You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.
I remember reading this quote years ago, and wondering — is it really okay not to agree and yet be an agreeable person? Is it okay to give myself permission to do what’s best for me? It took me years to understand the concept of setting boundaries. Even now, I am still learning and I often fall, which is why I wanted to do research on this extremely important life hack, that some people do so smoothly and naturally.
I am not an innate boundary-setter, it’s a muscle I am still building. I’d rarely say “no” to anyone, always putting their feelings before my own. I liked being the loving, generous and reliable one, and took every opportunity to stretch myself, rise to the occasion and expand my capabilities. It felt good, but the moment you start feeling angry, resentful or unappreciated, you know you’re headed the wrong way. This wasn’t about stretching my limits any more — I realised that I was being depleted. I had drawn no boundaries, and if I couldn’t demarcate my space, how would anyone even know how much they’ve overstepped?
If you find the concept of setting boundaries difficult to understand, think of other sorts of boundaries — such as lines, fences and buoys marking the deep end of the pool. Do you have any such markers, limits, or ‘stop signs’ in your life?
Personal boundaries are the limits you decide work for you. They are drawn from the framework of your values and belief systems. Establishing these boundaries is crucial for building and maintaining healthy relationships, be it husband-wife, parent-child, boss-employee, or friends. And please remember that setting a boundary does not equal loving that person any less. They aren’t some sort of brick wall used to keep people out — but a line that marks your own energetic space.
Healthy boundaries can help you:
1. Get clear on who you are, what you want, and your values and belief systems
2. Bring focus to yourself and your well-being
3. Avoid burnout
4. Build better relationships
5. Gain a greater sense of identity and earn respect (even a toddler respects a parent who knows his/her boundaries)
Steps to setting healthy boundaries:
It is very important to identify what you are okay with, what you stand for, and what your values are. Look back at your relationships and make note of those relationships where you felt stretched and depleted. This could even root from childhood relations. Identify where in your life you have not shown the person this invisible but extremely important picket fence.
Most people appreciate knowing where they stand. They play out their behaviour towards you based on what you communicate — verbally or non verbally. Pay attention to this, and assert your boundaries with grace. At the same time, respect others for their boundaries too.
3. Be consistent:
Think about how a child would feel if they are allowed to watch their iPad when the parent is busy, but suddenly when the parent is alert, they snatch the iPad and yell at the child. This inconsistency in boundaries can confuse other people and weaken your own stand. Don’t make exceptions too often. Be consistent.
4. Know when it’s time to move on:
While it is important to share how you want to be treated in a relationship, you aren’t responsible for the outcome. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, and if someone cannot respect your boundaries, it is time to walk away as a form of self-preservation.
5. Watch your own behaviour:
If you have a tendency to overstep boundaries, others will only mirror that for you. As author and artist Rachel Wolchin said, “Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do.”