By Steve Purdom, MD (Type 3, SP/1:1/SC)
What are boundaries? They are verbal descriptions of where your emotional and physical space begins and ends. It establishes our separateness from others and lets our family and friends know what sort of behavior we are comfortable with and what sort of behavior makes us uncomfortable. Our boundaries define us in relation to others. If we don’t have boundaries, then we don’t have ownership or possession of our lives.
Why do some of us have so much trouble setting boundaries? We are afraid that the people we love will be angry, that they won’t love us or support us or that they might even abandon us. It’s important to note that if they abandon us when we skillfully set boundaries, then they did not love us in the first place. They were needy and expected us to meet those needs. Frequently, there are early childhood experiences that taught us that if we set boundaries they would not be accepted by our parents—and that has carried over into adulthood.
Overcoming these fears regarding the consequences of setting boundaries is necessary for us to live as happy, mature adults. We cannot embrace ourselves, fulfill our passions, and seek our destiny without boundaries.
So how do we set boundaries? We choose the biggest issue in our lives and set boundaries one step at a time. Perhaps we have a sibling who is always asking to borrow money which they do not repay. We need to learn to tell them no. “No” is the most important word in setting boundaries. That does not mean you don’t love your sibling and don’t want the best for them. It does mean that you are responsible for your own financial stability and they are responsible for theirs. Perhaps you can help them learn financial management or find better employment, or help them set better boundaries.
Setting boundaries is a sign of maturity. It is not selfish, mean or unkind to set boundaries. It is simply a responsible and effective way to interact with the people you love. Boundaries provide clarity to relationships. I will tolerate this behavior but not that one. I will provide you with love and emotional support, but I will not loan you money. I will interact with you at mutually agreed to times, but you can’t drop by my house unannounced. All of us set boundaries, and the more skillful we become at defining and setting effective boundaries, the better our relationships will be and the less conflict that we will encounter.
We are helping ourselves and our partners by setting effective boundaries. We are “Making Ourselves Easier to Live With”—and that is our goal.