In this blog I write about boundaries, what they are and how to implement them. I don’t have any qualification in psychology, nor am I an expert on relationships – far from it. When I write, I simply share a part of my own personal experiences and what I’ve learned from them, in the hope that it may help someone else who is struggling with the same things. Please feel free to comment or drop me a line if you have any questions.
My childhood was very dysfunctional with little love and affection shown to me by parents who were unhappily married. I was often dragged into their marital problems by mum who would share things with me that a parent probably should never share with a small child. I guess she was just looking for support.
So, having had my boundaries already overstepped as a child, I grew up without them and no understanding of what they were or that I needed them and because of that, I allowed people to treat me disrespectfully throughout most of my life.
I felt that I must deserve it, that I wasn’t worthy of being treated any other way because that was what I was used to. Having never had healthy relationships modelled to me by my own adult family members, I had learned as a child to accept a high level of frustration for very little love and that was normal to me.
On top of this, I didn’t have a voice and I didn’t know how to speak up for myself. I was a people pleaser and I could never say no. I didn’t know how to express my thoughts, feelings or needs because I was afraid that I would upset the other person, be rejected and end up alone and unliked. In a nutshell, I was codependent, the irony being that I would have earned more respect from others had I been able to assert myself.
When I look back on my intimate relationships, I can see how my own dysfunction, lack of boundaries and codependence played out in them and even in my interactions with friends and acquaintances. If someone said or did something hurtful to me, I would never speak up and tell them how hurtful it was. I would just take it on the chin, half of me feeling they were probably right and I deserved it, and the other half feeling like it didn’t seem right for them to say or do such a thing. But the part of me that felt I deserved it, always won out in the end.
And it wasn’t only setting boundaries I struggled with, it was my deal breakers too. Just like boundaries I never had any relationship deal breakers. I was so naïve that I assumed that I would go into a relationship and my partner would automatically treat me the way I wanted and would never do anything to hurt me.
One of my biggest problems is that I was so desperate for love and connection, I would enter into a relationship with someone before I had even gotten the chance to know them. For me, as a teenager and young adult back in the late eighties and nineties, there was no such thing as dating. I would meet someone who took an interest in me, we’d pretty quickly hook up and the next thing I knew we were in a relationship. That in itself is a boundary – taking the time to get to know someone before becoming serious and committing to an intimate relationship.
Because I was unable to express myself verbally, I would write letters to my partner trying to explain how I felt and what I needed. But it wasn’t the way to go about it because it showed, if anything, that I was actually fearful to speak up for myself which was a perceived weakness. There’s nothing like being able to stand in your own personal power and speak up for yourself, face to face with someone assertively and diplomatically, that earns you more respect in the long run, if not from the other person, at least for yourself.
It was while in my third long-term relationship that I literally started to unravel, becoming resentful and angry, and although not entirely my fault, it was largely because I didn’t have healthy boundaries. I became reactive because I had an expectation he would know I wanted to be treated and respect my needs, and every time he didn’t, instead of putting a boundary in place and saying that’s not okay, I would silently stew and become more and more frustrated.
It wasn’t until I was about 46 and had just entered into another relationship, that I knew through a lot of self-reflection that I had to start speaking up for myself and setting boundaries if I had any respect for myself.
When I did, it felt so uncomfortable and scary, I would literally feel nauseous and anxious each time I had to do it. But I had reached a point where I was tired of allowing myself to be treated so disrespectfully, that the alternative of not speaking up for myself was just not an option any more. The first time I set a boundary in that relationship, it was a complete fail because I wasn’t strong enough in myself to truly assert myself and stand by it.
But I persevered, no matter how uncomfortable it made me feel, because I knew if I loved myself, I had to. That relationship has also since ended and now five years later, I’m still working on speaking up for myself and setting boundaries where needed, and keeping to them. But practice makes perfect and it’s a work in progress, and I’m certainly getting better at it.
In setting boundaries, we really need to know ourselves. What we will and won’t accept, and being brutally honest about our own behaviours and patterns and how they impact on those around us. We also need to conquer our fear of upsetting another person, because all we’re really achieving by not having boundaries is trying to control the situation and the other person’s reactions to us.
There are different types of boundaries and when we understand our own boundaries, we can also start to respect others’ boundaries.
Material boundaries – how we expect our material things to be treated by others, whether we give or loan things to others, how we share the things we have.
Physical boundaries – this relates to our personal physical space, our privacy and our body. How much privacy we need, if someone is in our personal space, if they are too close to us and it makes us feel uncomfortable.
Emotional boundaries – this is where we have a clear line between being responsible for our own emotions and not another’s. Putting in an emotional boundary will stop us from feeling guilty for another’s negative feelings and their problems which are their responsibility. We also need to have clear internal emotional boundaries by understanding our own feelings and what our responsibility is to ourselves and others. Giving advice, or being given advice, where it is not asked for is overstepping an emotional boundary as is blaming another, or accepting blame for something that isn’t our fault.
Mental boundaries – this is about being respectful of thoughts, values and opinions. If someone is trying to force their opinion on to you, then this is overstepping a boundary. Are you also able to listen to other’s opinions with an open mind and respect their values?
Sexual boundaries – this is what you’re comfortable with when it comes to any sexual activity including with whom, where, when, what and how often.
Spiritual boundaries – this is about your personal beliefs around a higher power, and whether you believe in that or not.
As a codependent it is incredibly difficult and uncomfortable to set boundaries to begin with because we’ve learned to always put other people before us, we’re not used to speaking up for ourselves and we’ve never learned how to set boundaries or what they are. But it’s important to step out of our comfort zone if we want to grow.
The way I learned to set boundaries was to get out of my head and into my body and listen to how I felt. Our feelings are there for a reason, and if we delve deep enough into them, they are actually telling us what it is we are needing and from this place we can set healthy boundaries. And the rest of it is courage.
Some examples of boundaries may look like:
- Giving yourself permission to say no, with out any requirement to explain or justify
- Putting your needs first – it’s not being selfish to put your own needs first
- Leaving situations or conversations that make you feel uncomfortable
- Being able to express how you feel “I felt hurt when you said/did…”
- Not sharing more personal information than you feel comfortable with
- Not being forced to give an immediate answer to something “I’ll need to think about it, I’ll get back to you later.”
If you have set a boundary with someone, but they continue to disrespect you and step over that boundary, then you really need to reconsider whether it’s in your best interests to stay in that relationship. Of course, boundaries also apply to all relationships, with family, our children, friends and in the work environment with co-workers and bosses.
Setting boundaries is choosing to love ourselves. It’s saying that we respect ourselves enough to not accept anything that isn’t in our best interests. A healthy relationship simply cannot exist without them, including the relationship we have with ourselves.
‘Love has no borders, just boundaries‘ tee
Available from our website in Men’s sizes S to 3XL and Women’s sizes XS to 2XL, in black and white.
“There is no place for borders (or walls) in our society. We are all human and our race, religion, gender, sexual preference or however we wish to define ourselves, does not separate us, it only makes us unique. But setting healthy boundaries is vital for healthy relationships. Setting boundaries is saying we love ourselves enough to not accept anything that isn’t in our best interests. Love is… having boundaries.”