You feel pushed. Manipulated. Exploited. Dominated. Coerced. Pressured. Bullied. Controlled.
The person in front of you has gone too far and has overstepped your personal boundaries. But you don’t know what to do. You feel weak and helpless. A quiet desperation rises inside of you. You feel like a fly stuck in a web.
What can be done?
If you struggle with energy loss and issues such as overcommitment, lack of assertiveness, and peer pressure, keep reading. It’s time to draw a clear line and reclaim your personal power.
What are Personal Boundaries?
Personal boundaries are the mental, emotional, and physical walls we create to protect ourselves from being used, manipulated, or violated by others. These limits help us to clearly distinguish who we are and what we need, from other people and their needs. Creating and maintaining personal boundaries is a key way to cultivate physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
Why Are Personal Boundaries So Important?
Personal boundaries are an essential part of creating and upholding a healthy self-image. When a person has strong personal boundaries, it communicates to the world that they exude healthy self-respect and self-worth. Hence, creating boundaries makes us feel good about ourselves and preserves our personal integrity.
But without personal boundaries, we run the risk of confusing our needs and wants with others, which leads to codependency. Codependency is a term that describes a toxic one-sided relationship. It is impossible to enjoy a healthy relationship without strong and clear boundaries.
Without personal boundaries, there is also the risk of experiencing heightened stress and feelings of hopelessness. Overcommitting to everyone and everything tends to take a serious toll on your mental health, which can eventually lead to burnout. Or worse: a nervous breakdown.
Finally, a lack of personal boundaries can result in feelings of being worthless, weak, or not good enough. In other words, our self-esteem is severely impacted and we might struggle with issues such as chronic self-doubt or self-loathing. Not being able to voice our truth and communicate our needs in a clear way can be deeply distressing.
18 Signs You Have Poor Personal Boundaries
Pay attention to the following signs:
- You fail to speak up when you’re treated badly
- You give away too much of your time
- You agree with a person when you actually feel like disagreeing
- You say “yes” to a person when you want to say “no”
- You feel guilty for dedicating time to yourself
- You feel taken for granted by others
- You permit people to touch you when you feel uncomfortable or want them to stop
- You have toxic relationships (i.e. you are always giving, and the other is always taking)
- You make too many grand sacrifices for others at your own expense
- You are passive aggressive and might have manipulative tendencies (as a way of trying to regain your lost power)
- You constantly feel like the victim
- You feel like you have to “earn” respect by being nice
- You over-share details about your life with others
- You feel guilty when others aren’t happy (as if you’re responsible)
- You are what other people want/need you to be, and not who YOU need to be
- You’re out of touch with your needs
- You attract people who try to control or dominate you
- You have chronic fear about what others think of you
Why Do We Suffer From Poor Personal Boundaries?
Before you blame yourself for having poor boundaries, stop for a moment. I want you to understand that it wasn’t your fault, but it is your responsibility to now develop strong boundaries. So take a moment to feel some compassion for yourself.
As children, we had no control what our parents, teachers, and the adults around us taught us. Most people who possess absent or weak personal boundaries were set a bad example when young. Observing codependent dynamics within our families contributed a lot to this issue, as well as being taught that love = what we did, not who we were.
As a child, the first role models you had of “acceptable” behavior were your parents and family members. So pause to reflect here: what messages did your mother, father, siblings, or other adults send to you growing up? Were you only given love when you pretended to be who your parents wanted you to be? Were you only rewarded when you went out of the way to sacrifice your needs and desires in favor of someone else’s? Were you punished for saying “no” or speaking up? Did you feel obliged to emotionally “take care” of an adult, perhaps a parent? These were all signs that you were taught that lacking personal boundaries equaled a “good” thing.
5 Myths About Personal Boundaries
If you struggle with setting clear boundaries, you might carry a number of mistaken beliefs that you were conditioned to believe.
Here are some myths that I want you to become aware of:
- “Having personal boundaries is selfish.” This is an unhealthy perception. Having personal boundaries is a form of self-respect and is part of possessing good self-esteem. All mentally and emotionally healthy people possess boundaries.
- “Having personal boundaries will cause my relationships to suffer.” If you are in a codependent relationship, creating boundaries will most certainly create uncomfortable waves of change. If your partner is codependently entangled with you, he/she will be shocked and will certainly resist your efforts to be happy and healthy. The same thing goes for codependent friendships. If this is the case, I encourage you to consider whether being in a toxic relationship/friendship is worth it. Any healthy and supportive relationship will actually THRIVE and encourage the establishment of personal boundaries.
- “Having personal boundaries will cause people to dislike me.” This is only partly true. The reality is that yes, setting clear boundaries might step on a few people’s toes. But creating boundaries will also cause more people to respect, hear, and like you. There is nothing more admirable than a person who refuses to take bullshit from others. Not only that but when you set boundaries, you will actually attract more people who are willing to respect you and be authentic friends/lovers.
- “Having personal boundaries will make me miserable.” This is a common concern. But my response is simple: creating personal boundaries might feel uncomfortable at first, but pretty soon it’ll make you feel empowered and in control of your life again. So the opposite here is true: having personal boundaries will actually make you MUCH happier!
- “Having personal boundaries sounds rigid.” Personal boundaries are not black or white or set in stone. They are flexible according to your needs in the moment.
12 Benefits of Creating Strong Personal Boundaries
Here’s what you can expect from putting in the hard work of setting clear boundaries:
- You’ll be able to say “no”
- You’ll feel empowered again
- You’ll feel more in control of your life
- You’ll attract healthy + supportive partners and friends
- You’ll have more mental, emotional, and physical energy
- You’ll be able to speak up and be heard
- You’ll feel more appreciated and valued
- You’ll be more in touch with your needs
- You’ll spend more time on yourself (without the guilt)
- You’ll experience more emotional balance and happiness
- You’ll experience increased self-esteem and self-worth
- You’ll feel more courage and freedom to be yourself
Remember that these qualities won’t develop overnight, but with practice and persistence, you will be able to experience these wonderful benefits.
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How to Create Personal Boundaries That People Don’t Ignore
Creating boundaries is less about other people and more about you and the beliefs and mindsets you have. The following practices and pieces of advice will help you to target both your core beliefs and habitual behaviors.
1. Understand that you have the right to have boundaries
Lurking underneath the surface of people-pleasing behavior is the belief that we “have no right” to set boundaries. It’s time to challenge this ingrained assumption. Why are others allowed to have boundaries and not you? Why must you feel like a lesser human being and elevate others above yourself? It is a fundamental right of all human beings to have personal boundaries. Consider it your birthright to establish boundaries that define and protect you. Not only is it your right to create boundaries, but it is also your responsibility.
2. Understand that your thoughts, feelings, and needs are equally important to others
No one’s thoughts, feelings or needs are “above” anyone else’s. Social status is an illusion created by the human mind – in other words, the Queen of England’s needs are equal to a homeless person’s needs. The only division created between us and others exists in the mind. Therefore, you are not “less important,” valuable, or worthy than others. Your needs are equally important to those in your life. Learn to see yourself as equal to others. Affirm your worth each and every day with a mantra such as “I am worthy and my needs are important.” Learn to distrust and disagree with those who try to make you think or feel otherwise.
3. Explore your needs
Likely, you don’t have much experience or knowledge of your needs, especially if you ignore them to cater to other’s demands. Now is the time to start learning more about yourself. Keep a daily journal in which you record your thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires. Practicing self-reflection and introspection will help you to become more in tune with what you really need at any given moment. Practicing mindfulness is another powerful way to know what boundaries you need to set during the day. Dedicate to a self-discovery practice each day and aim to learn more about who you are and what you really want out of life. This is one of the best ways to begin setting personal boundaries. A fun way to start learning about who you are is by taking self-discovery tests (take a look at our tests).
4. Practice daily self-care (because you’re worth it!)
Practicing daily self-care is a supplementary practice that will bolster your ability to set clear personal boundaries. When you get into the habit of nurturing yourself, you are already setting yourself up for success. You’re sending yourself the message that “I’m worth taking care of.” Setting firm boundaries will then seem like the next natural step in your self-care routine.
Simple ways to perform self-care include taking time to relax, practicing meditation, making delicious and nutritious food for yourself, exercising, setting daily goals, complimenting yourself, rewarding yourself, taking a nap, connecting with nature, drinking a soothing cup of tea, and many other practices. Check out this article on self-love for more suggestions.
5. Learn to say “no”
Saying no is a key part of learning to be assertive and honoring your needs. You don’t need to flat out or aggressively say “no” if the situation doesn’t call for it. Instead, you can try saying phrases such as “no thank you,” “I can’t,” “I’m not able to,” “Not now,” “I’m busy, sorry,” “Maybe next time,” and so forth.
6. Identify when people cross the line
It’s not always easy to identify when others overstep your boundaries, particularly if you’re used to not having any. Take time to record in a private journal each day all of the moments when you felt uncomfortable, upset, or disrespected by someone during the day. This journaling exercise will help you to develop more self-awareness.
Another way to know when people have overstepped your boundaries is by tuning into your body. Try to notice when you feel sensations like butterflies in your stomach, tension, or an increase in blood pressure which will manifest as feeling flustered and hot. Use these sensations as triggers to help you tune into the present moment and practice assertiveness.
7. Stop overcommitting
You are not obliged or indebted to uphold every single social commitment that you have. Don’t try to please others at your own expense. Committing too much to other people and circumstances creates stress and burnout. Learn to say no to non-essential things like work get-togethers, parties, and other social duties that are not life-or-death.
8. Be courageous: let go of toxic friendships and relationships
It takes a certain level of courage to make a commitment to keeping personal boundaries. Fake friends and flimsy relationships will inevitably self-destruct and fizzle away. This might leave you feeling guilty, ashamed, or like you’re doing something wrong. It is important in these tough times to keep affirming that setting personal boundaries is your fundamental human right. You are WORTH it. Those who are trying to control, use, or abuse you will try to stop you, but don’t let them hold you back. Cut away those who are polluting your life and seek out new friendships that are supportive and uplifting.
9. Seek help (but not from friends or family)
If you’re still needing help setting strong personal boundaries, chances are that those around you probably reinforce this behavior. So it’s not a wise idea to seek advice from them, however well-intentioned they may be. If you need more in-depth advice and personal assistance, I recommend either reading a book such as Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No by Henry Cloud and John Townsend or seek the help of a therapist (or both).
Finally, remember to be gentle with yourself and show compassion. You were not responsible for developing poor boundaries (it was how you were conditioned). But you are responsible for now changing them and owning your personal power. I hope this article can help you do that.
What experiences have you had with people overstepping your boundaries? And what advice can you give to others in your situation? Please share below!