Boundaries are internal rules that define what is acceptable to you and what is not. These rules also guide how you want other people to treat you. Having strong boundaries will help you reduce overwhelm and be able to say “No” to commitments that are not in your best interest.
I’d never thought about consciously working on my boundaries until my first coach observed that, “Caroline, you have strong boundaries, but you’ve left the gate wide open. So all that someone on the outside has to do is walk around your boundary until they find the gate. Once they find it, they walk in and do whatever they want because they’re on the inside.”
I was upset when she gave me this feedback. Five years later, I’m very grateful that she did it so candidly because she helped me strengthen my personal and professional boundaries.
Today’s article is a summary of tips I’ve found useful when creating boundaries. This article is Part 5 in a series on how to overcome overwhelm.
Other articles in this series are:
5 Steps to Creating and Enforcing Your Boundaries
Step 1: Give yourself permission to set boundaries
Many women struggle with overwhelm because they’re unable to say ‘No’. For example, you may find that the needs of your husband, children, friends or family always supersede yours.
It could also be that at work, you’re always mopping up other people’s messes or picking up their slack. Or maybe your boss takes advantage and loads you with work that’s not yours.
When it comes to business, many women struggle because they have poorly-performing employees. So the business owner works extra to meet deadlines while the employees get paid for shoddy work.
If you want a better life, then it’s time to give yourself permission to be free. It’s your right to have boundaries. And it’s up to you to teach people how you want them to treat you. Your life will always be dictated by other people if you don’t set boundaries.
Step 2: Set your limits
You can’t set boundaries if you don’t have limits.
Carry a notebook for 1-3 months and evaluate your activities, interactions with people, requests from people, events, and environments. Identify the ones that uplift you and those that drain you. At the end of this period, narrow down what you like and what you don’t like and then create your limits from this list.
You will be ready to create your boundaries once you’ve set your limits. Once you’ve set your boundaries, take time to communicate them to the people who will be affected the most.
Step 3: Let your feelings and emotions guide you
Feelings and emotions can guide you when things are going right and give strong warnings when you’re headed for disaster.
Stop and reflect each time you have a strong negative reaction to something or someone. Rate your reaction on a scale of 1-10 and ask yourself what it is about the situation or person that made you react so strongly. Chances are that a boundary was crossed.
Your feelings and emotions are like an early warning system when your boundaries are being infringed upon. In the book Ask and It Is Given: The Teachings of Abraham, Esther and Jerry Hicks compare feelings and emotions to an internal GPS.
This GPS strengthens when used constantly. With time, you won’t even have to think about your boundaries or try to enforce them because your feelings and emotions will tell you when you need to do change something.
Step 4: Commit to enforcing your boundaries
The hardest part in maintaining strong boundaries is enforcing them at all times.
Remember the observation from my coach? I had set clear boundaries but didn’t enforce them. This made it easy for people to step over my boundaries.
Commitment also means enforcing your boundaries across the board. You can’t be one way in a specific situation or with some people and be another way in other situations. Your boundaries remain the same in all areas of your life.
This step takes time to master so don’t give up if you mess up along the way.
Step 5: Make ‘No’ a complete sentence
When you observe small children, you’ll notice that they never explain themselves. They say ‘No’ and move on. It’s up to you to decide what to do with the ‘No’. To them, ‘No’ is a complete sentence that doesn’t require qualification.
Most grownups have a challenge saying ‘No’ and leaving it at that. We tend to justify the refusal with an explanation. Remember that No is a complete sentence. You don’t have to explain yourself or apologize. You just say No and stop there.
Unless there is a very strong reason for you to explain yourself, say ‘No’ when your boundaries are stepped on. When you try to explain yourself, you’ll get into arguments and give the other person a chance to beat you down. Become a broken record and say No, and another No, and another one…until the person gets the picture.
Related Article: How to Create Time for Yourself
A few last things
Two things will happen when you enforce your boundaries. First, you will meet resistance or outright attacks from people who are not ready for you to take a strong stand about your life.
This will come as a shock because people can react viciously when you change. I’ve yet to meet someone who set boundaries and had a good time enforcing them, especially with a spouse, children, extended family, friends and colleagues.
The second thing is that you will have some people who will cheer you along. This group, which is generally small compared to the resistors, is made up of people have been waiting for you to stop allowing others to mistreat you.
Reward those who respect your boundaries by thanking them or telling them how much you appreciate their support. Also reward anyone who was initially resisting your new stand but has now started treating you with respect. This will motivate people to respect your boundaries.
On the other hand, while it’s important to enforce your boundaries in all areas, don’t be too rigid and lock people out of your life. Be flexible and give people an opportunity to be themselves when they’re with you. Also give people a chance to redeem themselves when they cross your boundaries. They too are learning how to live with this new you and it won’t be easy.
Boundaries, when enforced in a healthy way, will attract healthy and empowering people to you. They will also repel needy and controlling people from you, which is a great thing. As you become more confident about your boundaries, you will then be able to know when you can relax them and with whom.
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (this is written from a Christian standpoint)
Over to you now…
Did you find this article useful?
What has been your experience when setting and enforcing boundaries?
I’d love to hear from you so let me know in the Comments below.
(Image courtesy of zirconicusso at Free Digital Photos)