There is something that I have to do with someone in my life, and it makes me anxious. As much as I know that what I have to do is necessary, I am nervous. But I know that for us to continue to have a relationship, our interaction must change.
When I am around this person, my self-esteem plummets. I feel that nothing I do is my business, and that all of my actions come under the fire of their critical judgment. They comment on my phone calls, my child rearing, my use of my time, and on my family of origin. I don’t feel respected or valued, and for much too long, there is a low boil of anger and resentment growing in me with how this person talks to me.
They are not someone that I have a choice about whether or not they are in my life, but I have come to realize that I do have a choice in how I allow them to talk to me.
It was my therapist who told me that what I needed to do was to set boundaries with this person. She said some of the signs that indicate this relationship needs boundaries are:
- personal questions
- unasked for advice
- demanding information rather than requesting it
- telling me how to live
- intrusive physical acts or words
With my therapist’s help, I have been learning about what boundaries are and when they’re called for. If being around someone makes me feel they are intrusive, or brings out my anxiety, anger, feelings of worthlessness when I’m with them, then clear boundaries need to be set. Setting boundaries is necessary to protect my eroding mental and emotional health when I am around them.
A boundary is exactly what it sounds like, a protective gate around me.
When we set boundaries, we are not interested in who is right or wrong. Our only goal is to protect our most valuable asset: our health, physical and mental. I’m the only one who can ask for respect for myself.
Unless we set the acceptable limits to interaction and consistently maintain them, people will not know what we are asking for. We are the ones responsible for setting boundaries in our relationships.
I have rehearsed a script with my therapist for when I see this person over the coming holidays. I am apprehensive but I know that a quick, direct response is the most effective and efficient way to initiate the new relationship guidelines for which I’ll be asking.
The next time I am with this person and they tell me that I have trained myself to be depressed, I will not defend myself, as I usually do. I will reply to their comment calmly and non-emotionally, “I won’t answer your questions about my mental health.” If they ask again, I will repeat my statement. I will be assertive, I will be consistent. I will ask for these boundaries without guilt.
My therapist is being honest with me with what to expect when I first ask for boundaries. “This won’t be easy. You may feel anxious, depressed, angry, that you even have to ask for any of this. But when you first begin to request change, you will feel a sense of standing up for yourself. You will feel stronger with every statement and less powerless, more in control. You can set your boundaries, enforce them, and maintain them. Is it uncomfortable? Yes. But you don’t need to explain or defend your request. Without boundaries, someone is going to be unhappy, and so far, that’s been you.”
It’s either me, or the other person. I need to protect me.
In anticipation of seeing this person, I have written down the words my therapist gave me to use when setting boundaries:
- You teach people how to treat you by saying what you will and won’t accept.
- Setting boundaries is not selfish, it’s not narcissistic.
- Crossing a boundary is a violation of respect.
- The other person may accuse me of being self-centered. Boundaries don’t make me self centered.
- Having zero boundaries does no one in the relationship any good and does not create the environment needed for the relationship to grow in a supportive manner.
Is it ever too late to set boundaries? Not if it’s honest, healthy communication and healthy relationships that you seek. As difficult as it might feel or when it seems easier to let things remain the same, setting boundaries is the first step to positive change. And hopefully, a better relationship in the process.
If an honest, supportive relationship is what I hope for me between me and this person, then I will have to be the one to start us off on a new path. One of mutual respect, and one that means taking care of myself by asking for what I need.