Boundaries: Why You Need to Know What They Are

Put yourself on the list

Photo by Alvin Engler

“Why do you do that?” he asked me…”Why is it every time she calls you, no matter what time it is, you run out the door?”

For some reason, I heard him this time. I paused long enough to realize he was right. And I’m going to say words that are hard to admit. He was right.

With this one friend, I had no boundaries.
But I didn’t see at that moment. It took me getting hurt. It took me seeing that our friendship was not mutual. I was there for her. And that’s where it ended.

Attending a support group where we went through the book, Boundaries, by Henri Cloud and John Townsend clarified so many things for me. I discovered I never had boundaries in my life.

And so, I started on a new path. A path where I would consider myself instead of just thinking about everyone else.

Skin is our first boundary

People need to respect your personal boundary of space.

If we didn’t have skin, all of our organs would be unprotected. There’s a thought you can’t easily forget.
Boundaries are for our protection. People who violate our boundaries are not considering us.

I felt a pain in the pit of my stomach. It was the moment I realized I had been violated. Every time my dad slipped his belt from his trousers, we were violated. I didn’t realize it at the time. I was just a kid. And when we all got hit at once, I just figured it was us. I just thought we were bad.

I swallowed hard. Maybe this wouldn’t be an easy class.

Sometimes the hardest lessons are the ones we remember.

Distance can be a boundary between us and others

I heard people in the group talk about being respected. They mentioned separate places. “You know, like when you were a kid and you had your own bedroom. Like that. It was your own private space.”

I sat there with a blank expression on my face.

“Didn’t you have places that belonged to just you?” asked another.

“No,” I answered quickly. There was no thinking about it. No need for any kind of reflection. There were no separate places. Yes, we had our own bedrooms, but I don’t even think we were allowed to close the doors. We grew up believing that our parents had a right to everything.

I cringe when I realize sometimes I didn’t even feel I had a right to private thoughts. It seemed like my parents were everywhere, even in my mind. And even though they’ve been gone for years, sometimes it still feels like that.

You are entitled to an opinion

I knew I had to push back on this one. I was never even allowed to verbalize my own feelings.

“Stop that crying,” they’d say, or “you’re just too sensitive.”

I remember trying to share an opinion once, “Mom, you know that plaid dress, I have? I don’t really like it.”

I did it! I stood up for myself and shared something I had been thinking. I didn’t realize how brave that was till the gunfire started.

But first, there was the cold stare. The kind that just put me in my place, as shame overwhelmed me.

“You know what? You will never be satisfied. You are so ungrateful,” she said. 
And I immediately stepped back into my silent place. Lesson learned: I am not entitled to my own opinion. Don’t do it again.

My interpretation? What I want doesn’t matter, just please everyone else.

And so I did. When people said, “Jump,” I jumped. I exceeded expectations.

People pleaser extraordinaire

One time, I helped another friend with an event. I was to collect money for the tickets at a community center. One by one, I took the money and put it in the cash box.

Hours later the money did not match up. We were missing a couple of tickets.

I put on my “people pleasing” hat and went into gear. I hesitate to share what happened next.

I stayed after everyone left the center. I was determined to find those two tickets. Let me just say that I actually got into a dumpster to go through a trash bag in search of the ticket.

Honestly, I do not remember the outcome, but I do still remember the smell. It was me not having any self-respect.

They say that people pleasers are last on a list. I wasn’t on the list at all. Exhausted from trying to meet everyone’s expectations, and going beyond. I stopped.
The light bulb went on when I finally realized these people I’m trying to please don’t even see me.

If they had a need, I was all over it. If I had a need? Crickets.

We can say no?

We sat in our support group and someone read the words,“Loving someone means you can hear, “No.”

Were they kidding?

But they didn’t stop there, they went further saying, “ You don’t even have to give a reason for saying ‘no’.

They obviously had lived in a house different than the one I grew up in. A house where you did what you were told and it so affected you that you took it out in the world and continued doing what everyone told you.

I had even gone further and I did what I thought people wanted me to do.

Are they saying I had a choice? I had to try this out. Honestly, the first few times it was hard to get that word out of my mouth. But the more I did it, the easier it became.

And then I was throwing no’s all over the place. Freedom. I experienced true freedom.

Self-care is not selfish

As an extreme people pleaser, I had learned everyone came before me. Everyone.

Consequently, I would be too exhausted to take care of me.

I saw that saying “no,” was taking care of me.

Saying what I wanted was taking care of me.

I felt like I was being selfish as I considered me. I remembered my mom. She never considered herself. I learned how to model that behavior.

Now I had to learn something new. But because I did not want my daughter to model herself after a people pleaser, that part of me had to change.

The journey was long, but I decided to take it. One by one, I made decisions that reflected the new me. The me that cared about me.

The me that realized you and I are two separate people.

I took a little piece of chalk and outlined all my skin

to understand more fully where you end, and I begin.

Boundaries are for everyone

I devoured book Boundaries. I liked who I was becoming.

Some things were more difficult than others. I needed to learn to put a boundary up as far as what other people told me.

For years, I let everyone give me advice. It didn’t even matter what the advice was. I didn’t think I had the right to stop them.

But then I learned I could make my own decisions. I didn’t have to listen to anyone else’s advice. And before long, I recognized when someone was violating a boundary.

I learned to speak up for myself. To respect others, but to respect me as well.


I need to ask you to leave my yard, 
I know you’ve been here before,
It was I who would see you coming,
and throw open wide the door.

But you trampled all my flowers.
The advice you’d freely give
has drowned my little garden
and the plants are few that live.

So I’m asking you to leave my yard,
I regret that my plea is so late.
I must get you to see
that my yard is for me.
If you like, we can talk by the gate.

Call to Action:

What about you?
What are some boundaries you’ve had to enforce?
How has it changed your life?

Life is hard, so I write words to make it softer.

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Helping Someone in Grief: 17 Things You Need to Know.