Each of us has a set of values, hopes, dreams, and a ‘code’ that we would like to live by. Some of us are conscious of it, others ‘feel’ it, but may not be able to explain it in words. We know what all these things are because when they exist in our lives we feel peaceful and content. When we are NOT living in conjunction with our set of ‘inner beliefs and feelings’ – we tend to experience discontent, anxiety, depression, etc. Setting boundaries – becoming aware of where we’ve mentally drawn lines – and staying INSIDE of those lines as we proceed through our daily living, promotes a strong sense of self-respect, which in turn, promotes strong self-esteem.
Some of us don’t pay attention to (or have never consciously established) personal boundaries because we are fearful that we won’t be accepted. While it is true that boundaries can be too narrow and rigid, it is typically more problematic when boundaries are too wide and loose.
We learn about boundaries very early in age; when children learn not to show or let someone touch ‘private parts’ they are setting a boundary. When someone commits to no sex before age 16, they are setting a boundary. When a gal determines that a guy will cannot hit her without significant repercussions and termination of the relationship – that is a boundary.
We are often good at establishing and honoring physical boundaries but what about emotional boundaries? Emotional abuse is probably more common than physical abuse in our culture. Will you tolerate if / when your partner to calls you names? Will you tolerate your partner not being monogamous? Will you tolerate your partner being disrespectful? Some people use the colloquial “deal breaker” to describe boundaries they set. By any name, they demonstrate respect for self and an awareness of the elements that contribute to overall personal happiness.
Having said all this, I hope that it is clear that without establishing boundaries and committing to them, personal happiness is NOT possible! Here’s a great example:
Having a partner who drinks responsibly is important to you. You feel strongly about not drinking and driving, about daily alcohol consumption (or the absence thereof) and you envision a lifetime with someone who shares those values. You’ve been dating a great guy for a while, he’s everything you’ve been looking for BUT he abuses alcohol. He doesn’t drink every day but when he does, he gets slammed and vulgar although he doesn’t’ hit you. You don’t pay attention to that little voice in your head (your boundary voice) because if you HOLD THE LINE on your own values – he’s gone.
Fast forward 10 years…. You don’t have money saved because he’s had two DUI’s and the attorney’s costs and fines have been outrageous. Your girlfriends don’t invite you to parties because they don’t want their children exposed to his vulgar language as he becomes more intoxicated. You fight more than you do anything else about his drinking and you’ve developed a strong resentment. Your children hear you fighting and are developing dysfunctional coping strategies and/or poor cognitive constructions of family life. You don’t feel you can leave because you put your own career on the back burner so he could succeed. You are stuck and unhappy because you failed to HONOR YOUR BOUNDARY.
Take a few moments – an hour – a day – a week – whatever it takes to think about the elements in life that contribute to your sense of peace and contentment, to a feeling of happiness. Decide what pieces are ‘deal breakers’ – or boundaries and set them. Have confidence to honor them! Have enough self-respect – enough love for YOU – to know that your overall emotional health depends on them!