Setting Boundaries is Hard: A Simple Exercise to Help
One skill, above all others, has the power to dramatically change our relationships. This skill has the ability to heal an unhealthy or codependent relationship and transform it into a healthy, interdependent relationship. This skillset is identifying, setting, and maintaining your boundaries.
Boundary setting is hard
You likely have heard about the value of boundaries before and may still struggle with how to actually practice this skillset. This is very common because the process of having healthy boundaries actually involves numerous skills. Having healthy boundaries needs us to be self-aware, self-loving, and have the ability to assert ourselves effectively. If it feels hard to set boundaries, this makes sense because it is complex. The good news though is this: You are completely possible of developing this skillset and having healthier relationships with both others and yourself.
My book, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle, outlines the numerous steps involved to have healthy boundaries. It covers developing more self-awareness and self-love (through self-care) and effective communication skills. I wanted to help you build healthy boundaries with a free excerpt from this book:
What Do You Want?
Establishing healthy boundaries allows us to fundamentally transform our lives. I liken boundaries to the fence around a house. This fence allows others in but also protects from harmful words, behaviors, and expectations. We care about others, but we also honor what works for us.
In codependency, we live in a state of extremes when it comes to boundaries. At times, you may have no boundaries and feel like others are walking all over you. When the pain of this becomes too much, you may emotionally disconnect from others altogether. Without healthy boundaries, we abandon ourselves, which can lead to self-loathing or losing a sense of who we are.
Healthy boundaries allow us to protect ourselves so we can feel self-respect and self-love, just like a fence protects a house without completely shutting others out.
What Bothers You?
Prior to asserting our boundaries, we must first identify what they are. When you begin this work, pay attention to your words and emotions. If you feel resentful or find yourself saying things like “I can’t stand it” or “I can’t believe you are doing this to me,” you’ve identified a personal boundary. When interacting with others, your body will give you clues as to what works for you and what doesn’t.
For example, if your stomach drops or your chest tightens when the person you just started dating says they only want something casual, this is a clear sign the arrangement does not meet your needs. However, if your body stays relaxed and open when others share their expectations, then you will know the situation aligns with what feels good for you too. Building awareness of your own truth is an ongoing practice, and you can use the following exercise to guide you.
Exercise: Imagining Your Boundaries
Set aside some time to be alone, and write down a list of beliefs in your journal. On this list, include statements that you know are true for you, as well as some you know are not true but that others expect of you, such as “I believe in God,” “I value being a parent,” or “It’s important to have children.” On this list, also include some beliefs you have picked up from your family or culture such as “Mistakes are unacceptable” or “Pursuing my the highest-paying job is more important than pursuing my passion.” Next, put the list aside and begin to visualize your boundary. You may choose to make an audio recording of the following to help guide you:
Close your eyes and imagine you have a marker in any color you like. Begin to draw a circle around yourself with this marker and imagine this circle begins to grow up around you in the form of light. Breathe deeply as you allow this light to form a bubble all the way around you. In this bubble, you decide what is true for you and what is not. Now, read your statements and notice you body’s reaction. If a statement resonates as true, reach out your hand and pull that statement into your bubble. If it’s not true for you, then extend your arm in a stop gesture and say aloud “That’s not true” or “That does not fit” to keep the statement out.
Take some time to journal about what you noticed about yourself. How does it feel to imagine this bubble around you at all times, protecting you from others’ words and expectations so that you can see if it meets your needs, too, prior to reacting? Some people initially struggle to visualize their bubble. Just noticing that we can be protecting in this way is a big, and sometimes, scary step toward recovery…It may take practice – in codependency, we have a lot of experience being unprotected, so just being honest and patient with yourself as you develop your bubble is a major step toward recovery.