1. Establish internal boundaries It is difficult to set a boundary on another’s behavior when our own thoughts are obsessive and our behavior erratic. So the first thing we need to do before setting boundaries with others is to establish healthy internal boundaries. This means self-discipline and healthy management of our time, thoughts, emotions, behavior and impulses. When we are aware of our feelings, knowledgeable about exactly what we like and dislike, and what our needs and wants are, then we can we set boundaries on behaviors that are unacceptable to us.
It is the nature of our condition that most codependents lack internal boundaries. The consequence of this is that we have difficulty separating our lives and our feelings from those of others. We feel their feelings for them, because their pain seems to be ours. We rescue them from their problems because we believe it is our job to help them. And we take responsibility for their wellbeing because we equate their happiness with our own. But this enmeshment and lack of separateness from others leads us into relationships that are fraught with abuse and resentment. To recover and set healthy boundaries in our relationships we need to disentangle ourselves emotionally from others and see ourselves as human beings with an individual identity. As we practice owning our feelings and forming a sense of our identify, we begin to appreciate our self worth and to discover our needs and wants. We are then able to get a sense of our likes and dislikes. From there we can determine which behaviors we find respectful and which ones we find objectionable, and so begin the process of setting boundaries.
2. State your boundary When beginning this process of recovery, codependents can often be heard complaining that they set a boundary on a behavior, but that the other person disregarded it. They say: the boundary did not work! But there’s an art to setting limits against unacceptable behavior. The first thing to remember is that a boundary isn’t a wish that we express to another, with the hope that it be granted – and that the person changes their behavior once and for all. Boundaries need to be clearly and assertively stated and maintained. They need to get restated and reasserted every time the unacceptable behavior is repeated. Think of setting a boundary per this example: Imagine that you are comfortable with a person standing a certain distance from you, but not closer. As a person moves closer, you raise your hands to indicate stop, indicating that this is the distance with which you feel comfortable. The person stops at your requested distance, so you put your hands down. A big mistake! By doing so the person thinks you have loosened your boundary and is bound to start closing the gap, disregarding your initial boundary setting.
The key to setting a boundary is to first define it and then to consistently maintain it. It is no good setting a boundary if are not planning to enforce it. Saying no to an unwanted behavior and then to relent and let the person behave in the objectionable way is self-defeating. Needless to say, other people will not take you seriously and are bound to disregard your limit setting. 3. Commit and persevere Having no familiarity with boundaries, we codependents have allowed others to walk all over us for ages. When we finally decide to set boundaries, some of those in our lives are bound resist. They will want to continue taking advantage of us, to disregard our interests. What is pivotal in setting boundaries is that we have a clear idea of how we want to be treated, of how we want others to behave toward us. Then we must be ready to follow through on our resolve to be respected by maintaining the boundaries we set. If needed, we must repeatedly insist that others behave toward us only in ways we find comfortable. Codependents not in recovery may recognize objectionable behavior toward themselves, but instead of asserting a boundary they will use emotional defenses such as getting angry, nagging, blaming or complaining. People will not hear us if we behave like children, and, of course, they will not take us seriously.
For a boundary to be effective, we must state in a calm, assertive and courteous manner the behavior we find unacceptable. If the other person seems not to hear us or fails to respect the boundary we are setting, we may need to communicate consequences for their actions and encourage them to comply with our wishes. We want to be sure of ourselves, though. Specifically, if we spell out consequences for an objectionable behavior, we must be ready to carry through on them. For example, your son has gotten into the habit of coming home very late each night. You tell him to be home latest by a certain time, that these are the rules, and that you find his behavior unacceptable. If he disregards you and continues in his behavior, you may want to set a consequence such as putting him on a curfew or stopping his pocket money for a while. He may listen to you and stop for a while, but then go back to his old habits of coming home late. Remember that perseverance and commitment are keys to making boundaries work. So you would need to stick to your guns, again insisting on him coming home by a certain time. You may also want to assert that there will be further consequences if he fails to abide by your rule. But by careful that you are ready to carry through. It does no good to threaten to throw him out of the house if there is no chance of you doing such a thing. This will only lead to your not being taken seriously and being further disrespected in other ways. 4. Assert your right Finally, remember that if you have difficulty saying no to unacceptable behavior, if you are more concerned with pleasing others than asserting your right as a worthy human being, then you are still under the power of your codependency. You are still operating in the role of victim, a person deserving to be treated less than, a person at the mercy of other people’s wants. Recovery from codependency requires you to change what you believe about yourself. Keep reminding yourself that you are perfectly all right as you are and that you have worth and value as a human being. Once you begin to realize this truth about yourself, then setting boundaries will become easy. You will find yourself employing them naturally, as tools to guard your integrity. You will realize it is your right to take care of yourself, to protect yourself against any behavior that is abusive or objectionable. Remember it is your right to assert yourself and set a limit on any behavior that is detrimental to your worth as a human being. If you feel yourself being made uncomfortable by someone who is demanding, controlling, criticizing, pushy, abusive, invasive, pleading, or even smothering you with kindness, then you have a right to voice and set a boundary on it. You have the right to assert what you want and that which you are not comfortable with. It is your responsibility as a person of worth and value to set a boundary on any behavior that is disrespectful
-Information adapted from Hamrah.co with permission
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