Setting limits in personal relationships can be hard work. Especially if you have acted in ways prior that did not respect your own limits, enforcing new limits may be particularly challenging. If you are acting differently than you would normally do, this can be stressful, guilt-producing or lonely. However, continuing not to respect your own needs is also uncomfortable and stressful. Thus setting boundaries can result ultimately in better personal relationships.
First and foremost, you must decide what your limits really are, and question how reasonable these limits are. You have to delve into your own core truths and decide which limits are the most important, and which ones are tired out and really don’t belong to you.
This can take some serious personal scrutiny on your part, but it is better to really investigate what limits are most important. Once you decide what limits are important, then you can hand a set of rules to someone else with whom you have a relationship. Knowing where you stand allows you to clearly state limits, without anger or aggression.
For example, you might really hate to be tickled. Maybe this seems in someway a violation of your being, or it makes you feel powerless. Screaming, “Don’t tickle me,” is not really setting limits. Instead, understanding how this behavior by a boyfriend or girlfriend makes you feel allows you to make an “I” statement, such as the following. “I really dislike being tickled. It makes me feel worried (powerless, out of control). In the future, I will leave the room (house, apartment), if you tickle me.”
By making an “I” statement, you clearly are setting boundaries, which are not likely to be perceived as an attack on the other person. The next job is to enforce the limit. You can’t make another person respect your limits, but you can communicate through your actions. If the person continues to tickle and you do nothing, you are not really setting limits.
If a person tries to tickle you again, your response is to remind the person of the limit, and then perhaps walk away from the situation. Once limits are set, those who choose not to respect them definitely do not have your interests at heart. A reminder or two may be warranted, but indefinitely allowing someone to ignore your limits is really only creating self-harm.
Setting boundaries is often challenging because we don’t like to say no to people. We want people to like us, and we fear what will happen if we say no or ask someone not to expect something from us. Remember that once you have clearly gone about establishing limits in relationships, people can only violate them with your permission.
Setting limits involves self-assertion, and especially the assertion that you matter. A person who does not like him or herself will find establishing limits very challenging. Learning to like one’s self is not the work of one day. Often talk therapy can be essential in gathering the self-esteem that will allow one to practice setting limits.
Further, in order for you to be successful at setting limits, you must also respect the limits set by others. Coming to agreements on setting limits and honoring each other’s limits can enhance a relationship. Bringing up problem areas in a non-aggressive and non-accusatory manner can open a personal relationship up to the possibility of greater intimacy.
Persistent disrespect of clearly defined limits suggests callous disregard for your feelings. Reinforce limits by reminding, leaving, or minimizing contact with those who cannot accept your limits. Establishing newer personal relationships with those who can respect your limits may increase your self-esteem and prove more satisfying in the long run.