Boundaries are important.

From a psychological perspective, boundaries are the mental, emotional, spiritual or relational limits on who and what kind of influences you accept into your life. How you expect to be treated depends on your personal history and self-evaluation. This is different for each person and circumstance. What is acceptable in one case and with one person, may not be tolerated in other instances.

The cost of weak boundaries.

People with damaged self-esteem and low self-acceptance usually have weak psychological and energetic boundaries. They may easily feel suffocated or ‘sucked’ into the other person’s world. They find it difficult to assert themselves and make decisions. They are easily influenced and often defer to the other person rather than expressing their own opinion and wishes. Feeling vulnerable, they may even avoid or withdraw from close contact with others so that physical distance takes the place of firm energetic and psychological borders.

Strengthen your boundaries.

This is not always easy or straightforward but some general tips apply: Stay true to your values. Know you have the same right as others to be your own person. Refuse to be a doormat or live as a victim. Stand your ground even if it is met with disapproval. Face your fears and step out of your comfort zone.

Just say ‘No’.

Declining a request or not joining in with others when expected can be difficult. But your preferences and needs are just as valid as those of others. If you are prevailed upon, use the following steps as a rough guide:

1 Consider the request
If the request is rather general, ask for more details. It indicates that you are seriously considering the request but need more information before giving your answer.

2 State your position
Name your preference, feeling or perception of the circumstances. Be tactful, confident and assertive, not apologetic: "I can see that it will take a lot of time but I am too tired tonight to join in; I won’t be able to lift anything with my bad back; I have a previous engagement; I’d rather not get involved; I’m too busy with my own things".

3 Say No
If you find it too hard to say a straight No, try these milder alternatives: "I’d rather not; I don’t think it’s right for me; I won’t be available in the near future; I need to think about this one; Will be in touch if I can".

Stand up for yourself.

The key to assertiveness is being polite, direct, clear and non-attacking. It means standing up for your rights, feelings, beliefs and needs while also respecting those of the other person. This is different from aggression, meanness or being pushy.

Assertiveness is a respectful form of communication that provides another person with a clear and unambiguous message about where you stand. A straight posture, eye contact, speaking neither too softly nor too loud, feelings kept calm, and an air of confidence - even if you might not feel it inside - sends the right signals.

Effective assertion statements should be quite short and as succinct as possible. Use the basic ‘recipe’ below as a guide:

1 When you …
Describe one specific difficulty you have with the other person’s behaviour. Keep the description as factual and objective as possible. Avoid interpreting their behaviour. Simply state the facts and lay your issue/grievance/problem on the table for discussion. For example, "When you made the decision without consulting me …"

2 I feel…
Without blame, intimidation or demands let the other person know how their behaviour has affected you. For example, "…I felt disrespected, as if my opinion and wishes don’t count…"

3 Because …
A brief description of the effect that person’s behaviour had on you. Describe only observable consequences, without generalisations or accusations. For example, "Because now I have to change all my previous arrangements …"

4 I want…
Explain what you want changed. Make a request, ask only for different behaviour but not a change in attitude or values." I want you to treat me with more respect", or, "I want you to change your attitude towards me", are too general and not descriptive enough. Your statement has to be specific and describe something observable: I want you to consult me before going ahead and making plans for both of us…

Put together, your assertion statement might have looked like this: "When you made the decision without consulting me, I felt disrespected, as if my opinion and wishes don’t count and because I now have to change all my previous arrangements. In future, I want you to consult me before going ahead and making plans for both of us".

An ineffective statement would have been: "When you made the decision without consulting me, it’s what you always do, barging ahead and only interested in what you want. You need to respect me more". This message is unclear, contains blame and brings up past transgressions.

Take time to learn the ‘formula’ and practise different scenarios. Perhaps role-play with a friend or by yourself in front of a mirror. Look at situations where you do (or did) not stand up for yourself and formulate an assertion statement you could have used. Make sure you are familiar with standing your ground when your boundaries are violated!

What is your experience with boundaries? How have you stood up for yourself? What are your difficulties with saying NO? What have you tried that worked or didn’t work?

Author's Bio: 

Christiana Star is a licensed psychologist and writer with strong focus on self-help, personal growth and empowerment. Combining professional experience with a spiritual outlook on life, her work offers new perspectives, insights, practical tips and easy strategies that can be applied straightaway. When she is not writing, Christiana can be found in nature: tending her fruit and vegetable garden with various degrees of success or exploring Sydney’s beautiful Northern Beaches with her very quirky little dog.
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