All relationships need healthy boundaries set to keep people out of your space and to enjoy healthier relationships. In today’s age, we’re too accessible. We have our phones on us all the time, we check email during the day and evening, and we communicate with more people than ever before on social media. The boundaries you put on your time given to other people helps you to preserve your energy and attention given to those people. But, there are times when people will push to get more of your attention. Once you’ve given it, they will keep coming to get it. Take time to evaluate your relationships and determine how much you truly want to give and receive in them. If any of your relationships make you feel overwhelmed and frustrated, it is time to re-address these relationships and your boundaries.
Why Do We Set Boundaries?
Boundaries keep us safe. They allow us to minimize attention put on any single person or thing. If we are too involved with one person, it becomes what is known as an “enmeshed” relationship. If our identity revolves around a person, work, or something else, we are too enmeshed because we spend a large amount of time and attention on it. Setting more appropriate boundaries for the people and things in our lives helps us to spend time in other areas of our lives like exercise, family, spiritual matters, and more. Setting boundaries also increases our self worth. If we are in an enmeshed relationship, we are more likely to be too focused on pleasing that one person or people to receive praise and approval. But, it can be taxing other areas of our lives.
Setting boundaries helps to manage our time in other areas of life. We won’t be spending as much time giving to this one person, workplace or other thing in our life.
How Do We Set Boundaries?
While, for most of us, we are not able to ignore our phone for weeks or months at a time. We need to be available to most people that includes our family, closest friends, and working relationships. However, even then, the people in our lives can demand our attention. We have to be aware of who we are to set boundaries with them and communicate within our desired level of communication. Here are some strategies to help you set boundaries that you can be fierce in keeping:
- Know your core values.
Write down a list of the top 3 core values you have in all of your relationships. Are you always the one that engages others in conversation? Do you make yourself available to help people when they ask? Do you like it when people just show up at your house uninvited? Or, do you like to plan things first and have scheduled meetings and get-togethers? Do you lend people things or money?
Ask yourself what you are willing to give and receive from your relationships. By looking at your current relationships, you will see where you give and where you receive from others. What do you wish to change about these patterns? Start by writing down how your relationships are now and how you want them to be. If you wish someone would do more of this or that, then write it down because that points to your core values and what you want from the relationship.
2. List what you need from your relationships.
Being aware of your needs helps you communicate these to others. Some relationships, like with children, you may not receive as much as you give. In other relationships, like with the people you date, your spouse, or even work-related ones, you can expect a certain amount of give and take. Come up with a list of what you expect in a relationship in these areas of your life. The list helps you identify when a new acquaintance or person is not measuring up to what you need in your relationships. It helps you keep them at arm’s length instead of giving them all of your attention and energy.
3. Understand what the other person needs.
It’s all too easy, especially for empaths, to dive right into a relationship and try to meet the other person’s needs. While it is nice to be wanted and needed, too much is going to sap your energy and drive the person away. You can discover what the other person needs from the relationship with you by asking them. In coffee with a friend, I once asked what that person needed and received a nice reply, “just some companionship to get together for coffee once in a while.” That was a relief to me because many relationships had been time consuming in wanting hours of my attention. I thought this person was going to be the same way, but instead, I was pleasantly surprised that all they wanted was someone to talk to every now and then. Try asking the people in your life what they need from your relationship and friendship and you might be surprised too! It might just be very easy for you to fulfill.
4. Set consequences for if someone violates your boundaries
Just like with raising a child, you need to set consequences if anyone breaks the rules of your boundaries. One way to do this is to give them a verbal warning. Communicate with them clearly how they violated the boundary and what you expect going forward. For example, if people try to call you or send text messages while you are at work or studying or doing something with family, be firm and tell them you can’t talk with them right now, but will call or text them later. If they continue even after you told them you would talk with them later, you can take quick action and turn off your phone or silence it so that it doesn’t intrude in your activities. Be sure to address the situation later. If a person shows up unannounced to your home, you don’t have to answer the door or let them in. Be sure to remind them that you want to know if someone is coming ahead of time. If someone is late, you can usually lock the meeting room if it is virtual, or wait for 5 minutes and then leave. Be sure to send a reminder to that person that you hold a strict policy about being on time and they can always communicate with you if they’re going to be late so that you know what to expect.
5. Remain consistent in your boundaries
One of the pitfalls that happens to most people is that they let down their guard and other people take advantage of that. Just like children, you’ve got to set the rules and keep repeating them. They will not usually want to pick up their toys by themselves. You’ve got to get them in the habit of doing it and to do that, it takes 21 days to form a habit. Expect that you will need to repeat yourself for at least that long before people start respecting your boundaries. You also must remember you are doing this for yourself. Others may be upset about the change, but they will adjust as time goes on. As you are consistent in your boundaries, you will be taken seriously. If you slip up, just restart your boundaries and keep them going until you have established them.
6. Let go of any relationships that do not conform to your boundaries
One thing abour relationships is that we can form new ones with anyone who just does not adjust to our boundaries. There are billions of people out there so you do not have to be attached to any one person that drains your energy. It is unhealthy. If you have some people who step over your boundaries constantly, then let them go. You do not want to have people around who disrespect you because it will cause you grief in the long run. Try to re-examine this relationship to see why you are holding onto this one person, what you expect from them, how they are measuring up with what you need and determine their needs. If it is a relative or person you just can’t get out of your life for some reason or another, try to set limits on your time with them so that they do not affect your self-esteem and day-to-day activities.
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