Boundaries are the new black. If you follow any holistic wellness or mental health account on social media, then you’ve probably noticed this word popping up ALL over the place. What are boundaries? Why is everyone and their dog talking about them? What’s the deal? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Boundaries are meant to be implemented because your time and energy is valuable! Without them, we end up attracting people with ill intentions, we welcome negativity and abuse which in turn sacrifices our mental health and overall well-being.
Think of boundaries like clothing. Sure getting dressed in the morning can be fun, sifting through different prints and fabrics until we decide on the perfect combo that most represents our unique personality and style. But why wear anything at all? Why try to cover up our natural beauty with textiles and hide our bodies from the outside world? Well that’s a no brainer. Because it’s not safe to wander the streets of society nude! We wear clothing for protection. Protection from varying climates and strangers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m ALL for the whole #freethenipple movement (let those bitties free ladies!). But there is a certain level of vulnerability that comes with exposing our raw selves to the outside world and I can acknowledge that my clothes exist to protect me from unwanted attention and harm.
Boundaries are no different. They exist solely to keep us safe! They exist to protect us from perpetrators, narcissists, and manipulative abusers. They exist to preserve our mental health and our energy so that we can communicate with others and interact assertively without fear. Metaphorically speaking, boundaries are your emotional armour. If you wouldn’t leave the house naked, I certainly wouldn’t advise forgetting your boundaries on the way out hunny.
What Are Your Boundaries?
Setting boundaries can be a bit nerve wracking at first. Especially if we aren’t familiar with asserting ourselves and speaking up in situations that make us feel threatened or jeopardize our physical, mental, and emotional health. In order to create clarity and effectively communicate with others exactly where it is we draw the line, we have to gain a more in-depth understanding of what our personal boundaries are. We can start by asking ourselves questions like,
What are my personal values?
How would I like to be treated/how do I want to treat others?
What makes me feel safe?
What makes me feel unsafe?
If we can better understand ourselves, our triggers, and what we hold near and dear to our hearts, it will become easier to spot behaviour that doesn’t align with our expectations and core values. Awareness is the key to recognizing our worth and unapologetically setting boundaries that protect and preserve our energy.
How to Set Boundaries
Say you are someone who values your solitude. You like to be treated with respect when communicating with others, you feel safe in the comfort of your own home and unsafe when being yelled at or scolded (so basically 99% of the population). If someone were to walk through your front door uninvited and immediately start screaming and threatening you, you would become triggered and your body would naturally respond by jumping into fight or flight mode.
This is where your boundaries come in. They might sound something like,
“I will not tolerate you coming in here uninvited and treating me this way. If you are upset about something and would like to sit down and discuss the situation without raising your voice, I will be willing to have a conversation with you. Otherwise, I’m going to have to ask you to leave”.
Clear and concise. You have communicated,
- What you will and will not tolerate
- Offered a reasonable solution
- Clearly stated that if he/she does not comply, you will take action
Obviously this is a more extreme scenario. Maybe you are someone who values your pet. You require your friends and family to show them the same love and tenderness that you do. You feel safe when you know they are being taken care of and unsafe when someone chooses to neglect them. You come home at the end of a long day to discover that your partner has not fed them or taken them outside (which the two of you had previously agreed upon). When you approach them about it, they become angry and defensive.
Your boundaries could sound like,
“I can see that you are becoming upset with me for addressing my concerns and I will not tolerate you speaking to me this way. The dog being cared for is a priority and we agreed that you would take care of him while I was at work. I am willing to discuss an alternative solution to make sure he is being cared for when I am not home. If we can not come to an agreement, I will have to find someone else to take care of him.”
It’s important that we choose the appropriate language when setting our boundaries with others. Becoming accusatory, pointing fingers, name calling, and raising your voice are all sure fire ways to escalate the situation from bad to worse. Take a deep breath, pause and allow yourself to process what is taking place, remain clear and firm when delivering your message to reduce the risk of further turmoil.
It should come as no surprise that although we set boundaries in order to keep ourselves safe, they may not always be respected. If you’ve been clear in your communication while setting your boundaries and find yourself being dismissed, attacked, or interrogated, you have one of two options.
- Reinforce your boundaries
- Remove yourself from the situation and cut off contact
Reinforcing your boundaries may feel repetitive, and that’s because it is. You are essentially attempting to reiterate what you’ve previously communicated in hopes that the person on the receiving end of things will hear what you have to say and choose an alternative reaction. I get it, asserting yourself can feel scary and it takes time to gain confidence and become more comfortable with this form of communication. Take a deep breath and firmly state the message you are trying to convey. Stand your ground and speak your peace.
You do not have control over how the other person chooses to respond in this type of situation. If their behaviour makes you feel threatened or unsafe, it is up to you to remove yourself and prioritise your safety first and foremost! It may be necessary to cut off contact entirely if you believe your mental health is at stake and remain firm in your decision to do so.
- Block their phone number
- Unfollow/block on all social media platforms
This may seem like a drastic approach to take but I can assure you it is one of the best methods to preserve your energy and protect yourself from engaging in toxic communication. It’s natural to miss someone who once played a major role in your life, whether it was a partner, friend or family member. Maybe some time has passed and the wound doesn’t cut as deep anymore. Or maybe somewhere along your journey towards healing and rebuilding your self confidence you’ve managed to forgive this person and contemplate reaching out to make amends or gain closure. Whatever the case may be, I strongly urge you to be honest with yourself.
Shift your focus from all of the positive memories the two of you shared and remain aware of the negativity and pain you were willing to put yourself through in order to feel loved and accepted by someone disinterested in your overall wellbeing. Set your boundaries! And trust that you have created them as an act of self-love.
Your Energy is Valuable
The art of constructive communication is a never ending battle. It takes an extreme amount of patience and observation to implement in our day to day encounters with others and a considerable amount of time and energy. And your energy is SO valuable!
For those of us diagnosed with a mental illness, the exhaustion that stems from our overactive minds can often feel quite crippling. Racing thoughts and anxiety can trigger our nervous system, depleting us of our energy before the days even started.
Implementing boundaries has personally prevented me from wasting my energy and engaging in toxic forms of communication on several occasions. It’s allowed me to foster healthy relationships with others and prevent myself from feeling overwhelmed and burnt out mentally and physically. It’s made it possible for me to preserve my energy and focus on tasks that require my full, undivided attention.
Use this as a gentle reminder when you are feeling powerless,
- You are allowed to express yourself and feel heard
- Assertive communication is healthy
- It is OK to say no when you’re feeling run down
Change of any kind can often feel intimidating and uncomfortable. I hear you and I’ve been there. Altering the way we do things and rebuilding our relationships is a slow process and one that takes time before we actually start seeing results. Take a deep breath and trust the process! You are well on your way to thriving in all areas of your life. Use your boundaries as a stepping stone towards achieving loving, healthy relationships with others. You certainly won’t regret it.
Beautiful Train Wreck