Knowing how to set clear limits in our relationships with others is an essential element to enjoy healthy and authentic relationships.
They are essential in relationships, and yet many people find it difficult to set limits, feel uncomfortable and end up tolerating things they do not want because they do not dare to set them. This has many consequences, in the short term, on the emotional well-being of the person and their self-esteem, and, in the long term, it destroys relationships.
- I’m going to tell you what a well-placed limit is,
- why do you have a hard time putting them on,
- the dire consequences for relationships of not putting them in and
- the key that makes a boundary well set.
- 1 What is a limit in a relationship
- 2 Why is it difficult for us to set limits?
- 3 How to identify when your limits have been exceeded
- 4 The decisive moment
- 5 Mark limits: Complacency and betrayal or limit from love
- 6 The need to be congruent when marking a boundary
- 7 Setting limits from love
- 8 What will you do if a limit violation occurs?
- 9 When should a limit be communicated and when is it not necessary?
- 10 To dare to set a limit you need to act from an abundance mentality
- 11 Limits strengthen relationships
- 12 The consequence if they don’t respect your limits
- 13 Become aware of the alternative
- 14 Trust that they love you and dare to set limits
- 15 What to do when they follow you without respecting your limits?
- 16 The power is given to you that you know the consequence of someone violating your limits
What is a limit in a relationship
A limit in a relationship marks how far one is willing to tolerate. Like physical limits, they clearly delimit where passage is allowed and where it is not, the limits in a relationship mark what is accepted and what is not.
Doing research on the subject, I came across a definition that I loved, from Lisa Dion.
It is the point where if I pass it I stop being myself. If the other continues doing what he or she does or I continue doing what I am doing, I stop being me, “I lose myself”, I am no longer authentic to myself.
And I found it brilliant because making the analogy with the physical world is very easy to see.
Imagine a house with a garden.
It has a fence. That fence clearly delimits the property. If you go past the fence, it ceases to be the property. If someone enters uninvited inside, you will feel invaded, in danger, angry. Or, if you are not as fearful as I am, what is clear is that you are going to have an emotional reaction to the event and you are going to give an answer, from talking to them to calling the police, depending on the case.
In the world of personal relationships there are similar invasions, but we do not always recognize them as such, they are not so obvious.
But the effect is the same, a strong emotional upheaval.
Then you no longer respond from your calm and full self, but in a reactive way. You are no longer you in all your splendor and you will not be while the invasion lasts .
Knowing how to identify, understand and manage these circumstances is essential.
It requires work and its handling demands a lot of emotional maturity. Working with limits is one of the deep jobs in personal growth. It is not easy, but it has many rewards. To begin with, increase your self-esteem and sense of personal worth. In addition, the way you manage your time also changes. Not allowing interruptions when you are focused on something, for example, is a limit.
Why is it difficult for us to set limits?
For many reasons, but they are mainly reduced to the fear of rejection, of losing the relationship and the lack of self-esteem or consideration of sufficient inner worth at that moment. I explain.
When you mark a limit, when you say “not out there” you are exposing yourself to not like it. Normally if you have to mark a boundary there has to have been a violation first.
Therefore, you are responding to attack, meddling, offense. And that creates conflict. Not everyone feels good in conflict.
In the first place, perhaps the other is not even aware of the offense. What you have done for him or her is totally acceptable. The limits are personal, perhaps the first thing is that we question the validity of our feelings.
Also, we have not been taught to handle discrepancies and in this society, in general, we have been educated to please, please, emotionally speaking.
Then, when the time comes, maybe we don’t react, we let it go. And then we feel awful. Because in some way we have betrayed ourselves, we have not defended ourselves.
It is a complex issue, I will go slowly.
How to identify when your limits have been exceeded
First of all, understand what our limits are. Self-knowledge is key to our well-being.
You don’t have to start listing your limits now. All you have to do is activate your self-awareness to identify it when the time comes.
Somehow you already know, but maybe you haven’t taken the time to put it black on white.
Your body is very wise and your emotions are your compass.
You have to learn to read the signals it sends you. When you are with someone and someone crosses a boundary, your body reacts.
What you will notice is an increase in heart rate, aggressiveness, the fists clench slightly, the jaw tightens . Your body senses a threat and prepares for a fight or flight response .
You feel uncomfortable.
If you are with someone and you notice your body sending signals, it is that there has been a violation of a limit of yours. The more you know yourself, the better, because you will know how to understand what is happening to you at the moment and that enables you to give a conscious, chosen response and not a reactive one.
What you want is to lengthen the time between the stimulus and your response to be able to choose it and be able to go through the world in the way you want, and not reacting to circumstances with little control of your emotions and behaviors that you are later ashamed of.
So the first thing is to identify and name it . Being capable of just this is already a huge step. The usual emotions in case of emotional invasion are anxiety, stress, resentment, fear and anger.
Now comes the moment of truth, you have listened to your body, you have identified that a violation of your limits has altered you … What are you going to do?
The decisive moment
Let’s see, when someone does something that you don’t want them to do, passes your limit (it really violates you, it offends you) you have to decide what to do with it and many variables play here.
I think with an example it looks better.
Imagine the classic example of in-laws who are planted in your house without notice or invitation to see the grandchildren.
The first thing I want to emphasize is that no situation is in itself a violation of a boundary .
That is the complicated thing about this, it depends on each one. For some, unexpected visits are no problem. Maybe they even love it. There are other people who, if they are going to receive, demand of themselves to be tidy, to have the house in certain conditions, so for them an unexpected visit is a cause of high stress and agitation.
It is neither good nor bad, it is what it is.
Now, in your head a real conflict can occur. Think that we have 65,000 thoughts a day. At that moment you can have 100 at the same time in 3 seconds, totally contradictory on the same topic. So I ask you to be compassionate with yourself if you are not able to always manage it in the optimal way.
Make an effort to learn and get to know yourself so that you can develop chosen responses. Practice, like everything else, and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t do it right one day.
We return to the case. You are at home and your in-laws appear.
The house is a mess and you are exhausted. The baby has a difficult day. But at the same time, at that moment your program appears (which we all have to a greater or lesser extent) to please others, even above us.
They have taught us that you have to be a good hostess. In my town especially, you have to be flexible, know how to improvise.
Also, you know that grandparents love children and you want your children to enjoy them.
But the reality is that you feel very violated at that moment. A lot of.
You have to choose. And the choice is always the same. They or you. It always comes down to the same thing, what do you prioritize?
Mark limits: Complacency and betrayal or limit from love
Remember that I am talking about something that really shakes you up. It does not matter if you are right or not. It doesn’t matter if society stipulates that this is acceptable . The reality is that you cannot bear that situation.
And I’ll tell you something, you won’t bear it.
Maybe you are supposedly putting up with it , but because you feel so bad, you end up being rude while they are, reluctantly, then you scold your husband and, finally, you feel guilty and crush yourself for not having been up to the task.
Notice, for not appearing rude at first and saying, ” I love you very much, but you can’t come without warning, ” you swallow and behave rudely. Maybe not the first time, but surely the seventh time.
You have rarefied the relationship by not choosing you.
When you decide not to set a limit, not to say a no what you want to say, not to face something that seems unfair or inappropriate, you are betraying yourself.
And that takes its toll. Create resentment.
And, curiously, we blame each other. – “Look what they have done, come without warning. Who can think of it? ”- Again, we are not taking responsibility for our emotions and behaviors.
If you don’t say something is bothering you, what do you want your mind to read?
The need to be congruent when marking a boundary
We can only build healthy relationships from honesty and authenticity . If you give up or hide who you are to like or please others, you are building a lie and people cannot bear incongruity for long. It is a lie, you are saying no to yourself. “You can’t be who you really are, or you won’t like it, they won’t accept you.”
This compromises your worth, your self-esteem and in the long run always the relationship, because in the end the goat pulls into the bush and in relationships much more is said with the body than with words.
And you can deny what you feel with words, but you will never be able to hide what your body transmits. We are incongruous and the rest can read it. The brain has a specially designed part to detect danger, the amygdala. We perceive incongruity in someone as danger.
You may have noticed that sometimes you are with someone and something does not fit, what he says does not match what he does.
And we call it intuition, but it is actually lack of congruence.
We have neurons capable of reading emotions. As it is. We are able, even without knowing it, to identify barely perceptible changes – in the tone of the skin, when the jaws are tightened and the pupil is dilated.
We read people.
Relations always occur at two levels, the manifest, what is said and the ulterior (what is underneath), which are the non-verbal language that is actually the one that marks the outcome of the encounter .
It’s fascinating, but I scatter …
That you are not fooling anyone, well. When you are upset it shows. And mark the relationship, you name it or not. That is why to maintain healthy relationships and be able to enjoy your time without guilt, it is necessary to learn to set limits, know them, first, and know how to communicate them, when appropriate, in an elegant and mature way.
Setting limits from love
There is one thing I want to clarify. You set the limits for yourself. They are not an attempt to manipulate or control the other. They are not threats.
It is that you know yourself and want the good of your relationship and that is why you expose what works for you and what does not. And it is that you love and prioritize yourself always. A limit is a sign of love for you.
It is not selfish, mind you, mothers have a hard time understanding that we have to be the first. That it doesn’t work any other way. It seems so, but no. That when you put another above you for a long time, yes or yes, it turns into resentment.
I recommend that you never set a limit from fear or anger. Do it from love. This is how limits are set in an adult way.
And an essential theme is missing. THE TOPIC. The consequence.
What will you do if a limit violation occurs?
For a limit to be effective you have to be congruent. And being congruent means honoring your word and validating the limit that you have set with your subsequent behavior.
Many times the limits do not work because you are not willing to execute the consequences.
This is very noticeable in the punishment of children but you know (and they notice) that you are not going to carry out the threat. You know what I mean, right?
Well, we adults also know how to read if someone is going to continue with a limit or if they are just words that the wind blows away.
A limit is not a limit if it does not have a consequence associated with it.
The key question is what are you going to do if they don’t respect them. And that’s where the difficult begins. Most people do not dare to execute the consequence.
If you mark a limit but by communicating it – tacitly or expressly – you are not willing to carry it out, the limit is useless, in fact it weakens you.
Be careful because it weakens your self-esteem and confidence in you .
In the previous example, the decision to make is whether or not you accept that they come without warning. If you decide that for your good and the good of your relationship with them you are going to be honest you will have to communicate it.
And this is when you feel uncomfortable. But notice that you are already uncomfortable when they show up without permission. You are going to choose another type of temporary discomfort, which in the long run can save you resentment, or settle for continued discomfort over time.
The famous saying: “Better once a red face than hundreds yellow.”
When should a limit be communicated and when is it not necessary?
There are limits that must be communicated and others that do not. There are limits that communicate themselves, but be careful with the ones you take for granted. The limits are absolutely personal.
For example, in a couple the usual limits in our society are fidelity and non-physical aggression.
But what about the verbal one? Do you accept that they raise your voice?
In my house the voice is raised, we were arguing heatedly. However, at the home of Carlos, my husband, he did not yell at each other and became overwhelmed as soon as I raised my voice. This is a good place where he should put a limit.
But if you are overwhelmed and have “closed” (reaction to protect yourself) it is not easy to do so.
Daring to set a limit requires courage and trust in your worth. And practical. Especially if you are not good at handling conflicts and you feel uncomfortable doing so.
To dare to set a limit you need to act from an abundance mentality
In my first job the boss was unpresentable, he treated us with very little respect. I was an intern, I was 20 years old and I thought I had to put up with that.
A few years later I had a boss who was yelling and very aggressive.
But I already had work experience there. I knew I was a valuable resource to the company and to him if he let me work at my best.
Physically I trusted my emotional handling in raised-voice discussions – my reaction to confrontation is “fight, don’t run.” So I was able to communicate my limits.
And I did very well.
I explained, “Look, I can’t and I don’t want to work with yelling. I am the team leader that has touched you in this project. If you yell at me, I think worse and I’ll do a worse job. If you teach me I can learn. In the next project you already ask for another senior if you don’t like the job ”.
He got it. He is the person who has taught me the most in my life. He’s a brilliant guy.
We worked on all the projects together while we were both with the company.
Because I dared to tell him “Not like that.”
There was a choice in my mind, “If he has to kick me out, let him kick me out, but that’s not how I work.”
I chose myself. I decided to protect myself.
I remembered myself at the age of 20 in my first job as disabled and unprotected and decided that I was not going to tolerate that anymore. And he wasn’t asking for anything irrational. I was asking to be allowed to work.
I was able to make that decision because I had an abundance mentality: there are more jobs, I am very capable and I will never be short of work.
Setting a boundary carries a risk, risking rejection and losing the relationship. If you think there are no more – jobs, partners, friends – you will accept things you don’t want because we prefer to be treated badly than not treated.
Healthy relationships are not chosen from scarcity.
Limits strengthen relationships
Setting limits is a vulnerable moment, because you are being authentic. So when they get right, limits strengthen relationships because they make them more honest.
Have you realized that your best relationships are with those with whom you have ever argued and made things clear?
It’s because you can relax when you’ve communicated your limits, you don’t have to pretend to be who you are or hide your personality.
Going back to the example.
You have identified an area of your life where you want to put a limit. There is a violation of said limit, an invasion of your physical or emotional property and you want to protect yourself.
You gather up the courage and say it: “I prefer that you let me know when you are coming.” Or “I don’t like that you are late” (for example, the typical friend who disposes of your time with little respect)
Have you set a limit?
You have named a preference.
The most important part is missing, the consequence.
You have to be clear about what will happen if your limit is breached. First of all, it has to be clear that it is not a preference, it is a no.
Sometimes we feel so uncomfortable setting the limit that we make it so smooth that the other understands it more as a wish than as something relevant.
But the most important thing is that we leave it as floating … a question remains in the air …
What will happen if they do not comply is the linchpin when setting a limit.
The consequence if they don’t respect your limits
I have read a lot about limits and have had a lot of sessions with clients on the subject and what I still like the most is:
(1) explain what you are going to do if your limits are crossed and
(2) be willing to honor your word.
It is a 100% coaching approach in which you maintain all your power. That’s why I like it.
Instead of focusing on the behavior of others, which you cannot control, you are going to focus on yourself , on what you want to do if another invasion occurs .
A well-placed limit marks the action that you will take if they continue to do what they are doing.
It is a huge difference.
You are not asking the other to change, you are explaining what you will do about it.
This way you maintain your power and make sure that you are going to be okay since you have established your terms. You can relax, be yourself, and enjoy the relationship.
If you depend on others to do something or not what you ask of them, you are sold.
You position yourself as the victim of a behavior, powerless by definition – because the action is on the other side, outside of you.
Setting limits entails establishing the consequence of being crossed
In the example of unannounced visits.
It is a very uncomfortable case because what is the only possible action left in your hand? Do not open.
Hahaha, I’m imagining you scandalized. “How am I going to do that?”
But let’s slowly remember the situation we were using as an example:
Your in-laws show up whenever they want without giving notice to see the newborn baby.
And the demons take you every time they do it.
You’re getting their mania.
You are obsessing over the subject as well.
Sleep deprivation and not working makes you focus more on these things due to the absence of other stimuli.
You don’t like being like that because you are a very intelligent aunt and you don’t understand why you are in this situation, thinking about it so much.
You feel like a prisoner in your own home, because people show up when they feel like it.
To your husband you put the head to him like a hype every day with the subject.
He has gently told his parents to call, but it actually happens quite a bit because he’s working and it doesn’t seem like that much.
You think you’re exaggerating, it’s very hormonal.
It is a situation that I see regularly. In different settings and with different actors (bosses, children, “friends”).
There is one important thing to remember: they are adults and adults can do whatever they want.
We don’t have to like it, but adults can, and do, do what they want. That makes you uncomfortable because it seems like you have no options other than putting up with it . The prelude to resentment.
But you always have options . Forever. You are also an adult and you can do whatever you want.
You can put the limit:
“I love you and I love that you come to see the child, but you have to let me know or maybe you will meet one day when I don’t open the door for you. You can catch me asleep, in the shower or busy. If it doesn’t suit me and you haven’t let me know, I’m not going to open it. I don’t want you to go for nothing. Please let me know before you come ”.
It may seem inconceivable not to open the door.
I assure you that if you clearly explain that you want them to warn and show consistency and determination when you communicate it, in most cases you never have to execute the consequence.
But you have to be willing to do it, if you put it.
If not, better not set the limit.
You will have to understand if you want to be notified or you also want to negotiate visiting hours. In every relationship there is a certain negotiation.
Understanding what your salient points are matters.
For example, one of my clients was super flexible, she didn’t care when they came, she just wanted to be notified to get ready.
Perhaps the important thing for you is the time.
And when you analyze it, you realize that it doesn’t really matter that they don’t tell you, as long as they come at a time when you know you’re ready and the child has a good time.
Understand what the real problem is for you in the situation.
So you can set fewer limits, only fair ones. You will feel less awkward. And when you don’t have a huge list of what for others are rules or hobbies , it is easy to respect the limits.
I want to insist that there is no fixed formula, there is a formula for you.
You have to find what works for you. I have given you an example, a possible way to deal with it.
You don’t have to do that.
You do not have to do anything that does not convince you, that is not authentic to you.
There are many options. Remember, you have options. You have to find yours.
Remember, you are setting limits out of love for yourself, to preserve your well-being, and for the long-term good of the relationship.
This is clearly easier said than done, especially when you are not used to being firm in your interactions and you tend to avoid conflict, but I assure you that it can change your whole life.
Become aware of the alternative
I want to reinforce the idea that you are setting limits from love. You like your in-laws, you love them but there has been a dynamic that is not going well for you.
If you start from a “I can’t stand them, I don’t want them to come” it is no longer a matter of limits and you have to do a preliminary work.
I would like to move the relationship into the future and see possible scenarios that can occur.
The most common, you shut up, say nothing and put up with it like a good girl (we have this program implemented, do not generate conflict, please and please, putting others above us).
The situation repeats itself and you get worse every day.
You are annoyed and it begins to annoy you every comment they make, to the point that you think they do it to annoy.
You are tense when they come and the child is tense, because we mirroring human (absorb and copy emotions around us ).
And every day it is more uncomfortable.
You start trying to say without saying what you want to say. That is a disaster.
In the end, you don’t feel like seeing them at all, because you don’t like how you are when you’re with them .
Trust that they love you and dare to set limits
The alternative is to say what you need.
With affection, temperance and security. You are clear about what you want and you are firm when communicating it. You show congruence, you convey integrity – you are going to carry out the consequence.
In the vast majority of cases, I assure you that your request will be heard and attended to. They love you and what you ask is reasonable.
Also, you do not do it from a hectic emotional state that can seem like a heat and that takes all the credit.
There is love in the background and it shows.
Some negotiation may occur. They will tell you what they want and need. And you will assess if you give in and in what, but being very clear about what is important to you, what is non-negotiable.
But sometimes you find that people continue to do what they want, even if they have asked for something else.
There are bastard people.
This is when you have to summon your emotional maturity and fight for yourself.
What to do when they follow you without respecting your limits?
If someone continues to cross a limit once you have communicated it, it is because you have not been firm in doing so, they have not noticed congruence.
And it may be the case. It is not strange.
You want one thing, the other wants another, and each one pursues his own. There are people used to doing whatever they want. At the expense of anyone.
And this is where you have to put yourself in value.
Honor your word. If you don’t, your limit is worth nothing.
What’s more, you just discredited yourself. All the limits that you set from now on will be disregarded, because you have said they are not important. You have communicated that they are optional.
But I will tell you that it is never too late to reset limits. In this case it is necessary to name it: “I know that up to now it has been like that and I have allowed it, but from now on … whatever”.
But please keep your word. Honor her.
If someone doesn’t respect your limits, they don’t respect you. Point. And if you don’t respect your limits, you don’t respect yourself. And that’s the worst thing you can do to yourself.
Sometimes you have to know how to say no to a relationship.
The power is given to you that you know the consequence of someone violating your limits
I’ll tell you that sometimes you don’t even have to communicate the consequence because when you have it clear, clear meridian, the limit communicates itself.
People transmit our preferences, our model of the world and our beliefs with every cell in our body. We say a lot every day about what we accept and what we don’t.
That is why many times you do not have to set limits. If you have it clear, others usually know them.
The problem comes when you are not clear about what you want or what really bothers you in a situation.
Having children, for example, creates a lot of new situations for which you have not formed an opinion. Then unwanted intrusions occur, which you do not know how to name and do not fully understand.
And you do not set the limit immediately because you are not clear about it and then something is established because you did not stop it from the beginning.
Well, it’s never too late to set a limit if you do it right. From love to you, with the intention of reinforcing the relationship by making it more honest and being authentic.
And remember, do not focus on the behavior of the other but on what you want to do in the situation, which is the only thing you have control over.
I’m not saying that it is easy. I tell you that it can be learned. And that feels great.
Know yourself. Take care of yourself. It grows