Take a moment to answer the following questions adapted from Charles Whitfield’s Boundaries and Relationships: Knowing, Protecting and Enjoying the Self.
Answer with “never,” “seldom,” “occasionally,” “often,” or “usually.”
I feel as if my happiness depends on other people.
I would rather attend to others than attend to myself.
I spend my time and energy helping others so much that I neglect my own wants and needs.
I tend to take on the moods of people close to me.
I am overly sensitive to criticism.
I tend to get “caught up” in other people’s problems.
I feel responsible for other people’s feelings.
If you answered “often” or “usually” to the above statements, this might be an indication that you have trouble establishing healthy emotional boundaries.
Like me, you’re probably extremely affected by the emotions and energy of the people and spaces around you. At times, it can be incredibly hard to distinguish between your “stuff” and other people’s “stuff.”
It is incredibly important to establish clear emotional boundaries, or we can become so overwhelmed and over stimulated by what’s going around us that it’s sometimes hard to function.
Here are a few ways to begin the process of establishing healthier emotional boundaries.
1. Protect yourself from other people’s “stuff.”
I can feel when someone is violating a boundary because my body tenses up. I realize that my breathing is very shallow. I feel trapped, small, helpless.
The first thing I do is to remind myself to breathe. The act of focusing on my breath centers me and expands the energy around me. In this space, I can think and act more clearly.
When I feel myself becoming too overwhelmed, I try to immediately remove myself from the situation. Sometimes all it takes is a couple minutes to walk away and regain my balance. Other times, I have had to make the decision not to spend time with people who consistently drain my energy.
Having a safe space to retreat, practicing mindfulness and meditation, or visualizing a protective shield around yourself are other methods that can help restore balance when boundaries are invaded.
Find out what works best for you.
2. Learn to communicate your boundaries in a clear and consistent way.
For many, this can be the most difficult part of the process for various reasons. We don’t like to appear confrontational. We’re afraid that if we clear set boundaries for ourselves, the people in our lives will begin to resent us. However, learning to communicate boundaries effectively is necessary for healthy relationships.
I’m not comfortable with that.
It doesn’t feel good to…
I’m not okay with…
I appreciate if you wouldn’t…
If you cringed at the thought of using any of these phrases, you’ll be relieved to know that communicating your boundaries doesn’t always have to be with words. You can also effectively communicate through the use of non-verbal.
Closing the door, taking a step back, shaking your head, or signaling with your hands can be less threatening ways of letting others know what you will and won’t accept from them.
3. Be patient with the process.
When I first realized that I was taking on the negative emotions of my friend, I became extremely resentful and disgusted with her. Instead of taking responsibility for my role in allowing this dynamic to occur, I blamed her for every negative thing that had happened in my life.
I closed myself off from her and shut her out completely. Our relationship became incredibly strained during this time as we both readjusted to the new boundaries I was setting.
Eventually, I was able to allow her to have her own emotional experience without making it about me. I could listen and no longer become enmeshed or feel obligated to do something about what she was feeling.
Whenever you change a pattern, it is natural to feel resistance from inside as well as outside the self. As you practice, your ego may start to act up and make you feel like you are “wrong” in establishing boundaries.
Others may also become resentful of your new found assertiveness.
They may be used to a certain dynamic in your relationship and any change has the potential to cause conflict.
Remember to be kind to yourself through the process and repeat the following affirmation:
I respect and love myself enough to recognize when something isn’t healthy for me, and I am confident enough to set clear boundaries to protect myself.
How do you take care of yourself?