If you set boundaries and your friend gets mad about it, she’s not your friend.
If you set boundaries and your dad tries to make you believe you’re a terrible person for it, say goodbye.
If you set boundaries and your brother decides to stop talking to you because of it, let him.
Be grateful that these people are out of your life.
If you set boundaries and people have a problem with it, it’s because they are realizing that they can no longer manipulate you. They can no longer use you or take you for granted. You’re no longer their plaything or at their beck and call and it infuriates them. Are these really the type of people you want in your life? Are these the type of people you want around your children?
If someone really cares about you, they’ll want what’s best for you. They’ll WANT you to set boundaries. They’ll want you to respect yourself and to take care of yourself. Think about it, isn’t that what you want for the people you care about?
I know for me, I always wanted to make other people happy.
I wanted to be useful. To be anything and everything for everyone because that would make me indispensable. It would make me needed and I thought it would make me loved. I’d never put myself first and I was the type of person who would drop everything if a friend or family member needed me. I thought being a good friend meant never saying no. That it meant stretching myself to the limit. So I kept stretching and stretching, giving and giving and I never asked for anything in return. I never asked for help because I didn’t want to seem needy; I didn’t want to be trouble and I didn’t want to let anyone down. You see, I was afraid. I’d convinced myself that if being my friend took effort, people wouldn’t want to. I was afraid that if I said no or if I asked for help, I would end up alone.
I can definitely trace these irrational fears back to my relationship with my father, but that’s a story for another time. The point is, my mind was a bit warped and therefore so were my relationships. I was constantly getting hurt, used, and taken for granted. I put up with it, convincing myself that it was loyalty when in reality it was a lack of self-respect. Then one day, it was too much. It had been adding up and adding up and I got hurt so bad that I just fell apart. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever be whole again- it was like I’d been giving so much of myself away that there wasn’t anything left for me. I’d find myself crying almost every minute that I was awake, constantly breaking down and pretty much losing the will to live. I was going through such a hard time- I’d been diagnosed with PTSD, I was having constant nightmares, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, and I needed a support system. To feel loved and valued. I tried to pretend that I was okay and I really only opened up fully to my husband, but all of the signs were there: I was a girl in trouble.
One of the biggest things that my therapist wanted to focus on was boundaries, or rather, my lack thereof. He helped me to see how one sided most of my relationships were and explained to me how unhealthy it was. It was a really sad realization that these people I cared so much about didn’t care about me at all. They only cared about what I could do for them or what they could get from me. Luckily, there were a handful of people who did care, like my mom and sisters, in-laws and a couple of friends. When I told them I needed changes- that I needed to feel respected and heard, they were all too happy to step up. But the number of people who couldn’t accept the new me was high, and that was heartbreaking.
Every woman- better yet, every person- should have boundaries in place. It’s impossible to live a full and happy life without them. Without boundaries, you’re going to get taken advantage of. You’ll get hurt, used up, and burnt out. You’ll end up hating yourself. I sure as hell did. You don’t have to go crazy or extreme, but you do have to have some basics. Boundaries are basically the limits you set on what you will and will not allow in your life.
I’ll get you started.
(Feel free to switch any gender references in the following statements. It’s just easier to pick one when writing.)
- Big one here: Violence is never okay. This goes for physical or emotional violence. I don’t care if he’s drunk or high or if he had a bad day or if he says he’s sorry afterwards. It doesn’t matter if he says he loves you. If he hits you or gaslights you, he doesn’t love you and he doesn’t deserve any of your time. Don’t let him make excuses. Don’t make them for him. I don’t care if it’s a friend, romantic partner, sibling or your dad. It’s doesn’t matter if there’s a visible mark or not. It’s never okay.
- No means no. If someone asks you for something- be it a physical item, an action, whatever- you’re allowed to say no. You don’t have to give an explanation. You don’t have to make excuses. No is a complete sentence. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
- Feel safe about expressing your opinions. You shouldn’t have to be afraid to say what’s on your mind. I’m not saying take that as a free pass to be a dick, but you shouldn’t be walking on eggshells when it comes to your inner circle.
- Don’t let people constantly put you or your loved ones down. I had two people constantly putting me down and telling me how terrible my family was. With both of them, I found myself apologizing for it, trying to explain it away and listening to the bullshit comparisons about people that were supposedly so much better than us for YEARS. It was truly horrible for my self-esteem and my self-worth. Why did I put up with it? I convinced myself that if I loved them, I would let them say whatever they wanted. Ultimately, I thought they were on my side and convinced myself that I would do anything to keep them in my life, even if that meant staying silent and listening to things that made me feel horrible. I thought I had to keep the peace. Once I set boundaries and said I couldn’t listen to it anymore, I was made out to be a villain. The gaslighting that ensued was unbelievable! I can’t help but wonder if it would have gotten so bad if I hadn’t put up with it for years. Needless to say, neither of these women are in my life anymore (and I’m so grateful).
- You’re allowed to have different opinions than the people you’re around. That’s part of being human! You have your own mind and your own feelings. Don’t let others make your choices for you.
It’s not enough to just set boundaries.
You need to make people aware of them if need be, and then you need to enforce them. Otherwise, they’re just going to keep getting crossed and be completely pointless. When I went through the process of establishing my boundaries, I spoke with a lot of people and laid it out. Here’s what I will accept and here’s what I won’t. Basically, it came down to this: if you want to stay in my life, you need to treat me better. Unfortunately, I lost several friends and family members. I found myself losing relationships that I thought would always be a part of my life. I was devastated and heartbroken and for a second, considered going back to letting myself get walked all over just to make the pain go away. But I held strong because I realized that if treating me with basic human kindness and respect was too much, why did I want these people in my life at all?
As time went by, I started to look back and see clear as day how horrible these people made me feel. I hated my old self for allowing it for so long and I hated them for taking advantage of a weak girl so desperate for love. There were stages of anger and grief, but eventually, I started to feel lighter. I started feeling relief. It turns out, it’s pretty nice to have two-way relationships. It’s nice to be more than a back-up plan or a shoulder to lean on. It’s a relief to know that the people you’d do anything for would do something for you in return. I stopped missing the people that couldn’t love me and I stopped running myself ragged trying to earn their affection. I ended up with more energy, self-respect, and more love in my life.
Here are some warning signs that you might need some firmer boundaries:
- You’re afraid to voice your opinion or say no.
- You are always the one that has to go to the other person or make the phone call.
- The only time you hear from them is when no one else is around or if they need a favor.
- They put you down or minimize your accomplishments.
- They’re constantly bragging about how much better their lives are than yours.
- They trivialize your problems or disregard your feelings.
- They’ll never take responsibility for anything and never admit that they’re wrong.
- They’d never forgive you if you treated them the way that they treat you.
- You find yourself apologizing for things that aren’t your fault.
- They’ll convince you that you’re crazy for being upset about being slighted.
- They don’t show up for important events in your life but expect you to drop everything for them.
- You’re constantly making excuses for them.
- They have to convince you that you’re lucky to have them, and that you have no right to feel hurt or that it’s all in your head.
- They’ll laugh or talk about you behind your back.
- They tell everyone that you’re crazy or a liar if you get upset about something they did.
- You’re always terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing, and scared to tell someone that they’ve hurt you, so you try to convince yourself that you’re overreacting.
- You feel guilty every time you put yourself first.
- You’re always making sacrifices but they never do.
- They accuse you of being paranoid if you question something that seams off.
- You’re constantly worried about being a disappointment.
- You get anxious when you think about them.
- You’re terrified that they’re going to turn against you or leave you.
If any of these statements describe you or the people in your life (notice I say people and not just romantic partner), please, I’m begging you: set some boundaries. You deserve better. I promise you that no one deserves to be treated this way. Other people’s horrible choices and actions are not your fault, and your needs and feelings are just as important as everyone else’s.
The first step is saying no more.
*If you are struggling to create boundaries, consider speaking with a therapist to help you come up with some starting points and work through how to establish/enforce them. *
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