Learning how to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to own yourself, of learning to respect yourself, of learning to love yourself. If you never have to set a boundary, then you will never get in touch with who you really are – will never learn to define yourself in a healthy way.
We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. If you do not respect yourself, if you do not start awakening to your right to be treated with respect and dignity (and your responsibility in creating that in your life) – then you will be more comfortable being involved with people who abuse you then with people who treat you in loving ways.
There are basically three parts to a boundary. The first two are setting the boundary – the third is what you will do to defend that boundary.
If you – Is a description of the behavior you find unacceptable [being as descriptive as possible].
I will – Is a description of what action you will take to protect and take care of yourself in the event the other person violates the boundary.
If you continue this behaviour I will – Is a description of what steps you will take to protect the boundary that you have set.
An example of these three parts would be:
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 parts of setting the boundary. The third part is something you need to know for yourself, so that you know what action you can take if the other person violates the boundary. If you set a boundary and expect the other person to abide by it automatically – then you are setting yourself up to be a victim of your expectations.
It is not enough to just set boundaries – it is necessary to be willing to do whatever it takes to enforce them. You need to be willing to go to any length, do whatever it takes to protect yourself.
It is also very important to set consequences that you are willing to enforce. If you are setting boundaries in a relationship, and you are not yet at a point where you are ready to leave the relationship – then don’t say that you will leave. You can say that you will start considering all of your options, including leaving – but do not state that you will do something that you are not yet ready to do.
If you set boundaries and do not enforce them, it gives the other person an excuse to continue with the same old behaviour.
Setting a boundary is not making a threat – it is communicating clearly what the consequences will be if the other person continues to treat us in an unacceptable manner. It is a consequence of the other person’s behaviour.
Setting a boundary is not an attempt to control the other person – although some of the people who you set boundaries with will certainly accuse you of that – just as some will interpret it as a threat. Setting a boundary is a part of the process of defining yourself and what is acceptable to you. It is a major step in taking what control you can of how you allow others to treat you. It is a vital responsibility to yourself and your life.
Setting a boundary is not a more sophisticated way of manipulation – although some people will say they are setting boundaries, when in fact they are attempting to manipulate. The difference between setting a boundary in a good healthy way and manipulating is this:
You want the other person to change their behaviour – you hope they will. But you need to own all of your choices in order to empower yourself to take responsibility for your life – to stop setting yourself up to be a victim. One of your choices is to remove yourself from a relationship with another person. You can leave a marriage. You can leave a job. You do not have to have any contact with your family of origin. It is vitally important to own all of your choices.
If you do not own that you have a choice to leave an abusive relationship – then neither are you making a choice to stay in the relationship. You are just “going along.” Any time you do not own your choices, you are empowering victimization. You will then blame the other person, and/or blame yourself. It is a vital part of the process of learning to love yourself, and taking responsibility for being a co-creator in your life, to own all of your choices.
When you look outside yourself for self-definition and self-worth, you are giving your power away and setting yourself up to be a victim. Society has trained you to be victim. You have been taught to give your power away.
As just one small example of how pervasively you were trained to be a victim, consider how often you have said, or heard someone say, “I have to go to work tomorrow.” When a person says “I have to” they are making a victim statement. To say, “I have to get up, and I have to go to work,” is a lie. No one forces an adult to get up and go to work. The truth is “I choose to get up and I choose to go to work today, because I choose to not have the consequences of not working.”
To say “I choose” is not only the truth, it is empowering and acknowledges an act of self-love. When we “have to” do something we feel like a victim. And because we feel victimized, we will then be angry, and want to punish whomever we see as forcing us do something we do not want to do.
We always have a choice. The choice may sometimes seem to be awful – but in reality, allowing ourselves to buy into the illusion that we are trapped will have far worse consequences in the long run.
Becoming A Friend to Yourself
Learning to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to communicate in a direct and honest manner. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly and honestly.
Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to yourself. It is your responsibility to take care of yourself – to protect yourself when it is necessary. It is impossible to learn to be loving to yourself without owning yourself – and owning your rights and responsibilities as co-creator of your life.
About Setting Boundaries
Setting boundaries means that you are taking responsibility, being adult and demanding equality and respect in a relationship.
Setting boundaries reflects your right to say NO to those things that aren’t right for you.
Setting boundaries is about learning to take care of yourself, no matter what happens, where you go or who you are with.
Boundaries emerge as we learn to value, trust and listen to yourself.
Boundaries emerge from a belief that what you want, need, like and dislike is important.
Boundaries emerge from deep decisions about what you believe you deserve and don’t deserve.
Tips for Setting Boundaries
Anger, rage, complaining, whining, and feeling threatened, “suffocated” or victimized are clues to
boundaries you need to set.
When you identify a need to set a boundary or a limit with someone, do it clearly, preferably without anger
and in as few words as possible.
You cannot simultaneously set a limit with someone and also take care of their feelings – they may be
hurt, angry or disappointed with you.
When you first begin to set boundaries, you may feel ashamed and afraid.
Be prepared to follow through by acting in congruence with the boundaries you set.
You’ll be tested when you set boundaries.
Some people are happy to respect your boundaries.
A support system can be helpful as you strive to establish and enforce boundaries.
You’ll set boundaries when you are ready and not a minute sooner.
There’s a satisfying side to setting boundaries – it feels good.
Examples of Setting Boundaries
“You don’t have a right to tell me what to think, or invalidate my feelings.”
“Don’t vent your anger on me, I won’t have it.”
“This is mine, you don’t have a right to use it as yours.”
“I won’t accept your belittling jokes, your criticism or your condescending attitude toward me.”
“I won’t be disrespected – If you won’t respect me, then stay away.”
“Keep your hands off me.”
“Stop doing that… or I’ll leave” [ report you; file charges etc.]
“Don’t try to tell me what to do.”
“If we’re going to have a working relationship, I need honesty, respect and equality.”
“I need to communicate when we have a misunderstanding.”
“I need openness and sharing in a relationship – your with-holding is making our relationship unsatisfying to me.”
Personal Boundaries – How do maintain them
Ask directly for what you want. This shows who you are to others.
Nurture yourself and your integrity. This creates an inner, intuitive sense that lets you know when a
relationship has become hurtful, abusive or invasive.
Be objective about others’ behavior toward you without getting caught in their drama.
Maintain a bottom line – a limit to how many times you will allow someone to say no, to lie to you, to
disappoint you, or betray you before you will admit the painful reality and move on.
Change the focus of trust from other to yourself. Don’t put yourself in someone else’s hands or expect
infallibility. Trust that you can allow others to be normally human and still have satisfying intimacy.
Affirmations of Your Basic Rights
Nobody has the right to know my mind or my business or to tell me what to think, what to feel or what to
I have a right to my own thoughts, feelings, values and beliefs.
What I share with others about matters that concern me is determined by what feels right to me – not what
If people are abusive or disrespectful to me, I have a right to tell them so, to ask them to stop and to avoid them.
I don’t have to be nice to people who aren’t nice to me.
I don’t need abuse or to be disrespected.
I have a need and right to love myself, respect myself and to stand up for myself.
I have a right to be who I am and to harmlessly live my own life regardless of whether others don’t like it.
I don’t have to feel guilty for not behaving as others might want me to or for not giving other what they
expect of me.
I accept myself just as I am in the moment with whatever thoughts and feelings I have.
I accept my right to my imperfection and shortcomings and don’t feel guilty for not being perfect.
I believe that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us – to treated with love and respect.
I believe that if I am true to myself and live by the highest truth I know, that things will turn out for the best
in the long run.