Boundary issues are common in dysfunctional family systems. I have wrestled with boundaries most of my life. As some of my prior posts suggest, I wasn’t able to set and maintain clear, respectful boundaries until I learned to love myself.
I needed to recognize that not only did I have a right to my feelings – it was my duty to take responsibility for my own well-being. After a lifetime of treating myself the same way my mother treated me, I experienced a fundamental shift. I finally realized that I truly deserved the dignity I had always only desired. At that point, I began caring for myself with love, compassion and self-respect.
It was easy to set boundaries when a relationship wasn’t very important to me. However, when a relationship was central to my life – I had a hard time. The anxiety I experienced when setting personal boundaries came from my fear of losing relationships. In order to overcome this worry, I had to understand that I have no control over the behavior of others, and that I needed to become more invested in my own worth than I was in the outcome.
Before exercising appropriate boundaries, I had to clearly state my own needs. In order to do this, I must A.) Identify the behavior that feels inappropriate or injurious to me. B.) Express my feelings. And, C.) Clearly state my needs.
For example: A.) When you shout at me…
B.) I feel scared…
C.) I need for you to lower your voice.
When I began stating my needs clearly (the less said the better), others usually honored the space I created for myself. As I became clearer about respectfully stating my needs in relationships, I found that quite often, the relationship became stronger.
Other times, people have responded negatively to my needs. At that point, it is necessary to actually set a boundary. That is where I used to get into trouble. If the other person argued, I usually engaged in the argument and let them trample my boundaries. I have learned to set my boundaries by saying: “If you continue to shout, I will ask you to leave” (or – “I will leave” – depending on the circumstances).
The next step is to maintain the boundary by actually leaving (or asking them to leave), and maintaining this boundary in the future.
Sometimes, setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries can result in loss. Yet, for me, the pain of loss eventually gives way to the power of living a life of integrity.