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How To Create Healthy Boundaries In Relationships

In the earlier days, people made boundary walls around their house so as to demarcate a physical divide between what is yours and what I claim to be mine.

In the emotional landscape, making a boundary means – where my space begins. This imaginary boundary where I can help you and me simultaneously. It is where you and I can co-exist in peace. The ‘ME TIME’ realm.

Now, this is a realm long eluded to me. Since childhood, I was conditioned like most girls to be compliant and put myself last. But with a lot of trial & error, what I found out was, that I could be both. I could show empathy to those around me and also create a space for myself.

Why are healthy boundaries important?

To give peace of mind.

We cannot do it all. And we need not. We can do a lot of things productively which are important to us. We can grow or shrink our boundaries with situations. But we need not agree to things which will create resent.

If we don't say yes authentically, we say yes resentfully and that leads to far more problems than if we'd said no in the first place.

There is no need to glorify struggle. We can have restful sleep, quality time with family, and be successful at work too. Because when we talk of work-life balance, it is usually family and personal time getting sacrificed.

A boundary is not taking work calls between 9 pm and 9 am. It is responding to emails & texts at the designated time. It could also be stating you are not ready to continue a conversation because you have a difference of opinion. Or stating you are not looking for advice or feedback right now.

It is simply asking for your space, doing things on your terms, and prioritizing people & activities which make you happy.

Where to draw the line?

By asking the right question.

Before you say yes to something, ask these questions:

  • Is this aligning with my values?
  • Will I feel more anxious or more relaxed after completing this task?
  • What are the pros and cons of this action?
  • Will this help my growth?
  • Am I just numbing my anxiety or reducing it by doing or not doing this?
  • What is the personal cost of this action?
  • Am I reasonable in continuing with this boundary or do I need to reassess the situation?

Because things that are done with the right intention, reap the desired result. And at the end of the day, what matters most to your peace and happiness is why are you doing/not doing something – not what other people think about it.

How to say no?

This is a question that has plagued me quite often. Being of gentle nature and not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, made this a tricky business.

So here are few guidelines because each situation may need a combination – to politely say no.

1. Yes and No are not absolutes – but a Continuum

Traditionally we have been taught that either there is a full-fledged yes or complete no. But here I propose a middle path.

The ‘YES BUT’ or ‘ NO BUT’ policy if need be.

Simply put, you are saying yes to some conditions but not all. Similar with a no.

In this strategy, you are honoring your own and another’s needs. It is the key to effective problem-solving. To know more about this read: Problem Solving Skills & Steps

For example, I want to put in place the rule of Screen-Free Sundays in my house for all family members. Since I feel the added screen time of lockdown is affecting the health of everyone at home.

All family members agree to my concern but not on all my terms. So they negotiate 30 mins of ‘Me Time’ every Sunday where we can check our WhatsApp or Emails for any necessary communication and use phones for only calling the rest of the day.

Thus it serves as platform for connection, mutual understanding and respect for all concerned members.

2. Create Physical Distance

Where an amicable discussion is not plausible, create space in the literal meaning of it.

Sometimes families and work environments are not conducive to a respectful negotiation, then change the physical arrangement.

It may be transferring to a new location, room, floor, or department so that their demands from you are lesser. If that’s not possible change routines or timings so you can adhere to your needs and cater lesser to theirs.

Basically the lesser visible you are, the more unavailable.

And sometimes, you just got to stand up for your priorities and say ‘NO’. Saying – ‘I simply cannot do this. I wish I could but I cannot.’

And in my experience, if you are indispensable to someone, they come around. And they respect you more for who you are.

But this stand has a lot to do with worthiness. Do I believe I am worth standing up for? My concerns worth fighting for?

Here is where the shame monsters attack and we need to tackle them first.

Shame & Boundaries

Shame is a primal emotion hardwired in our system. When perceived with the right attitude it presents an opportunity for reflection and growth. However our norms use shame as a compliance mechanism and it is usually embedded in our childhood wiring.

So when as adults we want to stand up for ourselves and want to put boundaries or show self-love – the shame monsters whisper –

” Don’t let them down. Be a good girl. It is your job to keep everyone happy.”

“A successful man always puts work first. They may think you are not serious or weak if you make time for your family.”

“It will show badly on your character to say no.”

But if you say yes – the stress, anxiety, resentment, guilt, shame, unhappiness grows. Because each time you sacrifice something or someone you love, it creates a disconnection from your authentic self, your loved ones, your dreams and desires.

Connection and belonging are irreducible needs of all humans. That is why we thrive when the people around us see and accept us, for who we are.

But if want to truly experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

Dr Brene Brown

To begin on this self-healing journey please read the article: From Shame to Empathy: A Journey Filled With Self Compassion.

In conclusion, I leave you with this picture below, a snapshot of what healthy boundaries look like :

Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.

Boundaries are important in all our relationships. Between parents and children, spouses, sisters, brothers, friends, and co-workers. Relationships thrive when the concerned parties can voice their concerns without fear, be heard respectfully, and be complete by themselves and as a unit.

Boundaries are for you to set limits not to demand or control another. They free us from the feeling of taking advantage of and resentment. And remember you can only be responsible for your emotions, not anyone else’s.

Make a boundary today, it is the building block for happiness tomorrow!

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