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When you buy a product or service and you’re not satisfied with it, does the idea of telling the company or the employees make you nervous?

 

Does the idea of speaking up for yourself with your family, friends, dates, or co-workers create a feeling of anxiety or dread in you?

 

Do you tend to fall quiet even if you disagree with what they’re saying or doing or have a different opinion?

 

Maybe you fear that if you expressed yourself, things would get emotional and conflict would break out. Maybe you even fear that you’d be put down or the other person would leave.

 

When you’re unable to speak authentically, speak up for what you want, or say no to someone, it creates chronic stress and painful problems in a relationship. Over time, you’ll probably come to feel angry, resentful, or sad that the people close to you don’t naturally or automatically perceive your boundaries.

 

When we ignore (and give others permission to ignore) our wants and needs for a long time, eventually, we’ll either explode in anger or turn that anger inward, which causes depression.

 

 

It doesn’t have to always be this way. If you’re ready to start building stronger, healthier boundaries, there are a couple of things to answer:

 

First, decide: Which boundary areas of my life are most affected?

1. Emotional – Having healthy emotional boundaries means that you understand you are responsible for your own feelings. You’re not responsible for anyone else’s and no one has the right to tell you how to feel.

 

2. Material – Having healthy material boundaries means that you get to decide if, when, and under what circumstances someone gets to use, borrow, or have your stuff, and that the people in your life will make it right if they damage it. For example, if your roommate brings her dachshund into the house and cute little Mr. Kibbly loses his lunch on your sofa, your roommate should clean it up and make a plan for how to keep her pukey little pup off your furniture. That’s a material boundary.

 

 

3. Mental – Having healthy mental boundaries means that you get to determine your thoughts, opinions, and values. You can listen to other people with an open mind but still hold on to your core beliefs because no one has the right to tell you what to think.

When we ignore (and give others permission to ignore) our wants and needs for a long time, eventually, we’ll either explode in anger or turn that anger inward, which causes depression.

 

4. Physical – This has to do with who touches you, how they touch you, and how much personal space you have. Things like hugs from people you don’t know well or being crowded by someone could fall into this category.

 

5. Sexual – Who, when, where, and how someone touches you sexually is a boundary matter. Obviously, you’ll have different sexual boundaries for someone you’re in a relationship with than you will with strangers. Coercion, lewd comments, objectification – these are all potential boundary violations.

 

Now that you know where poor boundaries are showing up in your life, you can decide whether you want to focus on the easy-to-address ones first (the areas where you’re already somewhat strong) or the hard ones first (the areas where there’s the most potential for growth). Either approach is fine. Some people prefer to get a “win on the board” by addressing a light boundary problem early on and others prefer to face the hard stuff straightaway. It’s up to you.

 

Here are simple steps you can take to start building your boundary awareness:

1. Check in throughout the day – with various interactions and situations – and ask: How do I feel? Do I feel contracted and fearful? Or do I feel relaxed and loving? If you notice you’re feeling anxious, constricted, or frustrated, look around to see if a boundary issue has come up that might be causing you to feel that way. If you find a situation where a boundary got crossed (or you failed to express it), move on to step 2.

 

 

2. Write out at least three things you could do that would represent stepping up for yourself, expressing your needs, and making yourself a priority. Stepping up for myself, putting myself as a priority looks like… Keep growing the list as new ideas come to mind.

 

As I’ve mentioned in videos I’ve made about the subject, boundaries don’t have to be built of steel bar and concrete. They can be strong and firm without being rigid. You set a firm-yet-flexible standard by creating a gate in the wall. State your boundary with a kind-but-firm tone and give the other person the freedom to accept your boundary or decline it. This is my truth; this is how what you’re doing is causing me to feel. Be prepared to follow up with the consequences.

 

Minding our boundaries is life-long task, but with practice, it gets easier.

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