It’s that time of year when everyone is setting New Year’s resolutions and thinking about how they can create goals to improve various aspects of their lives. Whether or not you already have a resolution in mind, I invite you to think about your interpersonal relationships and whether your interactions with others tend to bring you satisfaction and feelings of fulfillment or stress and turmoil.
Having survived the holidays and, perhaps, time with family and friends, stop and consider your overall experience. Did you feel joy in being surrounded by loved ones? Or did you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, resentful, or hurt by demands, criticism, chaos, and conflict? Maybe you experienced a mix of things.
Relationships can be tricky. The people we love and those we are closest to can sometimes cause us the most stress, really getting under our skin, especially when times are busy and tensions are raised. Even interactions with strangers can be challenging and leave us feeling irritated or deflated. When you find it difficult to act assertively, convey your needs and desires, and uphold appropriate boundaries, it can be impossible to feel content with interpersonal exchanges.
The best way to protect against tension, disorder, and the build-up of negative feelings is by establishing and exercising healthy boundaries. Take a look at the challenges you face in relationships and think about the problems you’ve encountered in various interactions. Do you often feel frustrated or offended in certain situations? Do you find yourself wishing you’d said or done something differently? If so, you may benefit from reassessing and reestablishing better boundaries.
Boundaries are the guidelines and limits we set in relationships that influence our interactions with others. They are like invisible property lines that are meant to create peace and harmony by providing protection and establishing clear divisions. Boundaries can be conveyed both verbally through what we say as well as nonverbally by our actions and demeanor. Physical boundaries indicate who we allow to touch us and under what circumstances; mental boundaries allow us to have our own thoughts and opinions; and emotional boundaries give us permission to have our own feelings and to disengage from the harmful, damaging, manipulative, or abusive actions of others.
Boundaries play a role in your sense of identity and help you to recognize who you are as an individual. They are guided by how you feel about yourself and are indicated by the messages you convey to others about how to interact with you. It’s often said we teach others how to treat us. This is because our words and actions convey our boundaries and let others know what we expect from them, what we will tolerate, and where we draw the line in various exchanges.
As much as you can, separate yourself from bad situations, toxic people, or those who continually hurt you or fail to respect your boundaries. Instead, surround yourself with relationships that allow you to feel heard and respected.
The healthiest boundaries are well-defined, consistent, and openly communicated, making it easy for others to be clear on what we will allow, tolerate, and put up with. They are also flexible enough to adapt as people or circumstances change. Good boundaries help others to understand our expectations so they can act accordingly.
Undefined, unclear, or poorly communicated boundaries are a breeding ground for disrespect, aggression, and inequality. They set the stage for conflict in relationships and may lead to unhealthy dynamics, power imbalances, and general dissatisfaction. When we have weak boundaries, we become vulnerable to being controlled, taken for granted, or taken advantage of by others. We may have a hard time saying no or expressing what we need. We may fear hurting other people’s feelings, making someone angry, being seen as selfish, or causing irreparable damage in relationships.
Setting appropriate boundaries is necessary to help keep you safe and happy in your environment and relationships. We develop our boundaries by what we are taught and what we witness in the examples modeled by others throughout our childhood; however, boundaries are not set in stone. They are something you can reassess and change to fit your current needs and state of being. If poor boundaries have been an issue for you, there are steps you can take to begin establishing healthier boundaries in order to create more satisfying relationships and a healthier life.
Our boundaries can be a reflection of our level of self-esteem, so work to build self-esteem and come to believe that your needs, wants, and desires are important. Watch out for irrational and ineffective internal messages that suggest you don’t deserve respect and happiness. Reconsider fearful beliefs that tell you it will be terrible to rock the boat or upset somebody else. On the contrary, being honest regarding our needs and upfront in our dealings with others leads to effective conflict resolution and healthier, mutually satisfying relationships.
As much as you can, separate yourself from bad situations, toxic people, or those who continually hurt you or fail to respect your boundaries. Instead, surround yourself with relationships that allow you to feel heard and respected. It is important to maintain your hobbies, friends, and interests in order to preserve your identity and uphold a sense of independence. Be careful not to give up the things you enjoy or routinely sacrifice your needs to please others. Develop assertiveness skills to help you voice your opinion, speak your mind, and convey your needs and requests. When you demonstrate self-respect and the confidence to seek satisfaction and protection for yourself, you set appropriate boundaries and send others the message that you expect to be treated well by them, too.
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