Ask any addiction expert and they’ll tell you- addicts are master manipulators. Unfortunately, I encounter manipulators in more areas than just my career as a social worker. I frequently have to take the time to consider my boundaries in order to avoid being manipulated by someone else.
‘Boundaries’ is more than just a fancy word that therapists use when talking about your parents. Everyone has boundaries, but not everyone is thoughtful about them. They impact your emotional health immensely. And if you’re not careful, other people will define your boundaries
You have boundaries with your family, your spouse, your friends, your coworkers, your customers. Boundaries are what help you turn down a friend for coffee when you’re tired and need to rest. Boundaries are what keep you from talking about your sex life to your in-laws. They’re kind of a big deal.
So, how do you know if you need to work on your boundaries? Here’re four signs to watch out for:
1- You believe that your hurt feelings are someone else’s responsibility.
If you are spending Christmas grumpy because other people let you down, you have bad boundaries. Emotional maturity means taking responsibility for your own feelings. No one owes it to you to take care of your feelings- you are the only one with that role. You are responsible for your own happiness.
2- You’re too invested in other people’s lives.
You find yourself caring a little too much about what decisions your friends or family make. Have you ever found yourself with hurt feelings because someone made a decision that had nothing to do with you? That’s because your view of where you end and another person begins are unclear. Good boundaries means having the ability to say, “This person’s life is their own; I can support and love them but their decisions don’t have the ability to make or break me.”
No one else is allowed to tell you how to live, and you’re not allowed to tell other people this. (Please note: this is not speaking of intervening when friends are making wrong or dangerous decisions. This is referring to things such as career, education, or relationship choices.)
3- You can’t say no.
Or, when you say no, you feel guilty. I’ve had times when I’ve turned down a friend to hang out, only to find that I couldn’t enjoy the other plans I had because I felt so guilty about it. Whether it’s because you feel guilty, you care what people think of you, or just because it’s a habit, saying no can be hard, but it is a major way of setting boundaries. It’s okay that you can’t be everything to everyone. Decide what your priorities are and stick with them- and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for doing so.
4- You can’t stay away from people who disrespect your boundaries.
So, what happens when a friend doesn’t abide by the clear boundaries you’ve set? Boundaries only exist when they’re enforced. If someone repeatedly acts in ways that are inappropriate or make you feel uncomfortable, it’s time to make sure they’re not in a position in your life to continue to do so. If your neighbor keeps coming over late at night to chat, and you have work the next morning, eventually it’s time to stop answering the door. This isn’t an unloving thing to do- you can love your neighbor and still get to bed on time.
Sometimes, the best way to love someone is to show them that there are consequences to their actions. Sometimes, you will have to hurt a friends’ feelings to maintain your boundaries. As long as you’re not being a jerk about it, it’s okay for them to be hurt. Their feelings are not your responsibility, and you’re not doing them any favors pretending like they are.