Walls are meant to keep people out; boundaries are set to inform people how far they can go. Setting boundaries can be a difficult task, especially if you are a survivor of trauma. Witnessing or experiencing childhood abuse & neglect, sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence/toxic relationships, and community violence all have something in common. Not only are they trauma, but they can also impact our ability to set and enforce boundaries in our lives. Some women may feel comfortable setting limits within unhealthy relationships, while others may struggle with tough conversations. For many of us, it may be easier to cut ties than have a difficult conversation with someone in our lives. Creating this permanent wall can protect us from conflict, keep us from explaining our perspective or eliminate unwanted relationships (i.e. ghosting). Often times our negative experiences can cause us to lose all hope that we can positively influence our relationships. The exploration of boundaries is important because this impactful skill teaches people how to treat us and empowers us to own our worth.
We don’t always have the luxury of cutting everyone out of our lives. Don’t mistake me, toxic and emotionally/physically dangerous relationships SHOULD be eradicated from our journey. However, every uncomfortable experience is not worthy of building a wall. It is important to know the difference between when we need to set a boundary and when we need to separate ourselves from someone completely. This includes family and friends in case you were wondering! (Sidenote: You do not owe loyalty, kindness, or lifelong servitude to individuals who have made your life a living hell just because they are family/friends. Pray for them and keep it moving. We’ll talk about that another time!) One of the best ways to determine the route you need to take (wall or boundary) is by paying close attention to the reaction you receive after setting and enforcing a boundary. If the person in question takes the time to hear you out and respond in an understanding and calm manner, they have respect for you and your limits. If you set a boundary or try to enforce a previously stated limit and their reaction is explosive, demeaning, or compels them to anger, this a toxic relationship. Your boundaries are not respected or honored leaving you to defend your need for peace and safety. It is safe to reevaluate their place in your life.
Now that we are clear on the difference between when and how to set a boundary versus a wall, I want to share ten helpful tips from Happily Imperfect author, Sharon Martin, LCSW on how to set healthy boundaries:
Clearly identify your boundary.
Understand why you need the boundary.
Be straight forward.
Don’t apologize or give long explanations. (Personal fav right here!)
Use a calm and polite tone.
Start with tighter boundaries (and then loosen up if appropriate).
Address boundary violations early.
Don’t make it personal.
Use a support system.
Trust your intuition.
This is a topic that we will return to on different occasions throughout this healing journey. Boundaries should be visited often to assess whether they fit the version of ourselves that we are becoming. In the list above, I strongly identify with #4 and #8. When we recognize that the way people react to us is a reflection of THEIR mess, we can release responsibility for their issues. We should never apologize for implementing boundaries or creating distance when it comes to our healing, sanity, and peace. Enjoy the rest of your week and feel free to contact me if you need to chat! E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org