The Importance Of Boundaries

Setting Boundaries in Recovery

A clear vision of what you are trying to achieve in setting health boundaries will help motivate you “to feel the fear and shame and do it anyway,” which will enable you to begin setting boundaries so you can heal, grow, and allow your True Self to emerge. When you’re ready to take your first steps, begin by practicing in the mirror and with trusted supports, such as a best friend, sibling, or your spouse. Explain to them what you’re trying to do, which is learning to speak up when someone does something that bothers you. Warn them that your first attempts might be sloppy, so ask them to be patient and constructive in their feedback. After such practice, move on to other situations.

Bear in mind that you have the right to set boundaries about things you do not like or want.  Healthy people will respect your boundaries. Unhealthy ones might not.  Either way, you must continue moving forward by skillfully speaking up in order to take care of yourself. So, when you identify the need to set a boundary, do it directly, preferably without anger, and in as few words as possible. Do not justify or apologize for the boundary you are setting. Do not allow others to draw you into an argument. Just set the boundary – calmly, firmly, clearly, and respectfully.

Some examples of what setting boundaries may look like…with a spouse: “Honey, I know you’re just trying to be affectionate, but when you grab me from behind, it startles me. So, please warn me when you’re coming.” With a friend: “I know you don’t mean any harm, but I don’t like it when you call me ‘Shorty,’ so please stop.” With an ex: “Our relationship is over. You must stop calling me or I will take legal action.” With a neighbor: “No, Bob, I won’t lend you any money.”

If you are not used to setting boundaries, you’ll probably feel anxious, selfish, mean, or embarrassed when you set one. Feel the fear and the shame and do it anyway! Remind yourself you have the right to take care of yourself. After all healthy people do it every day. You can’t set a boundary and take care of the other person’s feelings at the same time. You’re not responsible for his or her reaction to the boundary you are setting. Your only responsibility to the other person is to set the boundary in a respectful way – meaning assertively not aggressively.

When you feel angry or resentful, or find yourself whining or complaining about someone, you probably need to set a boundary. Listen to yourself, and figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself. When you are confident you can set healthy boundaries; you will have less need to put up walls. I say this because when some people become sick and tired of being used by others, they put up a wall to everyone. This may be a helpful first step if all of your relationships are dysfunctional, but it’s not the ultimate goal, which is to learn to create healthy boundaries so you can have healthy relationships.

In first setting boundaries with people, you will be tested by some. Plan on it. Expect it. Be firm. Remember, your behavior must match the boundaries you are setting. Do not set a boundary and then apology for it or undo it with verbal or nonverbal behaviors that send the message, “You don’t have to respect my boundaries.” People with low self-esteem sabotage their boundaries by sending a mixed message, so don’t send a mixed message. Healthy people will respect your boundaries, but toxic and dysfunctional persons may not. Be prepared to double down when your boundaries are not being respected.

If truly necessary, put up a wall by ending a relationship, sending a cease & desist letter, or obtaining a protective order. You will set boundaries in your own growth and time, not when someone else tells you. A good motto is: progress not perfection, so be patient and encouraging with yourself. Build a support system of people who respect what you’re trying to do, and eliminate toxic persons from your life. Learn to trust, honor, and listen to your true self. Stop being a people pleaser and, instead, be a people respecter, including respecting your own needs and feelings. Setting boundaries will allow your true self to emerge, and that is an exciting journey!

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