I’ve been thinking about boundaries a lot lately. I recently wrote a piece for work about setting boundaries in the workplace, and it really made me reflect on the boundaries I have set both in the workplace and in my personal life.
As it turns out, I have a much easier time asserting and upholding boundaries at work than in my personal life!
At work, my boundaries can be totally factual.
“I need more help with this, or else I can’t make the deadline.”
“If I need to do more work on that project, we’ll need to adjust the budget.”
“I can’t make that meeting, I’ll be in therapy at that time.”
Even when presented in an empathetic way, my workplace boundaries are generally black-and-white. Relationships with friends and family can obviously be a bit more complicated.
I don’t think there’s ever a wrong time to reassess boundaries, but since they’ve been on the forefront of my mind (and since I’m one of those super annoying “ever evolving” adults), I’ve been thinking about whether or not the boundaries I have with people in my life currently serve me.
Are my boundaries being upheld?
Should I reiterate them?
Are they still the correct boundaries for that relationship?
Whether it comes to establishing boundaries within a new relationship or adjusting them for an existing relationship, setting boundaries can be uncomfortable. We exist in a society that encourages us to not “rock the boat.”
Wouldn’t want to make anyone feel awkward — maybe I should just feel uncomfortable forever, instead!
Yeah, that’s it!
No, wait…that can’t be right…
As per usual, I am not a fan of anyone living in discomfort, including myself. Over the past few years, I’ve worked on becoming better at setting boundaries with those around me. While I’ve made a lot of progress, I realized recently that I have the tendency to “grandfather in” people who I’ve known since before I started being a boundary-setting boss. This has probably been the hardest piece of the puzzle for me.
When new people come into my life, I can set boundaries and expectations right off the bat. The other person can decide whether or not they want to be in my life based on that. I mean, we all know they’re not leaving because of my personality…
Asserting boundaries later on in a relationship can cause resentment, confusion, defensiveness, and a major shift in the relationship dynamics. I had to figure out a way to do this with grace, understanding, and a shiny spine of steel.
This experience inspired me to want to write a post about what I’ve learned so far about setting boundaries. I’m still a work-in-progress when it comes to boundary setting, but here’s what I’ve found so far!
Have boundary conversations however/wherever you’re most comfortable
Think about how safe you’ll be during the conversation. Do you need to have an easy escape in case the person gets defensive? Have the conversation over text or a phone call. Want it to be a genuine heart-to-heart? Make it in person. You’ll notice throughout this post that I will very passionately argue that your safety is key! You’re discussing your boundaries, after all. The discussion should happen in a space that is safe for you.
Be vulnerable but also be alert and focus on the language they’re using
When you’re discussing your feelings and boundaries, you have to be vulnerable by necessity. There’s no way to genuinely discuss emotions without vulnerability. Even so, stay vigilant and listen to the other person’s language. Ruminate on how their words make you feel. Do you feel ashamed for setting your boundaries? Did you end up comforting them for stepping on your boundaries? Even if their words seem nice and apologetic, if you find yourself apologizing to them or telling them “it’s okay,” you may realize later that they actually hadn’t listened to you at all.
If you do hear manipulative words or behavior in the moment, call it out. If you think it’s not deliberate, call it out gently. You might not want to make the other person defensive if you’d like to maintain a relationship with them and believe they made the mistake in good faith. Remain alert so you can tell what type of person they are when they’re called out. Be prepared for some backlash, be self-possessed enough to call it out, and be open enough to dig deep into your emotions. If the conversation becomes an unsafe space for you, bow out physically and/or emotionally. You don’t deserve to remain in an unsafe space, especially when you’re being vulnerable enough to discuss your emotions.
Make sure no one’s “grandfathered in”
We’re all works in progress. Since many of us weren’t taught to set proper boundaries as young people, we’re now playing catch-up as adults. Now, as I learn how to set boundaries, the new relationships I start are built on a foundation of respect and trust. However, this means that I also need to regularly reassess relationships that entered my life previously. I had to make sure no one had been “grandfathered in” to boundary stomping. Would I let someone new speak to me/treat me like that? How can I gently assert that I have boundaries I want to be upheld when our relationship didn’t involve them before?
If you feel unsafe setting a boundary, THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT
If you’re afraid to assert your boundaries, that means something. It’s time to reevaluate why that person doesn’t make you feel safe. There have been several people in my life that I didn’t feel safe around, and while I couldn’t quite pinpoint why, I knew it was bad news. If I had an interest in working on the relationship, I pointed it out and explained myself, hoping they’d understand. If they didn’t (or if I had no interest in attempting to fix the relationship in the first place), I let the relationship go.
Remember, if someone is stomping on your boundaries, it’s about them, not about you. Keep yourself safe and only surround yourself with people who make you feel comfortable.
Don’t be afraid to ghost
Here’s a hot take for you: ghosting and blocking are SO underrated. If someone has shown you that your safety is not a priority for them, they’re not going to take it well if you attempt a peaceful goodbye. If you know that saying goodbye before ending a relationship will invite abuse, then you do not owe that person an explanation. Abusive people don’t deserve more opportunities to abuse you. Let them go and quietly make your exit if you can.
Respect others’ boundaries
I’m sure this goes without saying, but it’s important nonetheless! While you’re working on understanding and establishing your own boundaries, be cognizant of others’ boundaries, too. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes that means overstepping some boundaries, whether said or unsaid. And remember to be careful about wording your apology so you don’t put responsibility on them — none of that “I’m sorry you feel that way” BS. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve done some accidental boundary-stomping in my life. Unfortunately, all I could do after it was pointed out to me was genuinely apologize and try to do better!
FUN FACT: if someone cares about you, they should be invested in making you happy and comfortable and not hurting you
Imagine that. Someone caring about your boundaries without laughing at you or giving you crap! This shouldn’t be such an unthinkable uncommon occurrence that I remember one of the times a friend respected my boundaries, but alas…
Once, I was driving with my friend in the passenger seat. If you didn’t already know this, I’m a pretty anxious driver. I didn’t start driving until I was 22, and even now, I struggle merging and the slightest thing can make me jumpy if I’m behind the wheel.
We pulled into a parking lot, and I tried to swing into an open spot. Because I tried to cut the wheel too hard, we ended up parked a bit crooked. My friend ribbed me a little bit about my driving, and I started feeling insecure. My immediate instinct was to snap at her defensively, but I knew that wasn’t the best answer. Instead, I looked over at her and explained that I was insecure about my driving, and while I knew the ribbing was in jest, it made me more insecure and I’d prefer she not comment on my driving. She immediately apologized and said she understood. She assured me that she wouldn’t comment on my driving again because she didn’t want me to feel uncomfortable.
This example proved to me that it was possible to set boundaries in a healthy and gentle way with people who care about you.
Take it from this anxious driver, I know that setting boundaries is hard and means being vulnerable with someone else. But it is so worth it to preserve your peace and show you who else is invested in preserving your peace. Plus, it could just make those strong connections even stronger! Care about yourself enough to set boundaries and regularly check in with them to make sure they’re being upheld and still make sense for your situation!