As humans, relationships are of paramount importance to our wellbeing. But relationships are dynamic and complex and can often be difficult to navigate. There is no universal guidebook on how to have healthy relationships and many of us were not taught or modelled healthy relational patterns as children.
Luckily, as adults, we have the opportunity to reevaluate our patterns, heal old wounds and learn new relational skills so that we can show up as our best selves in relationships. Learning how to set and maintain healthy boundaries is a key growth edge for many of us that can dramatically improve our relationships and boost our sense of self-worth.
The term boundary has become somewhat of a pop psych buzzword that has garnered misguided connotations of putting walls up to keep people out or commanding them to behave in certain ways. In reality, boundaries allow us to maintain our individual identity and personal space within relationships. Essentially, boundaries are the parameters a person decides for themselves that dictate how they want to be treated and what types of interactions they are willing to accept from others.
Knowing and stating our boundaries are necessary first steps. But what should we do when our boundaries are violated? Often, people can find themselves stuck in a cycle of expressing anger when their boundaries are crossed and restating their needs fruitlessly only for the same pattern of boundary violations to play out again and again. It is therefore equally necessary that boundary violations have consequences, or self-care solutions.
Without a consequence or self-care solution, we inadvertently give the person our permission to continue the undesired behaviour. In doing so, we also relinquish our own power, sapping our self-esteem. Self-care solutions allow us to communicate that when a boundary is crossed, we no longer feel respected, loved, or safe, and we have the power to take action to take care of ourselves. A self-care solution might sound like: “If you can’t stop calling me several times a day, I am going to let your calls go to voicemail.”
If you find yourself in a position of wanting to continue a relationship with someone but feel that they are not respecting your boundaries, you have a couple of options. You can continue in the same pattern of allowing your boundaries to be violated, but you’ll likely continue to feel stuck and hurt. You can begin to take action with self-care solutions, and the person may either change the behaviour, or it will become apparent that they are not able or willing to meet your needs. In that case, you can make the difficult decision of whether to remove yourself from the relationship from a place of empowerment.
Learning to set boundaries is a journey worth braving, and one that can encourage a shift from feeling victimized in relationships to feeling empowered and in charge of your own life and happiness.