Boundaries. We’re all familiar with the word. But some of us hardly know what it even means or how to implement them into our daily lives. According to an article on Psych Central, there are six different types of boundaries. However, I’m going to talk about the type of boundary that has helped me. I’ve broken away from a toxic relationship with my mother by setting emotional boundaries.
Having healthy emotional boundaries
The author of the article defines emotional boundaries as being able to separate your emotions from someone else’s. Having healthy emotional boundaries means that you do not feel guilty for someone else’s feelings. You do not take responsibility for the way someone else chooses to act. Because the way someone else acts has nothing to do with us and everything to do with them. That is not to say that we can’t contribute to being hurtful or mean. But we have no control over someone else’s feelings or actions.
The author also suggests that high reactivity indicates weak emotional boundaries, and I couldn’t agree more. Think of the last time you were in a situation with someone where they did something either intentionally or unintentionally that upset you. Did you react with extreme anger or engage in fighting with the person? Did you let it get under your skin and bother you for days on end? If you did, then now is a good time to acknowledge that some internal work needs to be done and personal boundaries need to be set.
Put yourself first
The work is everything but simple because it requires you to put yourself first–something many of us have trouble doing. When I was living with my mother, I was constantly making sure that she was happy and okay. I didn’t care about how I felt because in my mind, as long as my mom was happy, then I was happy, too. I sacrificed my mental health to protect her from her abusive (now ex) boyfriend.
My mom has a severe lack of self-esteem and is the type of person to let people abuse her and hurt her, so I felt like I had to be the one to stand up for her because she was unable to do it herself. I took on the emotional abuse for her. Always by her side (literally), I was always the one she’d come to when there was something wrong.
I knew I had to leave
I used to think that because we were together 24/7 meant we were best friends, and that’s how a mother-daughter relationship should be. Through lots and lots of therapy, though, I realized how terribly unhealthy and wrong that is. I knew the best thing for my mental health would be for me to leave. So I did.
I experienced many different emotions when I left and I was constantly worried that I’d made a mistake leaving. What if she hates me and never talks to me again because I’ve abandoned her? I left her with her abusive boyfriend to fend for herself. Who will be there to help her when he yells and gets drunk? Those were the most troublesome thoughts I had when I first left. But with more therapy, I was able to get through them and see the situation from a different perspective.
I cannot save her
I was slowly learning that I cannot save her. It is not my job to save her. She is a grown woman and can make her own decisions. I didn’t know it, but what I was doing was setting an emotional boundary. I shouldn’t feel guilty or bad for leaving the house because it was a very harmful environment for me to be in and was destroying my mental wellbeing. Once I accepted that her choices were not my responsibility, I was able to then create even more emotional boundaries.
A significant step in learning how to create and set emotional boundaries with people is to become aware of how you feel around them. Do you notice that after a certain amount of time around the person you begin to feel triggered or anxious? Does seeing the person more than twice a week feel like it’s doing more harm than good? Through awareness, I now know that if I see my mom for more than an hour and more than once a week, I will become irritated and really angry. Being fully aware of how you feel around someone is a great indicator of what kind of boundary you need to set and when to put it into action.
Stay firm in your position
One thing that is to be expected when setting boundaries with someone is that they will most likely become upset with you. That’s OK. Chances are, you’ve never set a boundary with them before. This usually sparks up some kind of resentment or aggression from the person on the other end because they would rather you put them first than yourself. As long as you stay firm in your position and know what needs to be done in order to ensure your mental health, then you will only grow emotionally stronger, as will your boundaries.
Always remember that how the other person reacts to your self-care (because boundaries are a huge part of self-care) is beyond our control. Boundary work is not easy, but it can be achieved with awareness, and more importantly knowing and believing that you have the power within yourself to create healthy emotional boundaries.