The how-to Of Personal Boundaries - Man Woman Discussing

The how-to Of Personal Boundaries

If you’re a regular on my website, then you know I used to have low self-esteem.  What you don’t know is that it wasn’t until much later in life that I became aware of personal boundaries and the fact that I didn’t have any.  I am writing the how-to of personal boundaries because having healthy boundaries has been an important part of my journey towards building-up my self-esteem.  

Creating healthy boundaries for myself gave me confidence as it empowered me to ensure people treated me respectfully.  I also didn’t find myself in situations that didn’t want to be in or agreeing to things I didn’t want to do anymore.

It was a big step forward.  

I couldn’t believe that (1) I wasn’t aware of healthy boundaries for a long time, and (2) I had no idea had to create them.  If you find yourself in that situation, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Be happy that now you do know and create those healthy boundaries.

If this article reaches and benefits just one person, I will be delighted.  But ideally, I want it to reach everyone or anyone that has ever found themselves saying or doing something that they didn’t want to because they didn’t have personal boundaries.

 

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 Personal boundaries are lines we set around people and behaviour rather than things.  

The rules and limits we set for ourselves in relationships.  Basically, what we will and will not allow.

An Unhealthy Boundary Example

I’ll use an example to explain what having unhealthy boundaries may look like.

You have a family member who every time you meet up at family gatherings either taunts you with tales of your past mistakes or puts you down because of your choice of job or partner.  You dread having to go to these events because of them. 

As soon as they walk in the room you get butterflies in your stomach and worry what awful things they will say this time.  Whatever they say you just brush it off though and smile, even try to laugh.  And that’s all you do.

Let’s say one time, you did start to say something but was humiliated when met with laughter and told you couldn’t take a joke.  And that you just needed to “chill out”.  Your feelings were completely dismissed.

The person I just described does not have any personal boundaries.  

If they did, they would not be in that situation.  A person that has healthy boundaries set would not allow someone to treat them in such that way.  Or if they did, it would only happen once.  

Signs Of Healthy Boundaries

Think about the example above of the person with unhealthy (or non-existent) boundaries.  If the person was clear about their wants and needs were and communicated that to the other person they would not have been in those dreaded situations.  

Healthy boundaries are:

  • Asking for what you want and need from the people around you
  • Knowing that you matter and that you are on equal footing with others
  • Being comfortable disagreeing, saying no and changing your mind
  • You take responsibility for your own happiness
  • You do NOT take responsibility for other people’s happiness
  • You acknowledge what you are feeling.

Signs Of Unhealthy Boundaries

Most of the time, when people invade our personal space or say something that upsets us, they don’t even realize they’re doing it.  If we don’t have a clear understanding ourselves of what we want and nee,d then how do we expect others to know? 

 

I don’t know about you but most people I know can’t read minds so we need to take some responsibility when it comes to expressing what we want.

Un-healthy boundaries are:

  • Not telling others what you want and need, and expecting them to know
  • Scared to disagree or say no for fear of upsetting the other person
  • Saying yes to things to keep the peace and to appease others
  • Ignoring your feelings and believing that other people are more important than you
  • You expect others to make you happy and you try to change others to make them happy
  • You don’t express your thoughts, feelings or opinions

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Boundless Boundaries

So far, I’ve talked mainly about emotional boundaries but there many others:

Physical Boundaries

I worked with a guy years ago and whenever he came to talk to me he’d get so close his nose nearly touched mine.  Jeez, Louise!  He invaded my personal space, big time!  The personal, physical space around me.

Then there are people coming into your room without permission.  Coming into your area, your physical area where you have your personal things.

In the workplace or on a work course I have sometimes felt that I couldn’t get up and go get a drink or go to the toilet.  Not always, but sometimes I’ve felt trapped or I haven’t wanted to bring attention to myself.  It sounds a bit daft, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt like that from time to time.  I’m glad I’m not like it anymore.

To say that you need to rest, eat or that you are thirsty is okay.  

And then there are sexual boundaries.  Violating a sexual boundary for example would be being touched inappropriately.

Time Boundaries

My time, your time is all valuable.  And it’s important to protect it.  Both at work and sociably.  Stop saying yes when you know you have too much on your plate.  And don’t allow people to keep you talking for unreasonable lengths of time.  Respect other’s time also and don’t be late.

Can I Borrow That?  (Stuff Boundaries)

If someone wants to borrow your car and you don’t want to give it to them, it’s okay.  Tell them.  Setting boundaries around lending your stuff is important.  Set expectations, e.g.“Yes, you can borrow my suit, but I want it back in the same state I gave it to you, clean and pressed.”

Having your stuff stolen or damaged is violating your stuff boundaries.

How To Set Healthy Boundaries

Heads Up, It’s About YOU Not THEM!

By now, you’ve got a good idea of what unhealthy and healthy boundaries are and the different types of personal boundaries. 

When you set healthy boundaries you are changing your behaviour, not the other person.  

Here’s my action list for setting healthy boundaries:

1.  Define the boundary

Example: You have a time boundary you want to set with a friend that keeps you talking on the phone for nearly 2 hours every time she rings you, which is about three times a week. 

2.  Communicate

Say what you need—keeping with the example: As soon as you pick up the phone, tell them that you are pleased to hear from them and that you have about half an hour for a chat before you need to get on.  Be upfront straight away.  

3.  Keep it simple

When it gets to nearly half an hour, tell them that you have to go now, don’t over-explain.  If they continue to try and keep you on the phone.  Be blunt.  Tell them that you need time after work for yourself and that you have to go now.  But again do not explain, you have every right to decide what you want to do.

4.  Set consequences

Set a consequence with the focus on you.  It’s important to set consequences and keep the focus on yourself, not them.  If your friend continues to cross your time boundary then tell them that you will only speak with them once a week for half an hour and that you will call them at a particular time.

You’ve Done It But It’s Not Working?

There are some cases where even after you have expressed what you want and need, the other person still violates your boundary and dismisses your feelings or ignores what you’ve said.

But if that does happen then you would seriously need to re-evaluate your relationship; and sit down with the person to express the extreme consequences that will take place if they do not start to honour your boundaries.  

You may need to decide whether to cut the person out of your life completely or just distance yourself from them.  Even if it is a family member.

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Setting Healthy Boundaries Worksheet

 What if you want to set boundaries but you don’t know where to start?  

I do realise that there will be people who can identify what they need to do to set boundaries and know themselves enough to follow the 1 – 4 action list that I outlined above.

And there will be people who don’t know where to start, and the 1-4 is not going to cut it for them even though they want healthy personal boundaries.

There will also be people in-between the above scenarios.  It matters not.

What does matter is: ACTION what you have just read now.

What are you waiting for?

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