The world has changed and it's high time we accepted it. Even when we are slowly going back to our routines, the fact is that a lot of us have been forced to share the space with and it even feels like work has been introduced to our homes, which used to be a private place. Now, more than ever we need to realize when setting boundaries has become essential for self-care.
I used to work at the office every day, and though sometimes I wondered why I had scheduled a meeting so early, the fact that my work and leisure time had separate spaces allowed me to set a physical boundary between the two "Anielas." Then suddenly, from one day to the other, my professional and personal life started to share the same building, virtually the same room, and I've now moved on to a full home office schedule. What made me struggle the most was feeling like I was available 24/7 for anyone and anything.
Many of the changes we had to get used to have taken a toll on our own emotional stability and even if you were not particularly affected by the events of last year, there comes a time in life when we have to assess what we need and what no longer works for us, especially when it comes down to boundaries.
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are the limits we set on our relationships about what type of behavior we will and won’t accept. They are a guideline to how we expect to be treated, they are the very foundation of every relationship. Boundaries set a clear limit that protects us from unacceptable, inappropriate treatment and they are essential for our mental, physical and emotional health.
When do we need to set boundaries?
If you feel exhausted, frustrated or annoyed after talking to somebody, that is a sign that person might be overstepping –be it at work, with friends, or family, everyone can become toxic if you don't define the limits. Pay attention to how you feel before and after you interact with people because this will help you assess whether you need to set some boundaries to protect yourself.
Every situation requires us to set different types of limits, they range from metaphorical to concrete boundaries –that will help you realize if you have to leave a particular place or just express what you need.
Types of boundaries
Mental and emotional boundaries
These include the way you allow someone to speak to you, how much you are willing to invest in a relationship, and who you share your thoughts, opinions, and emotions with.
You have to allow time to pass to realize if a person can be trusted and how much of your vulnerabilities you are willing to show. If a person makes you feel uncomfortable and when you let them know, they won't acknowledge it, it might be high time you stopped allowing them into your personal life.
This is how close you let people get to you and what touch is acceptable for you. It includes letting people know when it is ok to call or show up to your place or ask for a favor you are not particularly willing to do.
You might enjoy public displays of affection or, if you are like me, you feel uncomfortable with it, if you let your significant other know, but they get angry or won't change their behavior, that should be a red flag. If you feel disrespected in any way, it is enough of a reason to leave.
Of course, if someone hurts you physically it is less complicated–I'm not saying it is easy–to realize there is something wrong, and you might even be sure that if they ever caused physical harm to you, you would leave. But when someone inflicts emotional pain on you, it makes it difficult to draw the line, I have found myself countless times trying to make up excuses for someone who just mistreated me–if you've been there, you are not alone.
Sexual boundaries include what you expect from your significant other in intimacy. These include the frequency, the comments, the practices, and the kind of touch you consider you accept. Express when you are feeling upset, even if you have to say "no" to your partner, no one can force you to do what makes you feel uncomfortable.
It is sometimes difficult to realize when it is necessary to establish intellectual boundaries, especially if you have low self-esteem. Always remember that you should be able to express your opinion and you have the right to be heard and be taken seriously, your opinions do matter. Unless you are being offensive with your opinion, and in that case, it wouldn't be an opinion but aggression, no one should make you feel like you are not smart enough or silence you.
How to set your boundaries
Realizing when someone is overstepping is the first step to taking care of your mental health, but there comes a time when you have to be strong and set your boundaries.
1. Say exactly what you need
Before communicating what change you want, you have to decide what you need from them. I don't particularly rehearse what I want to say, but I do keep a journal. Keeping a journal allows me to get to know myself better, so once I have to have a difficult conversation with someone, I'm already sure of what I feel and what I want. Then think of how you are going to do it and write it out, so you don’t forget what you want to say at the moment.
2. The right time and the right way
When communicating your needs, make sure both of you are not emotionally reactive, and try starting with a compliment to set the tone. Then make sure you are clear, do not ask for a change in their behavior, but rather say how you will respond if this person continues doing what upsets you. For example, “If you bring up this topic again, I will not continue with the conversation.”
3. Be nice to yourself
There might be some people who won’t react very well to your new norms, make sure you don’t feel guilty. The longer you practice setting boundaries, the less resentment and more confidence you will feel.
The bottom line
Setting boundaries is necessary for a happy life, it is impossible to always try to meet everyone else's needs. You have to make sure you feel comfortable and safe first. It is also important to know that this is part of life, sometimes you'll upset people even if you don't mean to, as long as don't hurt someone on purpose, just understand that you can't get along with everyone. Also, know when to start therapy, there is no shame in asking for help from a professional when you can't deal with certain situations. I know that it's is a long journey, but I promise it pays off.
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