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How to enforce healthy boundaries starts first by knowing how boundaries serve us.
Imagine a glass jar and every experience is a penny.
Are the pennies bright and shiny copper?
Or are they covered in dirt and grime like pennies you’d rather not keep?
Every day, every moment, is a penny in your jar. When we’re children, we don’t get to choose which pennies are put in our jar. The experiences we’re subjected to become pennies deposited. If we have happy memories from childhood, our jars foundation will be lined with shiny copper.
When our foundations are lined with shiny copper, it’s easier to build on that. But when our foundations are lined with dark pennies, the shiny copper penny can look out of place. It may not feel right being in our jar. We won’t feel entitled to that shiny penny. So we let the dark pennies in. But if we want our jar to be filled with shiny copper pennies, if we want to feel good inside, we need to filter out what is allowed, through boundaries.
Boundaries happens when you discover the jar you’re working with is your own. The pennies deposited are filtered through your decisions.
How to Establish Healthy Boundaries
Your boundaries are determined by your values and priorities.
- Identify your ideal life, what makes you happiest?
- Determine what action steps will get you there.
- Observe the boundaries that will protect your ability to follow those steps.
Finding your own personal happiness will be driven by your motivation. You won’t always be encouraged by others to enforce your boundaries or protect your values and priorities. Making the decision to be consistent about what matters to you will take some work.
Establishing healthy boundaries and learning how to enforce them takes emotional awareness and personal honesty. Knowing our why, or remembering what makes us happy, helps us feel secure in the boundaries we set. Checking in with ourselves and our energy lets us know if we’re filtering the people and behavior in our lives in a healthy way.
Impacts of Living Without Boundaries
We establish boundaries, even when it’s hard, because without them we lose sight of what’s important to us. Outside influences will always be vying for our attention. External chaos will always exist. People will want to be our priorities or have the ability to impact our priorities. In some instances, they can because we can choose to make others our priority, or our relationship with others a priority. But doing so requires balancing our priorities and being honest about our values.
Giving in to others’ wants and needs may bring us peace in the moment, but eventually will wear away at our self-worth. Deprioritizing ourselves or our needs can cause us to feel run down, anxious, or depressed.
Pursuing our happiness means attracting things in our life that bring us the light—it’s seeking out the shiny copper pennies. Our boundaries work to filter our jar and fill it with lightness instead of darkness.
The Purpose of Healthy Boundaries
Boundaries are meant to protect us from physical, mental, and emotional harm and do when we learn how to enforce our boundaries consistently.
- help us filter communication we receive from others so we can categorize it
- guide us in our communication back so we can express our feelings and needs in a healthy way
When we have healthy boundaries around our own behavior, we can slow down our reaction time by asking ourselves
- is this person providing me with helpful, trusted feedback?
- are they delivering it in a healthy way?
The Role of Personal Reflection
Knowing whether or not someone is providing us with helpful feedback to improve our relationship depends on how well we know ourselves already. If someone in our care community is giving feedback that can be trusted or is helpful, but delivering it in a way that detracts from the point, it’s important to identify and separate the content from the delivery.
When we’re able to determine if they are a trusted source, we can express our need to be approached in a respectful manner. We can then acknowledge that we’d like to know more about their experience with us. Knowing whether or not we can consider someone a trusted source depends on whether their communication is being used to strengthen their connection with us or if it’s meant to be self-serving.
Signs of self serving communication
- stating needs directly related to another, i.e. “I need you to take out the trash”
- avoidance of stating underlying feelings, such as “I’m feeling anxious, frustrated”
- deflections/blame, i.e. “I’m only angry because of what you did”
Healthy Communication Boundaries and Personal Filters
A communication or filter boundary allows us to accept feedback, in good faith, from a member of our care community despite wanting to argue or defend. We can communicate our expectations for communication around the matter, while also accepting that someone we care about has expressed a feeling or need related to our interactions or relationship.
Our communication or filter boundaries allow us to:
- identify and communicate our needs in regards to how were treated
- determine whether or not someone is worth our time, energy, or attention
Healthy Emotional Boundaries
Establishing emotional boundaries is done by exploring our feelings, asking ourselves questions, and listening closely to what we tell ourselves we need. Our emotional boundaries can change so it’s important to check in and keep open lines of communication with ourselves and our care community.
Enforcing our emotional boundaries can be difficult and confusing because we sometimes have to endure short-term sadness or discomfort in exchange for long-term fulfillment.
When establishing and enforcing our emotional boundaries it’s helpful to remember:
- establishing boundaries is for you, it’s for your personal health, wellness, and happiness
- enforcing boundaries you’ve established can impact the people around you differently and that’s ok
- why you chose to establish your boundaries in the first place
- how they help you reach your ultimate goal, of living an authentically happy life
The 5 Hurtful Truths About How to Enforce Healthy Boundaries
Realizing these truths will help you in moments of doubt. Pushback from others on our boundaries can create doubt in ourselves. Knowing what’s coming will help you prepare to overcome that doubt and prepare your responses or reactions in advance.
- Enforcing them will be scary and it’s usually easier in the moment to acquiesce. But it will result in a reduced view of your own self-worth. Allowing yourself to be mistreated communicates to your subconscious that you should be mistreated. It’s important to be mindful of how our consciousness communicates with our subconscious.
- Others may or may not accept your boundaries. You need to know what enforcing your boundaries looks like. Decide in advance how you’re going to approach a situation, boundaries first. If something is in violation of your boundaries, rather than compromise on them, prepare for a potential sacrifice.
- People may attack your boundaries. In my experience, people generally attack boundaries out of self-preservation or self-defense. Enforcing our own boundaries can sometimes feel like an exertion of force to others. People react to this as if they are being attacked and thus attack back. Play out the potential scenarios and determine how you will either respond or withdraw.
- You’ll be faced with difficult choices regarding your boundaries. Sometimes it will result in the loss of a job, a relationship, or an opportunity. Self-worth is an investment, it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes time and patience. Allowed violations of boundaries are destructive to your self-worth investment.
- You won’t be congratulated for pursuing your own highest quality of life. Other people will not validate your boundaries because self-worth is about self-pursuit. Some aspects of self-worth are found in how others reflect back to us who we are. Some aspects are solely internal and self-constituted. There is no one who cares more about the internal workings of your self-worth than you.
Taking Personal Responsibility is Self-Love
Each of us is responsible for prioritizing our own selves.
Because we must prioritize, manage and maintain our self-worth, we can’t make the self-worth of others our first priority. Therefore, we can’t expect anyone else to make our self-worth their first priority.
We are all our own biggest advocates and greatest communicators and we can lean into those roles without guilt or shame.