Boundaries vs. Rules

Boundaries are an important part of any healthy relationship. When setting your boundaries it is important to know your limits. You cant set good boundaries if you don’t know what your values and limits are. Self awareness is essential to setting boundaries, so know what you can tolerate and what makes you feel uncomfortable.

Rules are an attempt to regulate or monitor the behavior of someone else. For example, telling your family that they have to welcome your partner(s) at the family cookout is a rule. However, telling your family that if they intentionally bring up a topic you have expressed as being off limits then you will leave the cookout, is a boundary. The only person’s behavior you have controlled in this situation is your own.

Be Self-Aware

Be aware of your feelings. Negative feelings, such as jealousy and anger, are a good indication that their has been a breach in your boundaries. However, it is important to fact check these feelings. Ensure that your feelings are an honest reflection of your current situation and not a reaction to past trauma. Pay close attention to what situations and people illicit negative responses from you. Resentment usually is an indication that you may be feeling taken advantage of or overextending yourself beyond what is natural for you. It is important in these instances that you make sure that you are not crossing your own boundaries. Crossing one’s own boundaries most often happens out of guilt or obligation. Of course, we want to be a good daughter or a good wife, but that should not come at the expense of our own well-being.

I offer self-awareness training as a part of my services because it sets the foundation for healthy-relationship practices and individual growth. If you catch yourself slipping or not upholding your boundaries, then it might be time for you to self-reflect. Consider if you or your environment has changed. It is possible for our boundaries to shift over time as we become better versions of ourselves. Give yourself space for that change to occur if you want it to. Boundaries can be flexible, you don’t need the same boundaries for everyone so think about them occasionally and reassess as needed.

Be Direct

“No” is a compete sentence. It is not uncommon to fall into the emotional pitfalls of fear and self-doubt when setting new boundaries. Saying “no” does not make you unkind or a bad person. Remember that boundaries are a sign of self-respect, so give yourself permission to say “no”.

How To Avoid Upsetting Others

In short, you cant. You can not control how others will respond to your new boundaries as how they choose to adjust is entirely up to them. Their emotions are theirs to own, so be as kind, and as honest as possible while holding firm in your values and still being direct. You may be met with sadness or anger but you must be prepared for those emotions and know they are not yours but theirs to own and work through.

Consider Your Culture

In African American families and non-western cultures, setting boundaries can be especially difficult. It is not uncommon for our families to be enmeshed and for us to rely heavily on the support or income of those around us. It is important to consider your upbringing as well as your role in your family as these can become additional obstacles. Often times the eldest daughter must assume the role of caretaker and you may have been conditioned to prioritize the family’s needs above your own. Set your boundaries here as well. Tune in to your feelings about this arrangement and set honest boundaries for yourself. You are not selfish for wanting time alone, wanting reciprocity, or wanting to keep more of your paycheck for yourself. Non-western cultures tend to be less individualistic and more concerned with the family as a unit. Decide for yourself exactly what you are and are not comfortable with.

Seek Support and Start Small

If you are having a difficult time upholding your boundaries, then seek support. Having a community of like-minded supportive people around you can be invaluable when trying to create new habits. If you can’t find outside support, try writing your boundaries down on paper to hold yourself accountable. Remember to decide ahead of time what the consequences will be if your boundaries are crossed.

Start small. You don’t have to go all in all at once if you do not want to. It could be something as small as not going to that dinner party that starts after your usual bedtime, deciding not to work overtime on Fridays, or saying no to babysitting this weekend. Setting boundaries takes practice, so be patient with yourself.

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