Posted May 1, 2002
The Necessity Of Boundaries
When a client comes to see me with self-esteem issues, I discuss the topic of "boundaries" with them. Some of my clients have never even heard of the idea of boundaries and I have to explain it to them. "Boundaries are like limits you would set with a child," I say, "telling them not to touch the stove, for their own safety. Or not to hit their sibling." Most of my clients can relate to that. However, the idea of telling an adult how to treat them can be a foreign concept. "But they should know how to treat me," my client might say. This is true, but people have different ideas of how to treat each other. And everyone has their own agenda to make them feel more comfortable. Unless you are direct and clear about what you'll accept and what you won't accept, the other person won't know.
Boundaries are an important part of life. Think of the boundaries you have now. You wouldn't allow someone to reach into your pocket or purse and steal your money without complaining. You've drawn the line there. Where are some of your other boundaries? In personal relationships and friendships, what kind of limits have you set? Do you allow friends or loved ones to put you down, beat you, take advantage of you? If so, this is an area in which you need to strengthen your boundaries.
When I was little, my parents taught me that having boundaries was a good thing. But as I got into school and made friends, having boundaries meant that I wouldn't be liked. When a friend hit me and I complained to her mother, the mom told me that I had to forgive her daughter and continue playing with her. The mom encouraged my feelings of compassion for her daughter so that I wouldn't reject her. From that, I learned to let people walk all over me.
Without boundaries, we allow the world to treat us as they want to. Not as we expect to be treated, but in ways that are convenient for them. Boundaries are necessary for our safety, and to teach others how we expect to be treated. If we don't teach people to value us, then we have only ourselves to blame when they take advantage of us. A boundary is the communication of how we choose to be treated, and what the consequences are if we're not treated that way. Sometimes, you don't even have to state it as long as you have it firmly planted in your consciousness. Your attitude will communicate it clearly.
When I began setting boundaries and standing up for them, it was scary. The people who didn't value me began to leave my life. In any relationship, when one person changes, then the relationship itself changes. My "friends" weren't willing to change with the relationship. But then I started attracting people to me who treated me the way I wanted to be treated. And I didn't have to tell them how. Since I'd gotten it clear in my mind that I wouldn't be browbeaten anymore (boundary), and if I was I'd end the relationship no matter how much I cared about the person (consequence), that commitment to my well-being communicated itself.
You have a right to establish the standards by which you choose to be treated. The Universe gave you that right by your having been born. You don't have to accept treatment that devalues you as a person or as an expression of the Universe. You also have a responsibility to yourself, to the Universe, and to the other person to decide on your boundaries. If you don't, then you're allowing other people to choose how you will be treated and you're at their mercy. By setting and maintaining boundaries, you're accepting the responsibility for your well being. Boundaries demonstrate that you value yourself and that you value the relationship enough to create a secure environment in which it can grow.
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Copyright Ó 2002 Linda Ann Stewart