telling themselves that the alternative is not an option to pursue. They could be fearing to alienate the child emotionally by failing to fulfill the child’s demands. In the end, they end up losing their child to drugs.
There are two sides to a boundary: Love for self and tough love for someone else. To put this into perspective, you can make a conscious decision to love yourself and not allow anyone else to mistreat you. You can also love someone to the extent of not enabling them to hurt themselves or other people.
You should stand by your "NO!"
Being indecisive and wavering makes your “No” to be meaningless. Sometimes, your boundary could be a way of instilling sanity in the other person and putting them back on track. It may be also a way of showing your love by not submitting to something that is inconsistent with your values.
You should also be cautious when you say “No” by ensuring that you do not go a step further and try to control the behavior of the other person. This mistake can make you let your guard down and allow some “compromises” that could be counterproductive to the whole idea of minding your business. Ultimately, the other person has freedom of choice, and you can only do so much after pointing them in the right direction.
When your position is declined, there is nothing else that you can do other than hope for the best.
In other instances, the person may not understand that your No is a complete phrase, and they may negotiate or guilt-trip you to manipulate you into toeing their line. When you budge or try to explain yourself, you will send the message that your boundaries are negotiable and that your self-worth is also negotiable.
You, therefore, need to exude confidence and assertiveness in your “No” answers. Consider it a line of defense that safeguards your value, respect, and rights.
The best way to appreciate yourself is to have boundaries. The more stable they are, the more respect you will earn from others.
How to create boundaries
Boundaries are a manifestation of your needs. To create boundaries that are fulfilling, you need to explore the area and prioritize the most important aspects. For instance, after introspection and contemplation, you could discover that you value communication, integrity, trust, and respect. Afterward, you need to outline your responsibilities in ensuring that your needs are actualized. This enables you to establish deal breakers that can go a long way in defining how you relate with yourself and others.
For example, if someone withholds important information from you, they breach your boundary of honesty and trust, and you will be unable to relate your them subsequently in a healthy way. In case you stay in such a relationship you would be insecure, and this will make you depressed and resentful. The unhappiness makes you abscond the responsibility to yourself, and you could lose yourself.
You, therefore, need to take charge of your life and avoid relying on other people to make you happy. By putting yourself first, you would be able to cut off the liar despite the overwhelming urge to “give them a second chance”. This is a clear show of self-care and self-love. The sooner you identify the fact that the other person does not value or respect your boundaries, the faster you can take the noble step of walking away to pursue your happiness in a conducive environment.
Remember, you can’t change a person who is not willing to change or who does not accept that they have a shortcoming that needs to be resolved.
Overcoming guilt after creating boundaries
Self-centeredness has been chastised in many societies in the world for generations. People are conditioned to own up to the actions of others and see themselves as part of a triangle that may comprise people with divergent needs and values. This can make the relationship unbalanced and toxic and breaking from the trap can be a herculean task.
Nevertheless, you can mitigate the guilt by shunning the fear factor. For instance, if you feel guilty for not giving your child money, avoid fearing that they will be unhappy and instead focus on the positive angle where you will be protecting them from self-harm. You should also keep in mind that your needs should come first, and they may entail cutting support for toxic behavior.
To break the conditioning, you can adopt the mindset of saying No without being remorseful. Also do not tolerate abuse, disrespect, or whatever behavior that violates the actualization of your needs.
Guilt is a feeling which is not founded on facts. It can lack a logical premise and making decisions based on feelings can be pernicious. Because you perceive yourself as a non-caring person does not mean that you are selfish. To counter the feeling, you can just accept the circumstances, observe them, and avoid reacting to them.
Know when to walk away
Walking away from a person or a situation where your boundaries are violated is not a mean feat. Sometimes, the allure of ‘jungle justice’ can be overwhelming and you can end up committing an action that you might regret later when your reasoning is cogent.
On the other hand, when you choose to walk away, your ego could be impaired especially when you have been conditioned to construe walking away as an indicator of weakness.
Walking away becomes even more challenging in enmeshment and trauma-bonded relationship that is often underpinned by codependence and addiction.
When you differentiate “can’t” from “won’t” you will be able to see your misery and finally make a choice to unchain yourself.
Therefore, the golden rule of walking away is to elevate your needs and play your part to actualize your aspirations. Avoid taking the responsibility for others to start taking care of yourself. Escaping from someone is a reasonable choice compared to tolerating abuse.