Setting and upholding healthy boundaries in ALL of your relationships is not only necessary, but it’s the one thing that will either end or enhance those relationships right away.
And no matter what the outcome…
It is the greatest gift you will ever receive.
I’ve written about boundaries before, but I wanted to create a one-stop guide to everything that I wish I would have known about how to set personal boundaries and boundaries in relationships.
If you don’t have personal boundaries, you will never have relational ones. And if you don’t have boundaries in your relationships… you will never have a real relationship. Only a transaction in which you get to be the doormat/victim/prisoner/powerless loser, every time.
Boundaries make you a winner, without reducing your relationships to a game.
You win because you get to see who people really are.
You win because you’re finally able to clean up your side of the street (instead of continuing to water dead plants on everyone else’s emotional property).
You win because you no longer take responsibility for other people’s behavior (only your own).
You win because you remain on your white horse.
You win because you’re able to separate your worth from the dysfunction of others.
You win by owning your own dysfunction instead of blaming other people for it.
You win by no longer wanting to control others. You have mastered self-control.
You win by gaining the unconditional confidence and self-respect that comes from:
- Having limits.
- Psychologically checkmating toxic people through non-reactivity.
- Kindly walking away from anyone who tries to blur and cross your definitive lines.
By having non-negotiable limits, you win because you automatically position yourself as The One That Got Away.
Having boundaries means that you trust your gut over your fears and your triggers. It means that you respect yourself enough to make uncomfortable decisions and walk away from people you care about – no matter how much your heart and libido are begging you to turn around.
Having limits is scary. Especially when yours were not developed and/or respected as a child.
But you will be so thankful that you had the courage to implement them when everything that you are tolerating right now is no longer a reality in your relational world.
What are personal boundaries?
Personal boundaries are whatever your limits are in regard to how others treat you. Your boundaries are basically what you find acceptable and unacceptable in other people’s behavior towards you.
It was always difficult for me to know what my boundaries were because this kind of knowledge is not something that can’t be bought or taught. It can only come from self-awareness, self-love, and knowing that you have real value, independent of what others think, say, and do.
The best part about boundaries is that you (and only you) get to decide what your limits are. The hardest part is maintaining them in a world of family, friends, and lovers who will make you feel guilty for not making “special adjustments.” Some will even call you crazy when they realize that they can’t manipulate you. They will remind you of your bond, your history, how sorry they are… whatever they can to break down your walls so that they can get their needs met once again and/or feel like less of a sh*t for what they did.
Boundaries are not malleable. Apologies from others do not disintegrate them, and they do not operate on a case-by-case basis. In fact, the more you have to explain your boundaries, the less you actually have.
If your boundaries are not solid, then they are not boundaries. They’re just figments of the backbone that you wish you could somehow resurrect.
Boundaries do all of the communicating for you in regard to how other people should treat you, what they can expect from you, and what they can and cannot get away with. You can’t control what other people do and say to you, but you can control how comfortable they feel saying and doing what they say and do to you.
Boundaries are what control that level of comfort.
Your personal boundaries are garlic to emotional vampires.
They teach people how to treat you without you having to say a word. Remember, you are the C.E.O of Y.O.U. And Y.O.U is not only very exclusive, but you are the one who gets to decide the structure of your entity. Think of it like a membership to an elite club or a prestigious organization. There are always certain conditions that need to be met (and upheld) for everything that you want to gain access to and experience in this life.
Do toxic people try to negotiate with their gas and electric company every month? No. They make sure that they pay their bills on time because they know if they don’t, they won’t have any hot water or electricity.
Personal boundaries are NOT something that is ever going to make a toxic person or a toxic relationship non-toxic. They should never be implemented as an ultimatum or a scare tactic – only as an unwavering guide (just like the gas bill).
Boundaries are a symptom of confidence, self-respect, and self-awareness. To the right people, boundaries are sexy. To toxic people, they are either a challenge or something that they can potentially bust/mold to their liking. Some will interpret your boundaries as a “red flag.” You will be made to feel “mean,” “too intense,” immature, and ashamed for having limits. Toxic people need the affirmation that they can bust your boundaries in order to maintain egoic survival.
If you have healthy personal boundaries, you will never be clingy, needy, or hungry for crumbs. The wool will never be pulled over your eyes again.
Up until a few years ago, one of my biggest problems was sharing too much information about myself. I wish I could call it “oversharing” but it was much darker than that.
There is no prison worse than knowing better while you are in the moment of not doing better. Going on and on about myself felt involuntary but as I was doing it, I was aware that I could shut up at any time. This made me feel even more ashamed and weak because I had lost control. I knew how unnecessary it was. I knew that ultimately, I had control over what I chose to share. I was so envious of people who could open up but were also private in a way that exuded self-respect and intrigue.
If I didn’t share, I felt like I would never be seen, heard, or understood. When I did share, I felt icky, weak, out of control, and exposed.
Personal boundaries are necessary because without them, there are literally no limits to:
- The sanity you will lose.
- The self-sabotage you will ignite.
- The doubt you will experience.
- The fear you will act on.
- The power you will be drained of.
- The extent to which people will use you.
no boundaries = low self-esteem (and high social anxiety).
Your self-esteem is directly tied to your own personal moral code/value system. If deep down, you know that you’re not acting in accordance with it, you will continue to look for sources who are just as bankrupt, to invalidate the negative feelings about yourself that you can’t.
A big part of our moral code, no matter how different yours is from mine, is keeping the promises that we make to ourselves. This is what builds self-respect. I couldn’t keep a promise to save my emotional life because I was never taught how to have healthy boundaries.
If you’re having trouble setting boundaries, it’s okay. Boundaries are not something that we are born with.
Boundaries are something we learn through being parented and/or witnessing the example that our parents/parental figures provided.
When I was a kid, the adults in my life (with the best of intentions) made it clear that they knew me better than I knew myself. They would tell me how I felt and why I did the things that I did. As they were explaining it to me, I knew that I didn’t feel that way or do certain things for the reasons that they were so sure of. But I was too scared to disagree. Questioning authority was out of the question.
These adults (except for the two that I took for granted), were not interested in knowing (or having me discover) what my specific likes, dislikes, and ticks were. They wanted me to stay in line and behave while validating their all-knowing views.
Lying became a perfect pacifier to give them when I felt cornered.
After a while, my lying became compulsive. I ended up becoming a very defensive adult who suffered from the disease to please.
No matter what the relationship or situation was, I would find myself going on an on; sharing things that no one even had the chance to ask or the business to know. It was exhausting on both ends. When I was in “audition mode” (which was fueled by my social anxiety), I would try my best to explain who I really was, what I was really about, what my story was, why I did the things I did, and what I had overcome.
Throw in some excessive sweating, shaking, not being able to look the other person in the eye, passive bragging about non-brag-worthy stuff, and absolutely no questions or interest in the other person (other than getting their validation)… and that’s how having a “conversation” with me was like.
The sad thing is, I genuinely cared about other people. I just wanted them to see in me what I couldn’t see in myself.
I wanted them to want to know about me.
I wanted to fit in.
I wanted to be liked.
I wanted to be cool.
I wanted to be chosen.
I wanted to be enough.
And because I was told who I was as a child (and not given a chance to figure out who I was, what I liked/disliked, etc.), I became an adult who looked to others to tell me who I was, what I was worth, and what my purpose was in their world.
This habit of auditioning via over-sharing would kick into overdrive when I met someone new. I felt like I had to sabotage and reject myself before anyone else had the chance to.
I couldn’t figure out why I did this. I would over-share, embarrass myself, make a promise to never do it again, break that promise (decimate my self-respect), and then… wash-rinse-repeat.
More than anything, I just wanted to be seen and understood.
So how do boundaries in relationships play into this?
Even though I was able to acknowledge and respect other people’s boundaries (most of the time to a very a*s kissing extent), I never learned how to set my own because as a child, I was disempowered in that regard. So, when I tried to set boundaries in my relationships as an adult, I was never able to respect those boundaries.
And if I wasn’t respecting my boundaries, neither was anyone else. Guilt and second-guessing would take over whenever I considered speaking up or taking action.
I would then give up and get used.
Up until I started implementing boundaries, I was constantly chasing reinvention. Because I was always acting from a place of how rejected and forgettable I felt, I would try to reinvent myself in an attempt to make people forget how pathetic and desperate I had behaved.
Setting boundaries was the only thing that completely redefined me in everyone’s eyes (including my own).
Boundaries were the protector, the savior, and the understanding I had been searching for. They filtered out everything that needed to go and I was finally, left with my true self – exactly who I was meant to be. Everything that my lack of boundaries had prevented the actualization of.
What do healthy boundaries look like?
Healthy boundaries are not complicated. If they seem complicated, it’s just because you’ve allowed your fear of enforcing and acting on them, to complicate something that anyone with a shred of dignity and knowingness that they deserve better would naturally do.
When I first realized how necessary personal boundaries were, I thought… “Okay, so how can I communicate what my boundaries are to the people in my life who take me for granted? How do I get them to respect my boundaries?”
This led to me explaining my boundaries to people who had none and didn’t respect mine. It was as pointless as getting bullied in school and trying to explain to the bully why bullying is wrong and why you won’t put up with it. This also led to me talking (and talking) ad nauseam about what I was going to do if x,y, and z continued.
But I never actually did anything (except drain my power and spin my wheels).
I wanted to “make” toxic people respect my boundaries just like I wanted to “make” them see my value and “make” them love me.
Explaining, justifying, and weaponizing your boundaries via threats translates to others that your “boundaries” are not only up for negotiation, but that they don’t really exist. You’re just that desperate for a crumb, that far away from your white horse, and that scared of being alone.
Most people (even toxic ones) know the fundamental difference between right and wrong. Healthy boundaries are all about being less descriptive and more direct – whether that’s communicating your boundaries one time after your line is crossed and adjusting accordingly, or, taking immediate action because you know that the other person lacks the emotional intelligence and awareness for it to even be worth it.
You will know that you have healthy personal boundaries when you stop taking responsibility for what other people say and do. And you no longer expect anyone to take responsibility for what you say and do.
Signs that you lack personal boundaries
- You have a hard time speaking up for yourself.
- You worry about what other people think of you, your life, and your decisions.
- You attract controlling friends, family members, and lovers.
- You over-share details about your life that you don’t want to share.
- You’re needy.
- It’s hard for you to say no.
- You tell people that you’re not into drama but you always seem to be involved in it.
- You feel like you have to defend yourself all the time.
- You are passive aggressive and have a tendency to manipulate (as a way to regain power that you no longer have).
- Your relationships are toxic.
- You are “the giver” in your relationships.
- You give your time and energy to others at the expense of your productivity.
- You are a victim.
- If other people are unhappy or seem distant, you feel guilty and turn into the court jester. You try to do whatever you can to turn the mood around.
- You feel like people make you feel inferior so that they can feel superior.
- You are everyone’s motivational coach, personal psychologist, cheerleader, and fixer.
- People take advantage of your kindness.
- You want to be everyone’s go-to/best friend/favorite.
- You engage in gossip even though you proclaim to be allergic to it.
- You get WAY too invested in people that you just met/barely know.
- You are possessive in your relationships.
- You secretly put up with everything that you are the first to announce you’ll never put up with.
How to set boundaries
Once you recognize that you lack personal boundaries, the easiest way to implement them is by learning how to say “no,” which will eventually give you the courage to act on “enough.”
It’s great to be open to possibilities, but life is not about saying yes to every little thing and getting spread so thin that you become a doormat. It’s about knowing what you are no longer willing to accept in your relationships and keeping yourself one-hundred percent accountable for your own happiness (and suffering). Then, when you do say “yes” or “no,” it feels great. There’s no more guilt and second-guessing.
YOU get to decide how much time and energy you want to give to the people in your life.
YOU get to break free. By mastering self-control, you become an emotional entrepreneur and separate yourself from a society of emotional employees where everyone is trying to control everyone else. You are now the breath of fresh air instead of the fart that needs air fresher in the form of attention from people who are too scared to pay any to themselves.
Ask yourself: “What exactly are my limits?” “What am I no longer willing to put up with in my relationships?”
Look at a photo of yourself as a kid and ask yourself: “What/who would I never expose him/her to?”
Some examples of healthy boundaries in relationships
Healthy boundaries protect you. They contribute to self-respect, being respected by others, and respecting others. Unhealthy boundaries perpetuate codependency, control, and abuse.
Here are a few examples of healthy boundaries vs. unhealthy boundaries in relationships…
- Healthy: Trust grows over time.
Unhealthy: Trusting everyone or trusting no one.
- Healthy: Being able to communicate in a clear and unambiguous way what your wants and needs are.
Unhealthy: Game playing, chain yanking, manipulating, and not being able to listen or communicate in a non-defensive, non-passive aggressive way.
- Healthy: You respect yourself and have a strong sense of who you are and what you stand for.
Unhealthy: You are a chameleon. Because you lack an identity, you end up becoming whatever you think people want you to be. There is a different personality/energy/style that you have for each person/group.
- Healthy: Feeling complete, just as you are.
Unhealthy: Looking for someone to complete you.
- Healthy: Taking responsibility for your happiness and suffering. You understand that everything you’re feeling is a direct result of the decisions you’ve made and what you’ve chosen to tolerate.
Unhealthy: Relying on your partner to make you happy (and being the victim when they fail to do so)/blaming your partner for your misery.
- Healthy: Your moral code/value system is never compromised.
Unhealthy: You compromise your beliefs/moral code to avoid judgment, rejection, or confrontation.
- Healthy: Having connected friendships and relationships outside of your romantic relationship.
Unhealthy: Being codependent, having an “us vs. the world” relational mentality, and not being able to have relationships outside of your romantic one (most often due to possessiveness and jealousy that stems from narcissistic insecurity).
- Healthy: You preserve and prioritize your gut feelings and values, always. And while you can acknowledge and value the opinions of others, you are able to discard what doesn’t serve you and separate it from your identity.
Unhealthy: You rely on the feelings, beliefs, validation, and opinions of others more than you do your own.
What do healthy personal boundaries feel like?
- I don’t need anyone or anything to complete me. I am enough – just as I was, just as I am, and just as I will be.
- My mental health is my top priority. I will lose anyone or anything before I lose my mind.
- I have the right to feel the way I feel and respond in dignified action (not triggered reactivity).
- It’s not my job to comfort other people when they have an allergic and victimized reaction to my limits.
- It’s not my job to make people love me, choose me, and see in me what I can’t see in myself.
- The thought of trying to be “good enough” to make someone: change, be happy, mature, and empathetic makes me nauseous. As does the thought of trying to control other people.
- Saying “no” feels incredible. I don’t feel guilty anymore.
- It’s okay if people criticize me, don’t agree with me, or get upset. They are entitled to their feelings as much as I am entitled to mine.
- If I’m crazy labeled because I can’t be manipulated, so be it.
- I don’t need to be everyone’s performing circus animal or transform into the village doormat if people don’t seem happy.
- What people say and do is about them. What I say and do is about me.
- I accept that some people never really grow. They don’t see any problem with being the way they are (and they will only claim to see a problem when they’re at risk of losing their supply). It’s not my job to explain to grown adults why something that’s hurtful is indeed hurtful. Them changing is not contingent upon my value or the level to which I cater to their needs.
- I take comfort in the fact that there will never be any “special circumstances” where my boundaries can be negotiated down.
- Not everyone is going to like me and that’s okay. I’d rather be disliked by others (and love myself) than love anyone at the expense of my self-love.
- Good or bad, how other people treat me is a gift. It’s a window into the relationship that they have with themselves.
- Red flags are no longer a signal for me to investigate further or try harder. They are a signal to fold.
Guilt for setting boundaries
What scared me the most when I started to implement boundaries was the thought of losing everyone in my life.
Here’s the thing…
The only people that will ever have a problem with you having boundaries are the ones who benefit the most from their absence.
Since when did having limits, standards, and your own back become a bad thing?
If anyone has an issue with it, it’s their issue. Not yours.
A person who has healthy boundaries themselves will have no issue with you having your own. But as long as you struggle with self-esteem, you will either implement boundaries too passively, too aggressively or, if you do it just right… you will feel an incredible amount of guilt.
And if you’re dealing with a toxic person, they will be patronizing, boundary-busting, selfish, and make you feel like you are being the unreasonable and selfish one for having limits.
Do not give in to this. Do not allow your heartbreak to blur the lines.
If they’re so bothered by you having boundaries, maybe they should have been more mindful when they were busting them.
You owe it to your younger self to do this.
+ If you need further and more personalized help with your relationship, please look into working with me here.