Updated: Apr 14
Boundaries are meant to keep people out. They are meant to protect what is within. Boundaries keep others in their lane and prevent them from getting into protected areas, where they do not belong and/or could possibly do harm. We put boundaries in place to protect ourselves, and as a form of protection, boundaries are one of the best tools for maintaining our own selfcare. Boundaries are the lines we draw to define how we will interact with others, and how others will be permitted to interact with us.
Boundaries are one of the best selfcare tools we have because it keeps our space free of intrusion. Boundaries tell people how we will be treated, talked to, imposed upon, or not. Boundaries, however, are only as strong as the voice we use to communicate their existence. And, in communicating our boundaries, we are not just restricting access; we are speaking our truth. We are standing up for what is right for us and we are defining our self worth in very tangible, non-negotiable ways. This takes strength. This takes courage. This takes honesty with self and others. Boundaries communicate self worth.
Knowing we need to set boundaries, (planning), then putting them in place, (implementing), and actually enforcing them are two different things. When setting boundaries we are restricting or denying access; we are placing borders around what can and cannot happen, and this can be risky. We risk the emotional toll this may take on others, who may get hurt or angry. We risk possibly straining the relationship. But what we often fail to honor in this risk, is the most important risk to our own wellbeing if we do not plan, implement and actively manage our boundaries. Failure to honor our own self worth with boundaries undermines our own wellbeing.
Think about your boundaries. What are they? What do they need to be? A common boundary many can relate to is around people who gossip. We may know one or more friends/family members that for reasons unknown, say negative and disparaging things about others. They sit in front of us and anyone else who will listen, sharing things that are not theirs to share, and doing so in damaging and hurtful ways.
Gossip is a breach of trust and confidence and is very toxic to relationships. Setting a boundary around gossip behavior is a healthy way of protecting yourself from the toxicity, while also communicating to those engaging in gossip that this is not acceptable and you will not be a part of it. This boundary may also quietly, and powerfully, send a larger message about gossiping and the importance of honest, kind and trustworthy communications.
Imagine a person in your life that gossips. This person could be someone as close to you as a spouse, a parent, sibling or best friend, so speaking your truth may also come with risks. If you were to say to this person, “I honor our relationship, and when you bring this kind of talk to me, it’s painful to hear. I do not enjoy it and it serves no value in my relationship with others. From now on, I am going to ask that we find other things to discuss when we are together.”; you would be speaking from a place of integrity; not silently allowing toxicity to continue. Integrity is of value. Protecting your own integrity adds value to your own sense of self worth. Gossip is not valuable and it never feels good. Being able to stand up for your integrity allows you an opportunity to stand up for your own worth; your own value. And it is here that the boundary reinforces this value. It is here that setting a boundary protects you from being exposed to and engaging in toxic behavior, or silently condoning it. Boundaries are powerful selfcare tools.
As a self care tool, boundaries are particularly important in grief. In what can be the most vulnerable of times for us, the need to protect our own emotional wellbeing is incredibly high. It can be difficult to even think about setting, implementing and protecting boundaries in grief, let alone even finding the words to communicate our boundaries to protect ourselves. People can say the most insensitive things, and whether or not they are intentional, the ability to set boundaries to halt such insensitivity is important.
One way to manage a soft approach to boundary setting while in grief is to remember the words, “not helpful”. When someone offers advice, their point of view or suggestions that are simply unwanted or unneeded; a kind, “That’s really not helpful right now.” is a gentle way to convey “this is not good for me, and I don’t want or need this”. This is not only a gentle way to convey a need, but it is a gentle way to also put aside unwanted and unnecessary thoughts around why someone would be insensitive to you during such a difficult time. In other words; a gentle verbal boundary can protect you, as well as convey the need for someone else to get back into their lane. Hopefully, the point will be well understood, and the boundary breaker will back off. If not; well, you may need to very clearly set the hard boundary or find a support person to help you take care of such things for you. Get reinforcements if you need them!
Setting and enforcing a boundary comes with risks. You may risk upsetting them (this is likely). You may risk them getting angry (again, possible). You may even risk the relationship (another possibility).
But what do you risk in not setting boundaries? You risk being part of someone else’s toxicity. You risk allowing others to think their voice should be heard and heeded over what is best for you. You risk reducing your self worth to save someone else’s emotions. And if you really think your relationship is at risk because you’re standing up for your own values and your own self worth; what does this really say about the relationship?
The bottom line is boundaries are necessary for our self care and they lend themselves to protecting and honoring our own value and self worth. Where can boundaries serve you? Who or what is intruding and compromising your value; your self worth? Find your voice. Boundaries begin today.