Do you feel like the people in your life are overstepping? Do you feel pushed to the limit but don’t want to speak out of fear of seeming insensitive? Is the thought of enforcing boundaries causing stress and anxiety?
When it comes to interpersonal relationships, people tend to forget that some actions are off-limits. Boundaries are vital to ensure proper socialization, but the question is how to enforce them healthily?
What Are Boundaries? And How Do They Impact Stress And Anxiety?
A boundary is a limit between you and another person. It’s the line of demarcation between where your rights end and the rights of the other person begin, and vice-versa. The purpose of setting a boundary is to protect you and your needs.
According to therapist Hanna Stensby, boundaries are about being clear about your values and setting limits around people and activities in your life that don’t bring you joy.
Here are a few categories of boundaries that you should know:
- Physical: you are entitled to your space, however wide it may be, as are others.
- Emotional: you are entitled to your feelings, as are others.
- Intellectual: you are entitled to your thoughts and opinions, as are others.
- Sexual: you are entitled to your body, as are others.
- Financial: you are entitled to your financial freedom, as are others.
- Social: you are entitled to your friends, as are others.
- Spiritual: you are entitled to your spiritual beliefs, as are others.
Often people feel entitled to certain opinions that might overstep these boundaries. For example, your friend might think it is fair to split the bill evenly, but you consumed way less than half of the bill. Or maybe your partner might think it is okay to kiss you any time without asking your permission.
Not understanding the needs of the person you are interacting with can lead to dangerous situations: you might end up being hurt, feeling violated, you might be guilt-tripped into acting in ways you are not comfortable with, and so on. This doesn’t just hurt you and put you in uncomfortable or toxic situations but can destroy the trust in a relationship and create a power imbalance.
Boundaries are vital for your well-being, as well as the well-being of your social interactions. The problem is that many people feel guilt, stress, and anxiety when trying to enforce them. But why is that?
Why Does Enforcing Boundaries Lead To Stress And Anxiety?
Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, thinks that the main obstacle people face when setting boundaries is guilt. People tend to feel guilty for setting a line and are afraid of potentially hurting someone else’s feelings in doing so. Fear of being disliked or rejected is also something that stops people from discussing what their limits are.
Studies have found that the feeling of guilt leads to stress and anxiety. Whenever people try to set boundaries, they feel like they were mean to another person. By believing you were a bad person, you start to think that you violated your moral and ethical framework, thus feeling ashamed and blame-worthy. This has been linked with the need to repent for your actions, thus inducing self-loathing behaviors, usually stress and anxiety.
Stress and anxiety are not only harmful because of their immediate negative effects but also because they have long-lasting impacts on your health.
What about cortisol?
The overexposure of the body to cortisol and other stress hormones can lead to the following:
- Heart problems
- Low energy
Therefore, setting boundaries can be quite a frightening process. If you try to do it, you might run into a wall of guilt. If you don’t set them, you might have problems in your relationship, and your rights might be violated. So, how can you effectively navigate the sea of obstacles that come with boundary-setting?
3 Ways To Enforce Boundaries Without Stress And Anxiety
Now that you know the importance of drawing the line, let’s look at how.
1. Identify And Remember Why You Set Boundaries In The First Place
Feeling scared of alienating the people in our lives is expected. That doesn’t mean you should let them stomp all over you.
To properly enforce boundaries, you first have to understand why you set them in the first place. If your boundaries are absurd and they hurt others, chances are they aren’t based on legitimate values and aren’t protecting your rights, but rather restricting others’ freedoms.
The first step to finding what your core values are is to self-reflect. What are you comfortable with? What makes you uneasy? And what triggers your fear, anger, or anxiety? These and more are vital questions when trying to understand your limitations.
It is also important to remember that boundaries can differ from person to person. You will probably have looser boundaries when it comes to your relationship with immediate family members than with friends or partners. Some friends will make you feel more comfortable than others, thus requiring fewer boundaries. You have to understand yourself and how you view and interact with others to have a real grasp of your needs and values.
If you have true values as the basis of the boundaries, you will feel it. They will be based on self-worth, on trying to strengthen the bond in the relationship or otherwise compassionate and meaningful reasons. Whenever you feel guilty about setting boundaries, instead of being overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, try reconnecting to that core value that shapes your boundaries.
Dr. Julie Hanks suggests using reminders as to why your boundaries exist when you feel the guilt coming on.
- “It’s ok to have boundaries.”
- “I have legitimate reasons for setting these boundaries.”
- “Just because I feel guilty doesn’t mean I did something wrong.”
As soon as you remember why the limit exists and how it helps you and others, you will find that the guilt will subside. Thus, you won’t have to deal with overwhelming stress and anxiety.
2. Let Go Of What Other People Will Think
Are they going to be mad at me for asking them to be less touchy? Are they going to stop being my friend if I ask them to stop guilt-tripping me into offering them financial support? The list of questions goes on. And they will never leave your mind if you don’t try to get rid of them.
In learning how to set boundaries effectively, you also have to learn how to deal with all types of responses from people, whether positive or negative. You have to face the inevitable fact that some people will not be ok with you wanting to enforce limitations all of a sudden. And that’s ok. Stop trying to please others at the expense of your well-being. Instead, try to learn that life is just too short to hold on to certain individuals desperately. Whatever you do, you will never be able to please everyone. The only feelings and well-being you have close to full control over are your own, so you should always pursue your best interest.
Letting go of people is inevitable in your life. You must learn to accept this instead of being forced to let them go after they cause damage. You can’t change someone else’s behavior if they aren’t open to change, and you shouldn’t have to.
The people who won’t accept the boundaries you need to set are those you shouldn’t have in your life anyway. Instead of viewing a refusal to respect your needs as you doing something wrong, understand that it Is just a red flag warning you to cut that toxic person out of your life as soon as possible.
The sooner you accept that some people are not worthy of your time, the easier it will be for you to focus on your needs and set whatever boundaries you need to set without feeling stressed or anxious.
3. Learn To Communicate
When learning how to enforce boundaries, most people mistake setting them in their minds but failing to communicate them to others. That can lead to stress because you have certain expectations that cannot be met. After all, the other person doesn’t know what you need until you tell them.
Don’t expect people to read your mind, be assertive and tell them what you need and why you need it. If you have a clear set of rules in your head that the other person doesn’t know about, you will get frustrated and stressed whenever they break those rules. The sooner you tell them, the sooner they can adjust to what you need. You will empower yourself to feel less stressed or anxious.
You also need to be compassionate and ask others what their boundaries are. If you demand, you will feel guilty, but if you ask and learn to give back, others will feel safe around you, and they will be more open to embracing your boundaries without any pushback.
You cannot expect someone to go out of their way to make you feel comfortable without you respecting what they need as well. Boundaries can also be flexible and can be decided after a conversation with the other person.
Respect is a two-way street, and the more you communicate, the better your relationships will be and the less stress you will face when asking for your needs.
Boundaries are a tricky topic. On the one hand, they are the key determinant of a healthy relationship. On another, they are this scary unknown thing. If you feel anxious about approaching the subject of setting boundaries, remember that your feelings are valid. It is hard to set limits that work for everyone effectively.
If the thought of having to set boundaries stresses you out and makes you feel anxious, remember that there are ways to enforce them healthily. As long as you understand and remember why they exist in the first place, you will be one step closer to manage them properly. Learn to accept that some people will not be ok with boundaries, and that means they are toxic, and you need to let them go, and, most importantly, learn to communicate and respect other people’s boundaries as well.