I used to think that setting boundaries was a big event. It was like the scene at the end of a movie where the main character decides not to be a doormat. In so doing, she faces off with the people who have been pushing her around and gives a powerful speech or rant. The other people apologize, don’t invade her boundaries anymore, and they all go dancing into the sunset.
All right, I didn’t exactly believe the part about dancing in the sunset. However, I did base a lot of my knowledge about setting boundaries on them. From experience, I know now that’s not how setting boundaries works.
Here are are five things you need to know when setting boundaries:
1. It’s Not a One Time Thing
Sadly, setting boundaries isn’t a one time deal. It’d be great if it could all get solved in one talk or well written email. The truth is that, like a real fence, it needs to be maintained. People will test you out to see if you really mean the things you’ve said.
As humans we are creatures of habit. It’s much easier for us to keep thinking and acting in the same ways. That’s as true for you as it is for them.
Keep upholding your boundaries. After some work, it should come more naturally for you to keep your boundaries and for others to respect them.
2. It Doesn’t Need to Be Dramatic
Setting up boundaries doesn’t have to be something that you gear up for. You don’t need to wait for a special time or place. You can set those boundaries today. What you do need to do is be clear with yourself. Sit down and write about the thing that feels like a person is overstepping their bounds.
For example, if you are trying to avoid certain trigger words, it might feel like people are over stepping their boundaries when they talk about these things. It might be especially true if they are aware of your recovery or you already asked them to stop.
In this case you would write down that you don’t want to be exposed to trigger words. What you wouldn’t write is that you want other people to stop saying these things. Despite the way Hollywood often depicts it, your boundaries are about you. They aren’t about the other person. Which brings me to the third thing you need to know about boundaries…
3. It’s About You
That might sound selfish or self absorbed, but it’s not. It is actually incredibly generous to people around you. The boundary you need doesn’t have to do with that other person. In fact, they don’t even have to know you’ve set a boundary.
What? That’s right, you can do all of this boundary-setting without even telling other people.
In some cases it will be easier if you let people know what you don’t like. Other times that will not seem to help at all. Either way, remember that it’s about you and your boundaries.
4. What’s Next?
It’s not enough to think or say that people shouldn’t trigger you with particular topics. First of all, that gives other people far too much power. You are the hero in your life, not the victim.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I know how an eating disorder can distort the words of others. You need to have the skills and support to help you through this. However, it’s still not the person who triggers you.
Secondly, you need to have an action plan. It needs to be entirely dependent on you, not family, friends or strangers.
For example you might decide that if people start talking about triggering words you will walk away. When you can’t walk away, you will have other ways to protect yourself. Sometimes that will involve reducing your exposure to people who feel toxic to you right now. It also might mean that you journal and do thought work to help take care of yourself.
5. Now Act
Every time that you follow through on your own boundaries it will get easier. You will also prove to yourself that you are worth self care. The eating disorder has a sneaky way of separating you, and trying to find validation and protection outside of yourself. That’s why it’s so important to come back together. To be your whole self and have your own back.
Standing up for yourself and setting boundaries doesn’t have to be full of drama. Each step you take will clarify your needs and show you something far more valuable. That you are worth protecting and always have been.
Image: Amy Goh