Growing up in a dysfunctional family, I never established physical or emotional boundaries. I learned that it was OK to take what I wanted without asking for permission, to barge into a room without knocking, and that my feelings didn’t matter if I spoke up.
This only chipped away at my self-esteem and when I ventured out into the real world, feelings of guilt and fear clouded my mind. I naively listened to everyone and allowed them to influence my decisions.
I felt like a puppet girl with invisible strings. My family would pull me one way, my boyfriend, close friends or boss pulled me another. I always said yes even when I really, really wanted to say NO with a capital N!
But deep down, I harbored feelings of resentment. I felt unappreciated, disrespected and taken advantage of. Somehow I had to break the vicious cycle because I was physically and emotional drained.
I sought support with a therapist who explained that the key to maintaining healthy boundaries is consistency. It definitely made sense to me. Yet, I failed countless times.
I felt so discouraged and frustrated that all I wanted was for my therapist to provide me with step-by-step instructions.
Eventually experience taught me 4 key skills in order to maintain healthy boundaries:
1. Know yourself.
If you don’t know what you stand for, you’ll tolerate anything and be stepped on like a human doormat.
2. Trust your instincts.
This could be in the form of a red flag or a sense of discomfort alerting you that the person has crossed the line. It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on internally and externally.
3. Honor your feelings.
Playing the role of a nice guy/gal doesn’t get you anywhere. If you continuously subject yourself to toxic relationships or environments, you’re only hurting yourself.
4. Say no the right way: tactfully and with confidence.
The moment you hem and haw and provide long-winded explanations, the person has leeway to break down your defenses. As a rule of thumb: if you say no once and the person asks again—it’s disrespectful. If the question is asked more than three times—it’s manipulation. That’s your cue to take action immediately.
Maintaining healthy boundaries takes practice, practice and more practice.
But along the way you’ll gain confidence as you reach your full potential. Now, who wouldn’t want that?
Plus, you deserve to be treated with respect and you also have a right to feel safe. So take good care of your mind-body-spirit.
If you have additional skills to add, please share in the comments below.