In the real world, what does setting boundaries look like?
It’s often less dramatic than you think.
Most often, setting boundaries in the real world is some version of, “don’t talk to me/treat me like that.”
There are things we can and can’t tolerate in relationships, and still maintain a reasonable sense of personal safety and self-respect.
One of the reasons boundaries exist is to keep some distance between us and people or behaviors that could potentially harm us.
If there is a person in your life who is habitually reckless and dismissive of your personal safety, for example, someone who drives distracted or intoxicated, a realistic safety-focused boundary might be, you’re not getting into a car with them.
If there is a person in your life who becomes unpredictable or unstable under the influence of substances, a realistic safety-focused boundary might be that you’re not spending time around them when they’re using.
Self-respect centered boundaries focus on respectful and appropriate interpersonal behavior.
If you have a person in your life who typically treats you with withering sarcasm or mockery, a self-respect-centered boundary might be to communicate to them that they are not to talk to you that way.
If you have a person indoor life who typically disregards your needs and preferences in decisions that affect you, a self-respect-centered boundary might be, they need to solicit your input and take it seriously if they want to continue in whatever relationship they have with you.
When you set a boundary, the other person always has a choice: to respect that boundary or not.
When somebody else chooses not to respect your boundary, you then have a choice: whether to continue in the relationship or not.
I don’t at all mean to be cavalier about the ending of relationships. Often the boundary-setting situations with which we most struggle involve people with whom we have longstanding, entrenched, complicated relationships that are not easily changed or ended.
I also don’t mean to suggest that every boundary violation is an automatic dealbreaker when it comes to continuing a relationship with somebody. It’s up to you how many chances to give somebody, or how seriously to take their violation of your boundary.
Here’s the thing, though: if there are no consequences to violating a boundary, there’s no reason for somebody prone to violating your boundaries to change their behavior.
In the end, it’s up to us to decide that our boundaries are important enough to enforce.
Enforcing boundaries is often anxiety-provoking, messy, and awkward.
We can often feel guilty when enforcing a boundary.
You don’t need to feel guilty for setting boundaries that help protect your personal safety or your self-respect.
Both your personal safety and your self-respect are worth protecting.
Both your personal safety and your self-respect are more important than somebody else’s hurt feelings.
There will ABSOLUTELY be people whose feelings will be hurt that we feel we need to set boundaries.
That bad driver doesn’t want to think they’re a bad driver or they make you feel unsafe. That substance abuser doesn’t want to think their problem is that bad. That person who is “fluent in sarcasm” thinks they’re just being themselves, and they’re probably annoyed with you for not rolling with it.
But constantly sacrificing our boundaries to other peoples’ preferences and comfort zones will quickly decimate our self-esteem.
And it’s really, really hard to build a life worth living when we’re constantly punking out on ourselves, giving up our boundaries, treating our personal safety and self-respect as unimportant.
Setting boundaries gets easier with practice.
Tolerating the guilt and anxiety that goes with setting boundaries will get easier.
And as you get and stay in the habit of setting appropriate boundaries, your self-esteem will rise— which will make a whole LOT of self-care behaviors a whole LOT easier.
Subscribe to the Doc’s free email newsletter!