By Denise O’Doherty
It is said that we teach people how to treat us. If this is true, what then determines how we send signals and messages about us that we want others to receive? We do this through Personal Boundaries both verbal and non-verbal.
What are Boundaries? Boundaries define limits. They define where each of us begins and ends and let others know what is OK with us and what isn’t. Healthy boundaries can be flexible, expandable, and sometimes impenetrable due to the situation.
The purposes of Boundaries is to give us protection, to help confine and contain us, to define who we are, to help us maintain our sense of self and to help us make safe in connection with others.
Sometimes our personality styles get in the way of expressing a healthy boundary. For example, a passive person who fears conflict or making others angry might not stand up for his/her self therefore having a weak or invisible boundary. This is a set up for disappointment since we can’t expect others to read our minds. An aggressive person who continually uses control, intimidation, manipulation and hostility may be expressing a rigid boundary keeping others at a distance. Like the passive person, this makes it difficult to have a healthy assertive relationship based on both people supporting the best interest of the other.
How are healthy Boundaries Established?
- By overcoming shame (long standing feeling of not being worthy) and developing Self-Esteem,
- By knowing and talking about our reality and our feelings
- By identifying and confronting abuse, things that hurt, scare, or shame us
- By saying “NO”! when we don’t really want to do something
- By asking for what we want and need
- By listening to and believing our partner’s responses to our stated wants and needs.
Here are some Boundary Setting Tips to keep in mind when you have a need to stand up for yourself. When you identify that you need to set a limit with someone, do it clearly, preferably without anger and in as few words as possible. Anger will usually put someone else on the defensive. In order for them to hear you, you need to have their attention. Also remember that you cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of another person’s feelings at the same time. Let them hear you out and take a chance to see if they respect you enough to listen to your reality. You know you need to set a boundary if you find yourself dealing with constant anger, rage, complaining and whining. These are clues to boundaries you need to set.
The results of healthy boundaries are unlimited. It will enhance communication and trust within your relationships. It will increase your self-esteem and personal confidence level. It increases the chance of attracting healthier relationships and can make you feel more empowered and more self-controlled. Knowing how we feel and how to teach others to treat us keeps us closer to getting what we want in life while respecting others and ourself.
Denise O’Doherty LPC, LMFT, CIRT, RN