This past year, the pandemic has certainly taught many of us about social distancing and physical boundaries. Judging from what I see in grocery stores and restaurants, we have become pretty good at it!
But how skilled are we at enforcing emotional boundaries?
Saying no to a boss who expects us to answer emails 24/7 or firmly and compassionately setting limits with someone who wants daily “friend” therapy sessions are just two examples of common scenarios that raise emotional boundary issues.
You might be thinking, “I can’t do that, it’s not my nature to be mean!” or “I don’t want to be rude.”
It makes sense that you might have those reservations because many of us were raised to never say no. Setting restrictions and practicing self-care may be unfamiliar and even uncomfortable. Let me try to put your mind at ease:
Taking care of yourself is not mean, selfish, or rude.
This may sound harsh, but often when we tell ourselves that setting boundaries is selfish or could hurt someone else’s feelings, we are merely creating an excuse to avoid doing something we find difficult.
Imagine a friend who always shows up late for appointments with you while you are always on time. This friend may stroll in 15 minutes late, but is always apologetic. You accept her apology and say, “No worries, it’s all good.” That’s what a nice accepting friend does, right?
Well, sometimes being late is unavoidable. We all have experienced delays caused by Houston traffic or the dreaded train. But if your friend’s tardiness is a common occurrence, then she is being disrespectful of your time and your friendship. Your boundaries are being violated, and it’s likely that you were conditioned as a child to overlook these behaviors. Nevertheless, each of us is responsible for taking care of ourselves.
The Cliff Notes version of setting boundaries:
We are responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, responses, and behaviors. We are not responsible for other people’s dramas, mistakes, feelings or actions. Each one of us has to be responsible for how we feel.
We teach others how we want to be treated. It’s that simple. Tolerating behaviors that are disrespectful gives the message that we will accept being stepped on and taken advantage of.
Setting boundaries is empowering and liberating. It is a strength that emboldens us to care for others and ourselves in a caring and compassionate manner.
Let’s take this a step further. Another type of emotional boundary is when we impose ourselves on others. In my practice, I see adult children who strive to become independent, but their parents want to continue making decisions for them. This usually causes a fracture of the parent/child relationship.
Then we have parents who demand that teachers change their child’s grades or place their child in an AP class when testing shows that is not the best choice for that child.
These are examples of well-meaning, concerned parents trying to do their best for their children. It is all done in love, but the consequences can be destructive. In setting boundaries, detaching from the outcome is critical. We can still love and show compassion without violating another person’s boundaries.
Understanding and setting boundaries can be complicated but once a person understands how powerful doing so can be, it becomes a welcome and liberating exercise. This week, take some time to reflect on how you are enforcing your own personal boundaries-and how you may be encroaching on someone else’s emotional space.