Literally speaking, when any solid object blocks the light given from a light source, there is a dark area that corresponds to the shape of that solid object; this dark area is referred to as a “shadow”. Without doubt, we have all seen shadows, including our own.
Have you ever had the experience of someone else’s shadow overlapping with or taking over your own? When someone has gotten a bit too close for comfort? Has your stomach ever dropped when someone made a decision or spoke for you, without checking with you first?
The above scenarios relate to boundaries: the space between you and someone else; where you end and someone else begins. Whether they are physical, psychological, or emotional, boundaries can be thought of as border lines between your shadow (your space) and that of someone else. No two people have exactly the same perimeters around their boundaries (they vary in size and shape across cultures, families, and individuals) and a lot of people are uneasy with boundaries/boundary setting. Becoming aware of and setting appropriate boundaries is a personal experience that is worth exploring – for yourself, your health and peace of mind, and your relationships.
Above all, becoming aware of your boundaries means recognizing and communicating what is and is not okay for you. Setting appropriate limits helps to not wind up feeling violated or resentful after a given interaction or negotiation. At one extreme, setting a large number of strict boundary lines could lead to cutting yourself off from relationships or feeling connected with those around you. Having very few boundaries, on the other hand, could lead to inappropriate sharing, which could result in feeling taken advantage of or exposed.
Communicating your own boundaries as well as recognizing and respecting those of others could help to foster healthy relationships: doing so helps to know for certain what a person is and is not comfortable doing or saying. To minimize guesswork for others and to reduce feelings of disappointment for yourself, clearly and confidently advocating for what is and is not within the perimeters what is agreeable for you is key.
Being aware of and respecting your own boundaries is also a form of self care: valuing your own feelings and needs and being able to respect those of others can help to realize that no one is responsible or accountable for anyone else’s feelings or behaviours. As such, your own mental, and maybe even physical well being could be improved by unambiguously mapping out your boundaries.
Why Is This So Hard?
Even after clarifying your values and understanding which boundaries are important enough to you for you to set, it could still seem like quite a daunting task to take action and set the boundaries you feel are appropriate. That is understandable! Setting boundaries is a skill and like any other skill, it cannot be learned and mastered overnight! A lot of practice and courage are involved. Perhaps boundary setting is so new and so foreign to you that you aren’t even sure if, when, or how to set them. Good for you for even considering giving it a go! Let’s take a look at some tips that could help you to get started:
Beginning to Map ‘Em Out
As mentioned earlier, not everyone is comfortable with setting boundaries nor is everyone naturally inclined to do so. There is also the possibility that setting boundaries may render those around you uncomfortable, especially if persons are not used to your clarifying and asserting yourself. A change of any sort often requires adapting to “new normals” and previously unfamiliar precedents. It is important to realize and accept that setting boundaries with some people will be easier than with other people; this is inevitable! Depending on the kind of relationship you have with the person, spelling out what is okay for you/being assertive and standing your ground could be intimidating.
If you suspect that setting a boundary would disrupt your relationship with someone to the extent that you and/or someone else could be in danger, please do not hesitate to seek appropriate assistance.
A few tips on creating boundaries:
- Get really clear with yourself about the boundary you need/would like to set. A lack of clarity in what you want would not result in setting an effective boundary. Take the time you need to get clear on what you desire/what has motivated you to set the boundary and what the intention for setting it is before you take action.
- Perhaps you want to set a whole bunch of boundaries all at once to get it all done and over with. Not the greatest idea… Instead, allow yourself to go slow and pace yourself. There is a lot to learn each time you set a boundary.
- Be straight forward and leave out long explanations. You do not need to explain or apologize for the boundary you feel is necessary to set.
- Practice/rehearse boundary setting. Experience hearing yourself say what you want to say and what it “feels like” articulating these words.
- Don’t make it personal. A boundary is not a kind a personal attack.
- Trust your intuition/what you body tells you. How is your body responding to the boundary you are setting?
- Start with a tighter boundary and loosen up on it as needed. Generally, it is easier to loosen up on a tight boundary than to try to tighten loose boundaries.
- Address boundary violations early.
- Have a support system in place.
- When necessary, say no. Don’t back down from your genuine feelings.
- Be a broken record. Stand your ground and calmly repeat your boundary if/when it is not observed or respected by someone else. “I’m not okay with that.” “I am not comfortable with that.” “That is not okay to me.”
- Mean what you say and say what you mean.
- Pat yourself on the back (or give yourself some love) for setting the boundaries!
Setting and maintaining healthy and appropriate boundaries is not just good for you, it is good for those around you, too! It is absolutely fine to set boundaries, try them out for a while, make changes or alterations to them, then repeat the process all over again. Actually, that is great! It indicates that you are listening to your gut, recognizing and responding to situations in your life in the present moment, are willing to learn and take on new challenges – all for the sake of living a more comfortable life, on your own terms and within your own lane on the highway of life.