The purpose of setting boundaries is to take care of our self. Being forced to learn how to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to own our self, of learning to respect ourselves, of learning to love ourselves. If we never have to set a boundary, then we will never get in touch with who we really are – will never escape the enmeshment of co-dependence and learn to define ourselves as separate in a healthy way.
When I first encountered the concept of boundaries, I thought of them as lines that I would draw in the sand – and if you stepped across them I would shoot you (figuratively speaking.) (I had this image of some place like the Alamo – from a movie I guess – where a sword was used to draw a line in the sand, and then those that were going to stay and fight to the death stepped across it.) I thought that boundaries had to be rigid and final and somehow kind of fatal.
No one deserves to be treated abusively. No one deserves to be lied to and betrayed.
We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. If we do not respect ourselves, if we do not start awakening to our right to be treated with respect and dignity (and our responsibility in creating that in our lives) – then we will be more comfortable being involved with people who abuse us then with people who treat us in loving ways. Often if we do not respect ourselves, we will end up exhibiting abusive behaviour towards people who do not abuse us. On some level in our codependence, we are more comfortable with being abused (because it is what we have always known) than being treated in a loving way.
Learning to set boundaries is vital to learning to love our self, and to communicating to other’s that we have worth.
There are basically three parts to a boundary. The first two are setting the boundary – the third is what we will do to defend that boundary.
If you – a description of the behaviour we find unacceptable (again being as descriptive as possible.)
I will – a description of what action you will take to protect and take care of your self in the event the other person violates the boundary.
If you continue this behaviour – a description of what steps you will take to protect the boundary that you have set.
One very drastic example (in the case of someone who is just learning about boundaries and has been physically abused in the past) would be:
If you ever hit me, I will call the police and press charges – and I will leave this relationship. If you continue to threaten me, I will get a restraining order and prepare to defend myself in whatever manner is necessary.
It is not always necessary or appropriate to share the third part of this formula with the other person when setting a boundary – the first two steps are the actual setting of the boundary. The third part is something we need to know for ourselves, so that we know what action we can take if the other person violates the boundary. If we set a boundary and expect the other person to abide by it automatically – then we are setting ourselves up to be a victim of our expectation.
It is not enough to set boundaries – it is necessary to be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them. We need to be willing to go to any length, do whatever it takes to protect ourselves. This is something that really upset me when I first started learning how to set boundaries. It took great courage for me to build myself up to a point where I was willing to set a boundary. I thought that the huge thing I had done to set a boundary should be enough. Then to see that some people just ignored the boundaries I had set, seemed terribly unfair to me.