By Linsey Harrison, M.D.
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”
A fence. A wall. A hedge. These are examples of physical boundaries, and they all give the same message: “This is where my property begins and I’m responsible for what happens here.” Personal boundaries help us define who and what we are responsible for, and just as important, what we are not responsible for.
People with poor boundaries are often called people pleasers. They seek approval from others, don’t know how to say “no,” are often emotionally exhausted after speaking to certain people, give a lot to others, but don’t do well at receiving. Becoming an emotionally healthy and mature person involves developing a sense of emotional separation from others. You begin to take greater personal responsibility for your emotional experience and are less likely to enter into codependent relationships. Solid emotional boundaries are essential for well-being. They signify confidence, worthiness and self-preservation. They say, “this is what is okay for me, and this is what is not.” Many people shy away from setting boundaries, feel bad for asserting themselves, or think it seems selfish. Setting boundaries is not selfish – it’s self care!
Boundaries can be created with words, and most importantly, the word “no.” It lets others know that you exist apart from them and that you are in control of yourself. The inability to say “no” can lead to passively complying while becoming inwardly resentful. Setting boundaries involves taking responsibility for your choices instead of putting that responsibility on someone else. It can feel selfish to say “no,” but it is also profoundly liberating and empowering, allowing us to make choices for ourselves rather than feeling as though our lives revolve around the needs of others.
If others have grown accustomed to you acquiescing to the needs of others, they may be surprised when you start saying “no.” But if you are firm and direct, they will get the message. It may take some time to adjust, but if they care about your wellbeing, they will learn to accept the boundaries that are being set.
You will reap the benefits of establishing boundaries and setting limits in your personal life and in your work life.