By now, everyone agrees: Having healthy boundaries is a good thing. No one’s sitting here saying that boundaries are bad. (And if they are, you should take them as the big, walking red flag that they are.) Still, some of this is mystifying. People struggle with how to set boundaries so people know exactly what you want. The problem is…there’s something you don’t realize about boundaries until you’re trying to set them for yourself–and it makes it all so much harder.
Enforcing boundaries is incredibly difficult. Like, day-ruining, friendship-ending difficulty. It’s the enforcement that’s truly the hardest part.
When you read about boundaries, it’s always about what makes a boundary healthy, and what you should say to someone you’re setting boundaries with. It’s the aftermath that gets conveniently left out. Let’s talk about it.
A boundary is meaningless unless it’s actually enforced. And the onus of enforcing them is on the person who set them. How that looks depends on the people and the boundary, so let’s have an example:
Let’s say you set a boundary with your mother that you don’t want to hear any comments about your body. It’s a great boundary! Put into practice, it’d mean not getting into conversations that might make you feel bad about yourself or trigger your ED or self image issues. But your mom? She thinks she’s helping. She birthed you, and it feels weird not to be able to talk to you in this way. And she’s been doing it for as long as you’ve been alive, so it’s not exactly a habit she’ll break easily.
Then the day comes, probably sooner rather than later, when she makes a comment about your weight or your tattoo or the way you wear your hair. She’s testing the boundary, on purpose or otherwise. You’ve come to a point where you have to decide if you’ll enforce it.
You run through all the scenarios. Maybe she’ll be chill about it, apologize, and move on. Maybe she’ll fight back and argue. Maybe she’ll guilt trip you in that unique way that only a mom can. And all of it is hard. Having to bring up your boundary is hard. Dealing with the reaction is hard. It’s tiring. It’s emotional hell, sometimes.
In real life, having healthy boundaries isn’t a pretty experience. It’s not like you set the boundary and it’s immediately respected. If it is, you probably didn’t have to set it in the first place. Instead, you draw the line, you remind the person of the line, you argue about it, you deal with the consequences.
But it’s worth it. Respecting yourself and demanding others respect you as well is the key to a healthy adulthood. You can do it, even though it’s hard.