3 Essential Ways to Protect Your Personal Boundaries
If you let violations slide, they'll only keep happening.
Posted Apr 08, 2016
How often have you set a boundary, only to have friends or family refuse to respect it? It’s frustrating when others don’t respect your boundaries, but don’t give up.
Here's the secret: Don't expect others to hold your boundaries for you. It’s no one else's job but yours.
The U.S. doesn’t just draw a line in the sand and ask people from other countries to respect it. There are border guards in place, and they stop anyone who tries to enter without permission.
In order to have others respect your boundaries, you have to actively protect them. There's no substitute for this, and picking the right people to hang around with won't relieve you of this responsibility.
However, if you do all of the following, you’ll have a much easier time not only of holding your boundaries, but earning the respect you deserve.
1. Get clear on what your boundaries are.
As an adult, you get to make your own rules for how you live your life. There’s a lot of room for different people to set different boundaries around all kinds of things. But each of us needs to know and respect our own rules. If you’re not sure whether it’s okay with you to drive someone to the airport all the time, how can you expect them to know whether it’s okay with you?
You don’t have to figure everything out case by case: Think about your boundaries in broad strokes and get clarity ahead of time, before you’re presented with a situation where you might need them. Here are some areas to consider:
- Money: How much (if any) will you lend, and to whom?
- Possessions: Do you let others borrow your stuff? If so, which stuff? And who gets to borrow it, and for how long?
- Information: Which areas of your life are private, and from whom are they private?
- Space: How close is too close?
- Time: What do you say No to when it comes to scheduling your time?
- Emotions: You’re allowed to feel the way you do, even if someone else thinks you’re being oversensitive or even irrational.
It’s okay to set different boundaries with different people: Maybe you’ll lend money to your brother but not your sister, or vice versa.
It’s also okay if someone else doesn’t understand why you set the boundaries you set. They don’t have to; they just have to know what the boundaries are.
2. Communicate boundaries clearly and directly.
Your boundaries don’t have to be the same with everyone, but you have a responsibility to make them clear to the person involved. For some people, a hint may be more than enough. For instance, a well-meaning acquaintance asks a question that’s a little too personal, so you reply, “Why do you ask?” The person takes the hint, drops the subject, and a potential boundary violation is averted with very little fuss.
But if you find yourself resenting people who don’t take the hint, it’s a sign that you’re falling down on this task.
Remember: It’s your job to make sure your boundaries are communicated to other people. It’s no one else’s job to figure out what you want. Here are some examples of clear communication around boundaries:
- “I’m not comfortable with that.”
- “I’d rather not talk about that.”
- “I’m not willing to do that.”
- “Please don’t ask me about that again. I told you last time you asked that I’d rather not talk about it.”
If you state a boundary and someone asks you about it, you don’t need to justify it:
“I’m a vegetarian.”
“I just am.”
“I’ll go to the beach with you, but I’m not going into the water.”
“Because I don’t want to.”
You don’t have to justify your boundaries to anyone.
3. Don’t let boundary violations slide.
Here’s where the going gets tough. When your boundaries are crossed, you must respond. Just as border guards don’t stand by and watch while people stroll across the border, don’t stand back and do nothing when a boundary of yours is crossed, or passively fume, "They should know better!"
If you tell someone you’ll wait for them for 15 minutes, and you’re still there when they show up 30 minutes after that, you’ve failed to respond to a boundary-crossing. You might be angry with them for being late, but you’re the one who set a boundary of 15 minutes and then didn’t protect it.
If it’s not realistic to give them only 15 minutes, then don’t set that boundary in the first place. Only make rules you’re willing to enforce.
If you lend someone money and tell them they must pay you back within a week, then you’ve set a boundary. If they don’t pay you back within a week and you lend them money again after that, you’ve failed to respond to that boundary-crossing.
It’s common to resent people when they cross boundaries, but resentment comes from helplessness. Cutting people out of your life, while occasionally necessary, is often done prematurely in the mistaken belief that there are no other options.
Breaking away from certain individuals won't help you get better at defending your boundaries. Make sure you've done your own work before giving up on others.
You’re not helpless in the face of boundary crossings. You were helpless when you were a child if someone violated your boundaries, but you’re an adult now, with options and recourse. You’re responsible for protecting yourself.
Take the time to know your own boundaries, state them directly to those involved, and protect them with your actions. If you do those three things, you’ll take greater control of your life by attaining an appropriate level of power and earning respect in all your relationships.