A psychological boundary is an imaginary line that separates you and your stuff — thoughts, feelings, needs, preferences, problems, responsibilities — from other people and their stuff.
Boundaries are essential to peace of mind and good mental hygiene.
That’s because, without boundaries, you can’t tell where your stuff ends and the other guy’s begins.
Which makes you entirely too vulnerable to live among other people. Sort of like a nudist living among cacti.
Most people understand this, if only on the intuitive level.
What they don’t understand is how to set boundaries.
So here’s a quick guide:
1. Boundary-setting starts in your head.
2. It does not signify lack of love or compassion, that you’ve stopped caring for or about people.
3. It does signify a decision to take better care of yourself, to treat yourself with the same love and respect you show others.
4. It also requires facing your fear that, if you show who you really are, the people in your life will judge or reject you.
5. Boundary-setting starts with reclassifying stimuli — taking triggers from the MUST FIX THIS box and moving them to boxes labeled BEYOND MY CONTROL or NOT MY BUSINESS. This redraws your personal boundary as a smaller circle that contains less for you to struggle with.
6. One way to do this is by using the three questions I write about in chapter 65 of Monkeytraps:
~ What am I trying to control here?
~ Have I had any luck controlling this in the past?
~ If not, what can I do instead? (Surrender? Practice responsibility? Risk intimacy?)
7. The next step is to practice redefining your boundaries out in the world. Usually this begins with saying No to something you’ve said Yes to previously.
8. Boundary-setting takes courage. (Reread #4 above.) This is especially true if you’ve trained the people around you to see your boundaries as blurred or nonexistent. They’ll be used to your trying to help, rescue or fix them, and may feel hurt or bewildered if you stop. So it’s a good idea to explain beforehand what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it.
9. Boundary-setting requires support. Try to find at least one person who understand what you’re doing and able to provide permission and encouragement.
10. You may find that some important people in your life — like family members — refuse to acknowledge or respect your new boundaries. This is not uncommon. The most common reason for it is that they themselves lack healthy boundaries, and so are unable to tolerate yours. If it happens, you may feel hurt and surprised. You may even feel discouraged about setting boundaries in general. Don’t lose heart. Set new boundaries where you can, with the people healthy enough to let you do it. Each new boundary you set is like making a deposit in your emotional bank account. Over time the deposits accrue, and you find yourself feeling stronger and more confident with everyone.