How Do I Set and Keep Boundaries?

A reader asks, “How do I follow through with boundaries and keep them up when someone tries to knock them down?”

Boundaries are so hard, man.

Because, for one, we’re not used to having them, so it’s unnatural and uncomfortable to figure out what they are and then try to manifest them.

And also because, for two, when we actually start to get a handle on them and find our baseline, the very people our boundaries are needed for will not be happy — and they will not hesitate to let us know — which is another challenge to our existence.

That challenge feels like we’re getting something wrong or being too harsh and aggressive. It makes us want to concede. Just give in. Let everything go back to the way it was before, because in some ways it’s easier not to be strong and forthright.

And yet it’s not healthy to concede, or toss away our new boundaries before they’ve even had a chance to take root. That’s not how we start over and build peace or stability, with trust and confidence in ourselves. Conceding and letting everything fall back into the way it was before is not how we break the cycle of toxicity.

So, we decide on the rule, which is our line in the sand. It’s what says, “I will NOT allow you to do this anymore,” and, “I myself will NOT contribute to this again.”

And then we take whatever action supports the rule. Not answering a text. Saying “no.” Opting out of an event we don’t really want to go to. Refusing to let someone (our abuser) bait us.

And then we stay focused and work really hard, mentally, to sustain that action, which means we don’t give in and text back. We don’t soften our “no” and suddenly say “yes” to make someone else happy or meet their expectation. We don’t argue with our abuser.

No, we stick to the boundary, the rule, despite the discomfort, despite the challenge.

And we trust — sometimes it’s completely blind faith — that we’re creating a new, stronger, healthier pattern of behavior for ourselves… which is the whole point, my friend.

Those who are abusive will turn to their strongest tactics to guilt and blame us, tear us down again, try to exert that power and control just one more time. It takes trial and error, patience and grace toward self, but we can best them.

Those who aren’t abusive but cannot hack it with our new boundaries will fuss and kick for a while, and get over it and let go and accept. Or get over it and move on. Or we get over them and move on ourselves. SEE YA. They weren’t worth our orbit anyway.

Maybe, with some — family friends or coworkers we cannot break away from — we have to maintain the boundaries while also adjusting (by which I mean lowering) our expectations. Power.

And those who are beside us thick through thin will ebb and flow with us as we test our new patterns, respecting us as always, and reciprocating in kind.

You can probably think of someone who fits each example, and how that boundary feels with each someone.

And the truth is you’re probably doing boundaries right, that’s why it hurts and confuses you.

You’re figuring them out. You are rising to the challenge. You are creating new patterns for your better future.

Keep going. You go this.

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