Updated: Nov 25, 2021
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. I felt like I had done something wrong or else this person would not be taking advantage of me. The next step was to eat until I wouldn't feel anything. This of course didn't help my weight and it created another issue I had to deal with. I found that setting boundaries helped me realize I'm not a bad person if I say no to someone. If anything, it's a way to keep me mentally and physically healthy so I can help others. Maybe you have found yourself in the same type of situation. You have people in your life that overstep your physical and emotional boundaries without thinking of how it makes you feel. Here are three steps you can take to start setting invisible boundaries in your life:
1. Don't respond right away when you get a call, text message or an email: 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. In today's world, we can communicate with anyone at anytime in the world. Many of us become impatient when a text message isn't answered right away or a phone call isn't retuned quickly. When you don't respond right away, it gives you the opportunity to think about your answer and whether the request that was asked of you is one you can fulfil. Use the feature many phones have to set an automatic response. You can set a text message that says, "I am currently unavailable." You can set an automatic response on your emails that you are not available for a certain time. Leave instructions on your automatic replies for emergencies. If it is a true emergency, get back to the person right away. What the other person may think is an emergency may not be your definition of an emergency. It may feel easier to set a boundary in the area of phone and email communication, but how to do set a boundary when you are talking face to face with someone? This leads to the second way to set an invisible boundary.
2. When in a face to face conversation with someone overstepping a boundary, it's okay 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. You may feel like you are being rude to the person you are walking away from. That person might even make a comment you are a rude person and only think about yourself. If you decide to respond, do so with a direct answer and let the other person know you will not let them treat you in this way. If you are in a situation that your physical safety is an issue, please get help. Go to a public place if it is just the two of you or call for assistance from local law enforcement if you feel threatened. When you have always let the other person overstep the boundaries you had and now you say no, they will not be happy when you assert yourself. The family member that used to call me to complain did tell me how selfish I was for not always answering their calls. I tried to tell them why I didn't always answer their calls right away but my answer only made them more angry. I had to eventually let it go and do what was best for me. Setting this boundary is about doing what is best for you.
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.
You are probably the type of person that loves to help everyone. Helping others at the expense of your health is not healthy. You want to be at your best so you can help others be their best. This starts with setting the invisible boundaries so you can have time to plan your meals, get exercise and take care of your mental health. You are worth it.
About Gwen Alexander
I am a Speaker, Author and host of the podcast, Losing Weight to Gain Control . I help individuals create a plan to lose weight and create a life they don't use food to escape from.