Setting Invisible Boundaries

I tend to think of boundaries as physical. If you own a house, there are stakes in the ground that let you know where the property lines are. In many sports, there are well defined boundaries. If you go outside of those boundaries the results can result in you losing the game. We even set physical boundaries telling others how close they can get to us. What about invisible emotional boundaries? We can’t see them but they are there, aren’t they? I am a people pleaser. When I was a child I wanted to make everyone around me happy, so I learned to do whatever anyone wanted to please them. When I became an adult I did the same thing. I would lend money to people that eventually wouldn’t pay me back. I let some individuals take advantage of my time. I did my best to help them, but when I needed help they would not help me.

When I was in college, I was friends with someone that didn’t have a car so she would ask me to drive her places. It wasn’t just around campus but throughout the city. I never asked for gas money and was never offered any but I was trying to be nice. My friend had asked me to take her somewhere a particular day and I said sure. Well there was an emergency that came up and I wasn’t able to take her where she needed to go. I called and left a message that I couldn’t take her and I was crying as I left the message. I thought for sure she would call and ask me what was wrong, could she help me out. I didn’t hear from her. Even when I saw her a few days later, no mention of the phone call. She even asked me a few weeks after this if I wanted to go out and eat. I said sure. Her next response was- I don’t have any money. You see, she had done this before. We would go somewhere to eat and then she remembered she had no money. I ended up paying for both meals. This time I didn’t pay. My response was, “I guess I’ll go by myself then.” Seems rude doesn’t it. But I started setting a boundary. She stopped talking to me after I set that boundary. I wish I could say that was the last time I let someone cross the line in my life but it wasn’t. Eventually I got to the point where I had to stop letting people take advantage of me. It made me feel horrible and just enabled the other person to continue in their self-defeating behavior. Here are a few steps I took to set some boundaries:

1. Don't respond right away when you get a call or text: I had a family member that was always negative when they called me. When I talked to them on the phone, it took me four weeks to mentally recover from the conversation. Eventually I stopped answering the phone and let them leave a message. I listened to the message to make sure it wasn’t an emergency. Most of the time it wasn’t. They wanted to complain about someone else.

2. When in a face to face conversation with someone overstepping a boundary, learn to walk away: You control you! Just walk away. I'm not saying to be rude to someone that’s insulting you or making you feel guilty for no reason. You can tell them you need to go and will talk to them later. You don’t even have to tell them where you are going.

3. Schedule a time to talk to the person and let them know your boundaries: Talking to someone who always crosses your boundaries may not be easy. They may use the same tactics they have in the past to get you to do what they want you to do. I had someone who used to call me at work all the time. I finally told them one day, “Unless you are going to the hospital or someone is injured, do not call me at work.” The calls I used to receive at work stopped after that. I let them know I could talk to them at another time.

Don’t feel like you are being mean when you let others know what you will and will not do for them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t help people that need help. There comes a point when you aren’t helping them but enabling them to continue in negative behavior. When someone that always asks you for money asks again, tell them you will sit down with them to help them do a budget. If it’s someone that always wants to talk to you at work, tell them when you will be available to give them your undivided attention. Setting boundaries is about taking care of yourself so you can give the best of yourself to others.


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