In all the self-help manuals, books and articles that you have keenly followed all these years, you must have read about the need to maintain emotional boundaries in relationships, be they personal or professional. Often you read them and then ignore them and it’s not surprising why.
After all, you may be having a perfectly wonderful marriage where your partner is happy with you, takes care of you, buys you gifts, takes you out and makes you feel special. Or you may be in that great job where you spend hours in the office, happily trekking to work even on weekends, safe and secure in the knowledge that the work just won’t get done if you don’t put in those extra hours.
But guess what? Here is the big news. You may think you are indispensable but the fact is that the world is taking you for a giant ride. And yes, that includes family!
Related Reading: 10 Must-Follow Healthy Relationship Boundaries
What Are Emotional Boundaries?
Now, how do you know if there is something wrong with your boundary limits? Well, simply answer the questions below. If the answer to more than five is ‘yes’, then you definitely are not doing something right in your life. In which case, you need to read and understand carefully what’s going to follow below the questions (and also promise to implement them in your life).
- Do you find it difficult to say no?
- Do you find yourself taking part in others’ drama?
- More importantly, do you find yourself easily dragged into drama that has nothing to do with you?
- Do you have to constantly fix others’ problems even as they ignore your own when you need them?
- Do your relationships always swing in between – either they are too good or too bad, nothing in-between?
- Do you feel drained after talking to a few people?
- Do you feel others take advantage of your niceness?
There are more questions that can be asked but if you found yourself saying more ‘Yesses’ than ‘Nos’ to the above, then my friend, you are in some serious trouble in life and you need to learn to be an artist and learn to draw boundaries!
As always first you need to understand a problem before going to solve it. The ‘relationship boundaries’ definition is fairly simple: it means, taking responsibility for your own actions and feelings while NOT taking responsibility for how others feel or act. The moot point being: you cannot think or act on behalf of the world and that includes your spouse, partner, siblings, bosses and even parents.
While there are certain ways and norms of behaviour that one has to adhere to, problems in emotional boundaries occur when you go above and beyond what is expected of you to please others. Do you hesitate to share your preferences at a family dinner? Do you end up eating steak because your husband likes it even though you’d opt for seafood?
At the other end of the spectrum, do you feel shy of accepting compliments or asking for help because you are too egoistic? These are all instances of incorrect emotional boundaries, be they high or low. All of these situations will cause you to vibrate on a low energy level.
Related Reading: Emotional Baggage – What It Means and How To Get Rid Of It
Why Are Emotional Boundaries In Relationships Important?
Emotional boundaries in relationships are important because it gives you a healthy sense of self. Often, low self-esteem is a cause for poor boundaries setting.
People with high self-esteem or those who don’t indulge in negative self-talk, rarely find it difficult to set limits to their interactions as they are in control of their lives and know what they want and don’t want.
Here are some other reasons why you need to draw the line.
1. To protect yourself
Personal boundaries are important also because you need to protect yourself first before going to help others. Often, you end up becoming a sponge for everything that is thrown at you. It is especially seen in family relationships.
Do you find yourself doing most of the work at your family’s Thanksgiving dinner while other members enjoy and take time out for themselves? It is a subtle sign that your family takes you for granted.
2. To prevent being manipulated
Not everyone is out to hurt you. But sub-consciously when you fail to set personal boundaries, emotionally needy individuals tend to manipulate you. This can especially happen in marriages or long-term relationships where one partner tends to depend more and more on another.
Do you see yourself trying to solve every problem your spouse finds himself or herself in? Do you find yourself putting your needs and desires at the backburner only because you are reluctant to displease him or her? Then you are in a emotionally draining and manipulative bond.
Related Reading: 12 Ways to Fix A Toxic Relationship
3. To avoid being taken advantage of at work
You are a great employee. Your colleagues and bosses value you. So far so good. But does it happen often that you spend hours at work trying to complete a project by yourself when you could well do with some help from others?
Do you end up taking the blame for your team or colleagues? Why is it that your boss palms off extra work on you while your peers go fishing on the weekend? It’s because you haven’t said a firm ‘No’ to working beyond your limits.
4. To be happy
Yes, it can be as simple as that! Being the good girl or nice boy might seem like a compliment but not when it tramples upon your sense of identity. To ensure it doesn’t happen, you need to go deep within yourself and ask if being the proverbial self-sacrificing lamb makes you happy.
The answer is no. The problem with not setting boundaries properly is that you end up allowing way too many people into your life, some of who, quite frankly don’t deserve to be there.
5. To create healthy relationships
The key to having good, positive relationships with your family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances is to be stress free. Setting healthy boundaries is the first step towards that, the key word being ‘healthy’. You don’t have to be rude or stand-offish or even reserved.
There are plenty of polite ways of letting other people know where they stand in your life. You are basically creating a line between what is acceptable and what is not. By doing so, you will only rise in estimation of those around you.
Related Reading: Fake Relationships – 15 Ways To Identify You Are In One
How To Set Emotional Boundaries In Relationships
It can be difficult but not impossible to set emotional boundaries in a relationship, especially when you have spent years being someone who has always had blurred lines. Well, it’s time to change the status quo and take charge of your life and give it a different direction. Here’s how.
1. Practise with examples of emotional boundaries
Learn how to set healthy boundaries. If you have always given in to your partner’s wishes all the time, slowly but gradually try putting your own thoughts in as well. Tell yourself – you have the right not to meet other’s unreasonable expectations. Your needs are as important as that of others.
You have the right to be treated with respect. You can say ‘no’ politely yet firmly to anything you are uncomfortable about. You need to go into long winded explanations why you are refusing something in order to set better emotional boundaries. Learn to say “I” more effectively. ‘I think’ ‘I feel’ ‘I believe’ and so on.
2. Protect your space fiercely
This is a mistake that most couples make in the first flush of their relationship or marriage – give their partner too much space, so much so that they begin to intrude in your innermost circle. Here’s one suggestion to set better emotional boundaries with your partner – separate the finances.
And a whole lot of other things. Put your private items in a safe box. Do not share passwords. Have your own bank account and expense sheet. When you are expressing your displeasure at something you are not comfortable with, including sex, look straight into the eye and say it. Do not feel embarrassed or reluctant.
3. Recognise others’ boundaries
To expect others to respect your personal emotional boundaries, it is essential to recognise and respect theirs. If somebody backs up when you talk, if they do not respond to you at first go, if they avoid eye contact, if they give mono-syllabic reactions, if they shift uncomfortably to suggestions… these are all signs that they are not exactly in alignment with what you want or with what you are trying to say, hence it’s better to back off.
Don’t be so caught up in setting your own boundaries that you ignore that of others, remember they have a right to refuse you or stay away from you too. So don’t feel offended.
Related Reading: 8 Things That Ruin Relationships And You Don’t Even Realise it
4. Work on your self-esteem
Setting good personal boundaries is an important facet of a healthy relationship but as with most other things in life, it begins with you. You first need to be aware of when your boundaries are being crossed and the only way to do that is to be tuned with yourself.
Be in touch with your emotions. Constantly stay in a state of awareness. If you feel discomfort, stress, anxiety, guilt or resentment, the underlying emotion is that of sadness because you are being taken advantage of. Respect yourself. Stand up for yourself. And yes, do not share too much personal information.
5. Learn to set emotional boundaries in a marriage
This can be really tricky. When you have a weak sense of identity, you let your partner make your decisions for you even in matters where you have your own likes and dislikes. Of course, for a healthy marriage, a bit of give and take is essential and you can’t always be stubborn but never ever refrain from sharing your opinion.
Sometimes you fail to set boundaries in a marriage because you fear losing the relationship or are afraid of being judged. Here’s the key. You need to commit to yourself first. Try and assert yourself in smaller things first and then move on to bigger things. Your partner may not always go with your suggestions but express your feelings and opinions. Gradually it will establish you as a person who has a mind of her own.
6. Learn to set boundaries in office
Strangely, most Americans and professionals working in high-pressure industries like IT, media, healthcare etc believe that the more hours they spend at work, the more hard-working they are. Let’s get this straight. Your organisation might value you but will have no respect for your time if you don’t take those breaks that are entitled to you.
Make a strong resolve not to answer work related emails after work. Each year, identify the days you want to be on leave and apply for them well in advance.
Staying late might be a corporate reality but don’t make it a habit. Let it remain an exception.
7. Make lists and refer to them closely
Here’s a trick. Draw up a list of people close to you at work and in family. Introspect on who makes you feel what in each situation. Then make a list of boundaries with each. Find the areas where you feel the need to have better emotional boundaries.
Then go ahead and practise the statements you would like when a similar situation appears. Does your husband go golfing expecting you to solve your child’s homework queries? Tell him that you need time off for a spa session with your gal pals and for a change he can swap the responsibilities. Promise you will do it again the next week.
8. Ask for help, ask for space
Yes, you can do both without feeling guilty. A lot of times people with poor emotional boundaries are too proud of themselves. It may seem like a contradiction but that’s what happens. A homemaker is so used to proving she is a superwoman that she will do everything at her house and burn herself out trying to be the perfect mother and wife.
A professional might be so eager to please his or her boss that s/he would take on every responsibility even at the cost his/her mental health. Don’t do it. Ask for assistance when you need it. You are NOT a Marvel hero that needs to save the world. Request for help when you need it and say no when you need your space. They will back off.
The basic rule of setting good emotional boundaries is to honour yourself and your heart first. Good boundaries are a sign of a mature person who knows what he or she wants from life. Do not compromise your self-worth for even those who are closest to you. Find your space and revel in it!
The definition is fairly simple: it means, taking responsibility for your own actions and feelings while NOT taking responsibility for how others feel or act.
You create emotional boundaries to protect your own feelings, to prevent being manipulated in a relationship and to not let others take you for granted.
Sometimes you fail to set boundaries in a marriage because you fear losing the relationship or are afraid of being judged. But you have to assert yourself to set your boundaries.
You have to assert yourself in your family, in the relationship and in the workplace and stop pleasing others because they expect you to do things for them.
The basic rule of setting good emotional boundaries is to honour yourself and your heart first.