How can I set my personal boundaries and make sure people respect them?

How can I set my personal boundaries and make sure people respect them?

So many of us struggle with personal boundaries. We feel that to be worthy of other people’s love or appreciation, we must always be helpful, even if that means putting aside our own needs and feelings.

And so we end up saying yes when we want to say no.
Or we can accept abuse in our relationships because we feel its okay
Or we can let other people’s urgent problems become our own
Or we constantly feel the need to apologize
And a zillion other ways of putting ourselves on the back burner.

Of course we diminish our own levels of wellbeing, but it also leads to emotional turmoil. Meet anyone who is doing too much for others, or neglecting their own self in the process, and you’ll also meet their counterpart who’s angry and resentful. You know the feeling – when we feel resentful that we’re the one who’s always giving. Or angry and hurt when we don’t get back the love and appreciation we wanted in the first place.

The good news is that we can use this very feeling of anger and resentment to set our boundaries – because anger is a sign that these boundaries have been violated. Ask yourself “What do I need to protect within me?” Is it my space, my time, my respect, my dignity…?”

Then be clear on how you’ll communicate this to the other person in a way that’s direct and reasonable.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Don’t blame or accuse – it’ll simply make the other person defensive. Instead, start with saying something good – it will likely soften them and open the doors of communication.

Be specific – don’t assume they know what – even if you think they should know what you want! People are generally not mind readers – and even when they do try, they normally do a bad job of it…

Express emotions – and no, I don’t mean being aggressive or weepy! Let the other person know how their behavior makes you feel. This comes with a word of caution – if it’s a colleague you’re talking with, you’ll want to tone this down somewhat!

Listen! Encourage the other person to say what they feel about the situation. This is an important aspect of building boundaries because after all, boundaries shouldn’t be cast in stone. None of us wants to live in 1-woman castles – even if it sometimes feels like that’s just what we need! We need others in our lives, and working towards win-win communication is the best way to ensure that our boundaries are honored.

What strategies have you used to set your own personal boundaries? What’s helped you, and what hasn’t? Please share!

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3 thoughts on “How can I set my personal boundaries and make sure people respect them?”

  1. In regards to accepting a present. A. not important to him/her. Recently, I shared my self-worth goal with my husband, which meant a tremendous amount to me. Before happify I knew I wanted to write books but kept making excuses. I emphasized before I told my husband this was important to me, although I guess I did not go into detail how much I needed positive encouragement and feedback from him. He barely acknowledged my comment. I got real angry and hurt because it is rare that he expresses emotions or shares my level of enthusiasm and excitement for music, nature, my goals, etc that are important to me. He has always had trouble expressing himself. In the past when he did express himself it was only with anger, negativity, or put downs. We went to couple counseling for a year and it has been terrific how much he has calmed down with tone and how he says things. However, I feel like I don’t or can’t even share things with him because basically he won’t be excited or positively supportive. He is my husband and I feel I don’t have him to share the most important things in my life!!! He sometimes acts like “a bump on a log” when expressing emotions or noticing beauty. I get very exuberant and excited and expect others to react similarly.

  2. That’s certainly very hurtful Christine – I feel for you. Feeling appreciated, acknowledged, loved is the most primary need we have – and not getting it actually hurts like physical pain.
    There are 2 things you can do in this situation.
    One, let him know how you feel – not by pointing fingers, or sulking, but by talking it out. Let him know the station (when you brought up your goal), how you felt (rejected, hurt etc), and what you’d have wanted him to do instead (look at you, express his belief in you, ask more about it etc). Then listen to what he has to say – if he gets abusive, you’ll refuse to let the conversation continue. If he’s still unresponsive, leave its at that. Perhaps he’ll come around later. Perhaps he’ll get better over time. And perhaps you’ll just learn to nurture other relationships that cheer you on.
    Secondly, recognize how you’re reacting internally – what are you saying to yourself about him/the situation. If you’re reacting with extreme emotion, its likely your thoughts are extreme and perhaps somewhat distorted. And even if they aren’t exaggerated, they’re certainly not helping you. So be kind to yourself – practice self-compassion, and decide to be there for yourself first and foremost AND work patiently at helping him be there for you too. It’ll help you to think about his positive qualities as well so you see the full picture.
    I know this is all very difficult in the moment, but work at it slowly, and know that every time you do, you transform yourself as a person a little more every day. There’s no greater joy than that!

  3. Dear Homaira,

    I, too, live with a totally unexpressive husband. My first husband was, yet so emotionally, verbally, & psychologically abusive to me to the point where I gained the strength to leave him. I am the type who needs my husband to express his feelings toward me as secure as I am; some don’t seem to need this, but deep down I think they do. My mom mostly expressed anger to me, since she abused me as a young child, for which I have forgiven her. I had a very low self-esteem as a result of this, and for many years I have been in therapy which resulted in much insight about my self and realized the beautiful qualities about myself. My mom just told me only a few months ago that I am beautiful with or without makeup and I expressed to her how shocked I was to hear that from her since she never told me before, and her reaction was one of surprise. My husband has multiple sclerosis which is getting worse and worse. His memory has become impaired, so from moment to moment he forgets things and does not listen to me. There is a lot of miscommunication between us as a result, which is not the way it has always been between us because we have always communicated well. We both have chronic pain so it is a very stressful situation. When I do gently tell him to express himself more to me, he says he already does. Truthfully, the only time he expresses himself about me is when we are intimate with each other. But that is just not enough for me. I need encouragement, I need to be told I am beautiful with and without makeup and intelligent, which I already know and feel that I am. But even though I know this, it would be nice if my husband told me that and thanked me for all I do for him. I am and have been told by many people about the qualities I possess. I am very much the expressive type both verbally and in written communication. I have no problem complimenting people or telling them that I love them. Living with someone who is so macho and keeps his feelings inside about me hurts me, yet, I know he does love me and thinks I am beautiful inside and out. But sometimes even though we feel that way inside, it is so wonderful when your husband expresses that to you. I cannot change this man; it is just not in him. I tell him over and over in a nice way, but like I wrote, he tells me he already does. I brag about him in front of people, yet, he will never, ever do that for me. So be it. I know my talents and the good about me, so I guess it is what it is. I just have to accept it. He is such a private person with others, even “friends” from childhood. He even said that even though he has known these guys for over 40 years, they do not really know him. Many women are so different. The bottom line is we cannot change qualities in a person. Working on it with him would be virtually impossible. We don’t need couples counseling over this. We both would go if the marriage was not working out or we fell out of love with one another, etc. Lack of expression on his part is something I have accepted. This is not to say he can work on it. I don’t think he ever will because he feels and thinks that he already does express himself with me, and it just is not enough for me. I can’t have every quality in a man that I wish they had. I cannot argue with him over this. Being under stress beyond belief is hard enough on us. I do not want to make it worse. He does express about work, how he feels about our family members, etc. But the expression I need is just different. I have to just confirm to myself how I am and how I feel about myself, and I think that is enough for me.

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