There are different types of boundaries like emotional boundaries and physical boundaries to name a few. In this article we talk about how to set emotional boundaries.
Physical boundary is related to the space around you, your privacy and things that belong to you and emotional boundary is about knowing what feelings you are responsible for and what belongs to others.
Physical boundaries are violated if someone touches you without your permission, gets too close to you, goes through your belongings, walks into your room without your permission, opens your mail, checks your phone etc.
Emotional boundaries are violated when you take on someone else’s problems as yours. You blame yourself for their problems, they blame you for their problems or you blame others for your problems. When you sacrifice your needs to make other people happy. When you take on other people’s feelings and you feel responsible to make them feel better.
Example of what emotional boundaries look like
Saying no to things that you cannot accommodate, for example, saying no to working on weekends or after hours at work.
Expressing your feelings and needs clearly. If something your friend said made you uncomfortable then let them know how you feel and what you need to feel comfortable
Delegating tasks to people and allowing yourself room to breath. If there is too much on your plate then delegate work to others and don’t try to do everything alone
Prioritizing yourself without feeling guilty. When you decide to prioritize your needs and know exactly why you are doing it the guilt will not show up. Eg, if you decide that “every Friday evening is my time”, then canceling or saying no to anything that comes up on Friday evenings will not make you feel guilty.
Stop volunteering your time to please people. As you prioritize yourself you will start valuing yourself and your time.
How to set emotional boundaries?
Here are few steps you can follow to set boundaries.
Connecting with your feelings and needs to help identify your emotional boundaries
Every boundary begins with self awareness. Connecting with your feelings will help you realize what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable which will help guide you in setting your boundaries.
If your friend takes the time you spent with them to only talk about themselves and how difficult things are for them. Notice how that makes you feel. If you feel exhausted and drained then it would indicate that the relationship might not be reciprocal and needs boundaries.
You can set a boundary while showing support for them. Express what you have noticed, “I have noticed that every time we meet you talk about how things are difficult in your life, I think you might benefit from talking to a professional who can help you navigate your feelings through this. I don’t think I can be of much help”
Empathy does not mean taking on some else’s problems and making it your responsibility to find a solution for their problems.
Empathy is understanding and feeling their pain. The boundary around empathy is realizing that this is their journey and taking on their pain will not make their journey any less painful. You can stay grounded in your own system while making space for them. You have to let them carry their pain and trust them to be resilient enough and have the inner strength to get through it.
If you get a sense that the relationship whether it’s a friendship, family or a romantic relationship needs you to take their problem on for them, then they might be putting you in a caretakers role. Check with yourself and notice how that role makes you feel and also notice what is keeping you stuck in that role.
Identify what’s holding you back from setting emotional boundaries and work through that
As you start connecting with your feelings and needs you will also become aware if something is holding you back from setting the boundaries needed. Sometimes even though we know something is making us uncomfortable and we want to change it. We are not able to allow ourselves to take the steps needed to make the change.
Here are a few factors that can hold you back from setting boundaries
People pleasing- If you are concerned about disappointing people then you might not be able to set boundaries in spite of feeling uncomfortable. You might want to avoid a conflict over expressing your needs.
Fear of abandonment– If you are scared that setting a boundary might result in people ostracizing you from the group. You might fear that saying no to an invitation would mean not getting another invite or setting boundaries at work might hurt your chances of a promotion.
Not knowing how to set a boundary– Maybe you are unsure about what is an appropriate way of setting a boundary. You might have grown up in an environment that lacked boundaries and you don’t have a role model that you could learn this skill from.
Self doubt– Sometimes we don’t trust our own intuition. Even if something makes us feel uncomfortable or having noticed red flags we don’t act on our intuition and set boundaries. The self doubt could be because of low self esteem. Not being able to value and prioritize yourself.
It’s important to seek the right help and work through these blocks. Connecting with yourself and working through the blocks will also help you identify your boundaries. Once you start prioritizing yourself you will know exactly what would make you feel comfortable in a specific situation.
Set emotional boundaries by expressing your needs precisely and clearly
The key to setting boundaries is being direct and straightforward with what you need and expressing it in a calm and polite manner. For example, if you are your friend’s ride on the way back home from a party and you need to leave early then let your friend know ahead of time by saying that, “I don’t mind giving you a ride back home but I have to leave at 9pm, if you are planning to staying there later than that then I might not be able to be your ride back.” It’s important to be very specific and clear about expectations. You don’t need to apologize or give an explanation for your need.
We start with tighter boundaries and slowly depending on how you feel you can make your boundaries flexible. For example, you don’t share everything about yourself with someone on the first date, you take the time to get to know them. Slowly as you get comfortable in the relationship you get more and more vulnerable. Boundaries are tighter in the
beginning, you don’t invite them to your home or introduce them to your friends. As you start trusting them you let them into your inner circle.
If a boundary is violated then express that as soon as you notice it. Make your boundary very clear in the beginning of the relationship. Then address them as soon as they are violated. Don’t assume that people will know your boundaries if you have not made them clear. Also, don’t wait for your boundary to be violated several times before you say something.
For example, If your friend calls you almost every evening to chat and you are exhausted after work and don’t want to talk, you might need that time to decompress. But, you feel bad for your friend because you know she feels lonely as she does not have that many friends, so you force yourself to talk to them. You might get resentful towards your friend and start avoiding her calls if you don’t express your boundary to them. A clear boundary would look like, “I would love to chat with you but I am really exhausted during weekdays. Let’s set some time aside every other weekend to chat.”
It’s not easy to set boundaries. It is scary and vulnerable. Trust your intuitions, listen to your feelings. These boundaries are for you not for other people. They are to keep you safe. Prioritize yourself and set boundaries.
Check out the article on how to say no politely to learn tips on saying no.
Check out my article on are you a people pleaser, if you want to learn more about people pleasing.