We often hesitate to set boundaries in our life, worrying that it’s a signal we don’t love and care about the people around us. However, the truth is just the opposite. It’s important to recognize that there’s a difference between being “nice” and being truly compassionate.
“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
For those of us who have difficulty setting boundaries, here are some truths that are important to remember:
- My needs are just as important as anyone else’s
- Only when I take care of myself can I take care of others
- I care enough about my loved ones to have hard conversations with them
The Difficult Consequences of Being a Doormat
As hard as we try to be flexible and accommodating, there are simply some things that are not okay with us. Maybe a roommate or neighbor is being noisy late into the night or early in the morning, and robbing you of sleep… maybe a friend keeps borrowing money and not paying it back… or maybe there’s substance abuse happening under your roof. When you come to that stress point, you have a few options:
Option 1: You disengage and convince yourself not to mind. While this might seem like the nice thing to do, it’s actually numbing your own compassion and your capacity to care for yourself and others. If you want to nourish and strengthen the relationship, the worst thing that you can do is disengage!
Option 2: You hold your tongue, but your resentment leaks out in passive-aggressive behavior that undermines the relationship. This can be criticism, transference (taking out your issues with one thing on something – or someone – else entirely), gossip, avoidance, disdain, and stonewalling.
Option 3: You can care enough to have a hard conversation with someone who is important to you.
Knowing Where to Draw the Line
Alright, so you recognize that you need to set some boundaries in your life. But how do you determine which boundaries are fair for you to set?
Here’s a guide to help you set fair and compassionate boundaries in your life:
- Recognize your emotions, and acknowledge their validity.
- Zero in on the triggers that make you feel mad, abused, frustrated, or resentful.
- Examine the source of your feelings. How do the actions of others affect you? Is your emotional response justified? To determine that, ask yourself if you’d understand this reaction in someone else. Ask yourself if there are things from your past experience that make you react stronger than other people might. This doesn’t mean that your response is unjustified, but understanding the reason might be an essential part of your communication.
- Set some very solid standards, and communicate them clearly, along with the consequences of the boundary being breached. For example, “When you drink too much at my party, it makes me uncomfortable and anxious. I need you to moderate or avoid drinking at my house, or I can’t invite you to events anymore.”
Recognize that an essential part of caring for others is being clear about your boundaries. If you can define and communicate your boundaries ahead of time, it will create harmony in your relationships, and in your life.