Don’t Stop Just Because Setting Boundaries Doesn’t Feel Instantly Good
If anyone tells you that setting boundaries is followed by only deep sighs of relief, they are lying. Setting boundaries is a cycle that includes a deep sigh of relief, a gasp for air after feeling like someone punched you in the stomach, a look of disbelief in the mirror as you realize you were the one who threw the punch, and then another sigh of relief because sometimes this is what respect for yourself feels like.
The process of setting boundaries is necessary, yes, but it’s also admittedly a challenge. When you’re setting them with someone you love the two-step process requires figuring out what lines can’t be overstepped and agreeing that if they are, that you’ll stand by your boundaries more than you will stand beside someone else’s excuses or trespasses.
In therapy, we’d speak often about the boundaries I needed to learn to set in my relationships and the consequences that needed to live alongside them. For a very long time those conversations went over my head because I didn’t know what actions added up to setting and enforcing boundaries. I’d never done it before.
Growing up as a yes-child and good girl, it took a really long time to open my eyes to the fact that I could question anything and that I had a right to not do something just as much as I had a right to do it. I owned my body, my mind, and my choices, and that ownership of myself came with the responsibility of learning to respect myself and the way I choose to live my life.
A learning curve existed that came down to this — I had to accept that not everyone was going to respect my boundaries and that this reality shouldn’t stop me from setting them. Those who were used to crossing them before would be taken aback by the new lines I’d drawn. Those who weren’t used to others pushing back on their behavior would probably choose to push back harder before ever giving in an inch.
This is where the hard part starts kicking in. Writing your boundaries down on paper is a great place to start, learning to defend them amidst the fear of knowing you’re doing something you’ve never done, that’s so much harder and a much longer process.
A boundary, simply put, is an agreement with yourself on what is needed to uphold your well-being and agreeing that someone’s choice to not abide by it would cue a domino effect of choices you would have to make in order to respect your well-being.
I had to learn that boundaries were the non-negotiables that I was negotiating with myself. I had to push through discomfort to set them and through uncomfortable conversations to protect them. I had to remind myself that it’s always your choice to move away from a person, place, or thing that doesn’t serve the energy you need in your life and that sometimes we all need different, or various, tools in order to do this.
The window of discomfort isn’t, and shouldn’t, stop you from setting the boundaries. The reason boundaries are set is prompted by a moment of noticing when others (or we) do something that just doesn’t sit well with who we are or the life we want to lead. We grow comfortable with those acts of having others cross those lines, whether because we were taught to be polite or because we still haven’t found our voice. It’s easier sometimes to not enforce, which is why it makes sense that the process of learning to enforce a boundary is an actual process.
Start by writing down what your boundaries are with yourself — sticking to a budget, not sleeping in, not skipping a workout, not bad mouthing yourself — and see how you enforce those. Use those same skills to figure out what your “we don’t do that here” rules are for the people in your life and the best ways you know (or can learn) to enforce them.