Why do we struggle with setting boundaries in our everyday life?

A key element of a good quality of life

The ability of setting boundaries is one of the most important components of well-being and self-care. It helps us to define ourselves by determining, among others, what our needs, beliefs and opinions are. If we manage to communicate with them, they become a message sent to the world about how we wish others to treat us so we feel well and comfortable.  

The first and the most important role model

First teachers and role models are our parents who guide us through the process of learning about setting the boundaries. They do it in two separate ways. First, they are an example which we follow as children – copying a mother and a father is the most natural behaviour for every child. If it notes that parents know how to set their own boundaries, communicate them to others and make others respect them, the child takes it for granted, copies such behaviour and has no problem with introducing it in the future, in adult life. For example, if a child wants to play with a mother at a specific moment and the mother says “I will play with you in a half an hour because now I want to rest and read a chapter of my book”, it gets a message that 1) the mother has the need to read a book and 2) after her need is fulfilled she will play with it. Moreover, in a positive scenario, the child also learns that setting the boundaries doesn’t mean pushing somebody aside or building a wall – after some time spent with her book the mother – as she mentioned a half an hour ago – begins playing with a child. Besides, the mother who finds time for her own need is more happy and energetic so she can fully give herself to the child.  

What if we don’t get a good example?

When the parent is not able to set the boundaries (because his mother and father didn’t show how to do it, or because they didn’t see or didn’t want to see that the child is trying to set the boundaries, or because they were violating the boundaries so many times, or because of so many other reasons that could have happened in the family) the child 1) doesn’t have the opportunity to learn about the ability to express one’s needs or/and 2) learns that parent’s needs are not very important, so in the future, it is very probable that as an adult he/she will not respect others’ needs 3) he/she will encounter problems in everyday life because people will not respect his/her boundaries and 4) even though he/she is aware of this fact, nothing can be done because of lack of tools/motivation/energy/you name it. A friend of mine, mother of two boys, since her sons were toddlers, she would do everything for them. Whenever they pleased, they would interrupt mother’s nap, newspaper reading, eating breakfast or even violate her time spent in the restroom. As far as I observed them, she would never say anything. The boys were so unaware of any boundaries their mother could have set, that they would even, after consuming a snack, give an empty package directly to her, instead of throwing it away to the garbage bin. A while ago we met in a crowded place full of people going in all the directions. Her boys (being already in their puberty) would run around the place,  paying no attention to passerby, running and nudging random people, shouting at each other, behaving definitely too loud. I looked at her and what I’ve heard was: “I have no idea why they behave this way. They have no respect for anybody nor nothing. Where does it come from?” – she would repeat twice.

 An attentive, understanding and supporting teacher

The other way how parents teach us (or not) about setting the boundaries is by respecting our own limits we have set and communicated. A child a few days old was brought back home after the first few days in the hospital. The parent, wanting to make sure that the baby falls asleep well, wrapped the child with a cotton blanket. The baby pulled out its small hands from the cocoon so its hands could  move freely. A caring and understanding parent noticed the signal (the first unconscious effort of setting the boundaries) and left tiny hands outside. The baby experienced for the first time how it is when others respect its decision to set the boundaries. In the future, as the child grows and becomes  a young adult, if the parent’s behaviour doesn’t change, it has no problems with setting the boundaries and expressing its needs because it is already used to such a way of communication. What if the pattern is different and the parent doesn’t respect the child’s needs? What if he doesn’t see or doesn’t care about the boundaries the child is trying to set? A very probable scenario is that the child will learn that its needs are either not noticed or not important. Later, as it enters adulthood, it transfers old habits and beliefs into other relations, including spouse, children, coworkers, clients, friends, etc. 

Being self aware makes life easier

It is definitely easier to express your own needs, feelings and set the boundaries when the person is in touch with oneself and is able to define who he/she is. It is again in our early stage of life, when we learn how to do it. Sometimes it comes naturally, we are “just born this way”. For others it is a matter of practice and encouragement from our first family. There is a 3-year old girl in my family, who since she was a year and a half would strongly demonstrate when and how she likes to be kissed and hugged. Only a very inattentive person could not read all the signals she was sending every time somebody wanted to show her love. Later she has learnt to say “don’t” and now, after being encouraged by her parents, she is able to say clearly what she likes and what she doesn’t. Another example is my 10-year old son, who has no problem with expressing, with a grand clearance, his need to be alone in his room. “Please don’t enter for the next 40 minutes” – he asks and his request is always taken seriously. In both cases children are encouraged to express their needs and after doing so, they know, they will be heard and respected. In the future, it is very possible they will continue acting this way and when being not heard or understood, they will not take it personally and will not be discouraged to express their needs or set the boundaries in the future.  

What about you?

Where are you with setting the boundaries? Who do you most need to set boundaries with? Where do you need to set boundaries with yourself? What is the biggest obstacle that stops you from setting and maintaining boundaries? You are welcome to share with me your thoughts. The closest opportunity will be on April 6 when I will hold a webinar combined with three one to one sessions. You are welcome to join by registering here 

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