A Guide on How to Set Healthy Boundaries
I was going through my content on learning how to be comfortable alone and I found a topic that I thought was worth writing an entire post on. In my article How Solitude Sets You Free I discussed setting boundaries with my mom but this is a topic that definitely needs to be expanded.
This website is built upon discovering who you are and what kind of life you want to live. One of the most important aspects of that process is when you begin to individuate yourself from friends and family. As I mentioned in How We Get Trapped, we grow up in shared spaces and by the time we are adults we have spent very little time learning how to live with ourselves.
What are Boundaries?
Simply put, boundaries are the barriers we construct around our identity to maintain our individuality. They can be physical, emotional or psychological. They separate us from others in that they create enough space for us to be ourselves.
I do not want this to come off as being guarded so let me clarify: the process of evaluation and discrimination is an exceptionally important one in life. If you want to construct an honest life you shouldn’t attach yourself to untrustworthy people.
Boundaries help us to determine what sort of behavior we will and will not tolerate in our personal lives. They define where we end and another person begins. Only by setting strong boundaries can we ever maintain ourselves as individuals.
How Are Strong Boundaries Created?
I do not want to mislead you by telling you that boundaries are easy to create.
Most of the issues you will tackle are things that were ingrained when you were a child through observation of other people. How you deal with your girlfriend will be a model of how your parents interacted. How you deal with your parents will be a model of how your parents interacted with theirs.
Setting boundaries is something that I still grapple with today but let me walk you through how I started creating mine.
At first, I found it incredibly difficult to establish boundaries with my parents. The effort would have destroyed me emotionally. So, I turned my attention elsewhere. I did not have a girlfriend at the time so I started to think about the qualities and behaviors I wanted in a long-term relationship
- The traits were
- Next, I identified the type of behavior I would not tolerate
- Emotionally abusive
Once I had created this list of desirable virtues and undesirable behavior I had a better grasp of the sort of person I wanted in my life. I then turned the lens onto my friends and family to see if they exhibited any of this behavior.
I found that people close to me were exhibiting this negative behavior. So, little by little, I began to set small goals for myself to push back against the behavior.
Imagine building a wall out of bricks. Each brick needs to be set in its place, which can be hard and tedious. And while you are close to the wall it looks like no progress has been made, its only when you take a step back do you realize how far you have come.
My first step was to make my preference known about where my family went to dinner. Something that small can begin to turn your life around. I became comfortable asserting my preferences on a small scale. I then worked my way up to larger and larger hurdles to clear.
Personally, I found that when I was living by myself it was much easier to create barriers. I could use the physical barrier of distance to shore up my emotional barriers so that when I would go meet people who were used to running over me I could stop them from doing so.
During this process you will find that some of your relationships deteriorate. People are generally reluctant to let go of the ways that they used to manipulate you in the past. If they do not accept you for who you are then they never had any interest in you in the first place. They were merely interested in what they could extract from you.
When those relationships whither, do not hesitate to cut them out completely.