I won’t beat around the bush here: setting boundaries is as essential to your well-being as water, food, and air.
In relationships, your boundaries are where you end and where other people begin. They define the way you respond to the needs, thoughts, feelings, and behavior of others. They honor your autonomy, your self-respect, and your self-worth. They are the deepest act of self-care there is. And on an even grander scale, they define the way you relate to yourself, to life, and to that thing that some call God.
For me, my life has transformed in countless ways because of my practice in setting and honoring my boundaries.
The Truth is that I used to allow people to walk all over me. I never stood up for myself or what I believed in. I said yes when I meant no and vice versa. I prioritized what everyone else needed over what I needed and became a chameleon, changing from yellow to blue to purple to red to green, depending on the company I kept.
I didn’t even know boundaries were a thing.
But I also knew how I felt.
The anger pulsed through me like a red-hot lava. And the resentment boiled over like a pot filled with too much water and pasta. The exhaustion was soul deep, splintered and sharp.
I knew that something had to give and my practice of setting boundaries began.
I stumbled my way through, at first, making so many mistakes along the way. I didn’t know how to be compassionate and kind when I set boundaries or the difference between a boundary and a brick wall. I yelled more times that I’d like to admit. I reacted instead of responding.
And since we are all about the ease and grace around here, I want to share with you what I’ve learned in my practice so that you can apply it to your own life.
I want to start by clarifying the difference between setting a boundary, an ultimatum, and straight up emotional manipulation.
Let’s say that you have a friend who calls you at all hours of the night just to chat.
Setting a boundary would be telling your friends and family that you don’t want to receive phone calls after 8 PM. If someone does call you after that time, you don’t answer the phone, and perhaps even turn your phone off at 8 PM.
Notice that this boundary has two parts:
If you do this, I am going to do this.
An ultimatum is similar to a boundary except that it is “final” and is rooted in poor boundaries, to begin with. In the case with your friend, an ultimatum might be answering the phone every time they call, seething about it inside, and then one day, yelling at them and telling them that they are rude and telling them to never call you again.
Notice that an ultimatum still has two parts. But the way you approach it is totally different. Setting boundaries is proactive, responsive, and grounded in self-responsibility whereas ultimatums are reactive and lay blame on the other person.
Ultimatums and emotional manipulation are similar in that they stem from making other people responsible for your thoughts, feelings, and needs. In this same case, it might look like “making threats” of not being their friend, in the hopes that you will scare them into not calling. In other words, trying to “make them” feel a certain way to appease your own needs.
Now, before we move on, I want to be clear that I place no moral judgment on emotional manipulation or ultimatums. As humans, every action is an attempt to meet a need, and when we don’t know how to get our needs met, we resort to behaviors that aren’t truly in alignment for us. This doesn’t make you a “bad person” it makes you human.
Now that we have that out of the way, here are some signs that it’s time for you to set some boundaries:
1. You take responsibility for other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions or make them responsible for yours.
You believe that you can somehow “make” other people like you by doing what they want or that you can somehow save yourself from the judgment of others.
The truth is that other people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are about them. Your thoughts, feelings, and actions are about you.
If you don’t set boundaries because of fear of what other people are going to think and feel, you are fighting a losing battle.
2. You are angry and pissed off all the time.
Anger and frustration are your clearest indicator that your boundaries have been “threatened” or crossed. If you are harboring a lot of anger and tend to step into rage easily (flipping people off in traffic, yelling at people, or worse!) this is an indication that you have lost touch with your boundaries and most likely believe that it isn’t OK to set them.
Your feelings of anger are in deep service to you. They are showing you exactly what your boundaries are and what you need to do to get back into alignment with yourself.
3. You feel resentful towards people you otherwise care about.
Perhaps you resent your clients, your boss, or your children. You do things for them but, damn, do you hate it. Resentment lets you know that you are repeatedly letting someone cross your boundaries and that you likely haven’t even established any boundaries to start with and can eventually lead to ultimatums.
Resentment is just a cousin of anger and shares the same message. It is inviting you to see what the boundary is so that you can establish, and honor, it.
4. You allow poor behavior at the expense of your own well-being.
You let people walk all over you and you rarely stand up for yourself. You might even stay in relationships with people who just aren’t a match for you and your needs.
Your needs have to come first. This doesn’t mean that their needs aren’t important. Your needs are equally important. But this is YOUR life and it’s your responsibility to ensure that your needs are met and, in their life, it is their responsibility to ensure that theirs are.
5. The only way you know how to get what you want and need is to be manipulative, abusive, and/or passive-aggressive.
Perhaps you lie or use self-depreciating humor as a way to get compliments. Maybe you are the martyr and proud of it.
As I mentioned above, this isn’t a moral judgment. It’s about being human. And if you’ve been putting your needs on the back burner your whole life, these may be the only way you know how to get your needs met. By understanding, and taking responsibility for your needs, the manipulation will fall away on its own.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these signs? If you do, I’d invite you to consider starting a practice of setting boundaries. Your relationships will begin to thrive and so will you.