Have you ever felt manipulated or taken advantage of? Do you end up saying or doing things that you really don’t want to? I’m sure you have. All of us have felt these things on occasion. But, if you consistently feel manipulated, victimized, or taken advantage of, chances are you don’t have healthy personal boundaries.
One of the key ways in which a person can care for themselves and improve their sense of self-worth is to establish healthy personal boundaries. A personal boundary is a mental, emotional, or physical construct that defines or limits the area in which a person is willing to operate. When you have healthy boundaries, you are able to distinguish your own thoughts and feelings from those of others. Healthy personal boundaries protects you from being manipulated, controlled, or violated by others.
Take a moment to reflect on how you are in relationship with others. Do you know what your personal boundaries are? Here are four steps you can take to set and maintain healthy personal boundaries:
1. Identify you personal values. In order to establish healthy personal boundaries, start with an assessment of your personal values. A personal value is a quality or characteristic that is important to the individual who holds it. Examples include, punctuality, respect, and integrity. To understand what your personal values are, do the following:
a. Think of a time when you were in a situation that really upset or angered you. Write down what specifically about that situation made you upset. This helps you identify circumstances when your values were dishonored. What values were being dishonored?
b. Think of a specific moment when things were going well in your life. What was going on in that moment? What were you doing? Who was around? What felt right? These questions help you define a time when your values were being honored. Jot down a few words to capture the values that were being honored.
2. Clarify your expectations of others. Think about how you expect others to treat and speak to you. Spend some time going over your expectations of your significant other, parents, children, friends, colleagues, and strangers. Once you are clear, clarify your expectations with others as appropriate. How would you like to be treated? How would you like to be spoken to? What do you expect from the people in your life? What are behaviors and actions that you find absolutely unacceptable? It is crucial to get clear on your expectations of others.
3. Communicate your boundaries. Communicating your boundaries is an ongoing process. You will have to repeat yourself at times. In addition, you may discover new boundaries as time goes on (you’ll be able to tell by the adverse reaction you have to the situation or comment). To the extent possible, state what your boundaries and expectations of others are up front. Do not assume that others have the same values, boundaries, and expectations as you do. It will only lead to disappointment.
4. Take action when someone violates your boundaries. This is a crucial step. Some actions you may take include:
a. Say “No” to any request that violates your personal boundaries or otherwise dishonors your values.
b. Inform or remind others of which behaviors are unacceptable to you.
c. Instruct others on how you would like to be treated.
d. Demand that anyone who violates your boundary cease the offensive behavior.
e. End the conversation or leave when your boundaries are dishonored and the other person is unwilling to respect your wishes.
By setting and defending your personal boundaries, you maintain your integrity, improve your self-love and self-esteem, and accept personal responsibility for your life. As a result, you won’t be easily manipulated or taken advantage of.