I grew up understanding two crucial things; one, you will never please everyone, and two, you're responsible for yourself. Despite these lessons, social expectations and my own mental deception during adolescence and early adulthood started pushing me into a much different (and much more self-destructive) belief system. I started to believe I was nothing without my friends or family, that I could never say "no" to a social event, that I would miss something important or worth-while if I wasn't a part of everything, my relationships would wilt, I would disappoint someone, someone would stop loving me. I've never felt more alone during that time, and I've never felt more misunderstood by myself.
It's taken a lot of self-reflection, time, and patience with myself to learn how to actively practice creating and keeping healthy boundaries in my relationships. And note, I said "practice", not "master". I never expect to be finished growing and learning myself and my boundaries. But since I've become more conscious of my needs and feelings, I've become a lot better at controlling my emotions when things get overwhelming, and keeping healthy relationships.
So, where to begin?
First thing's first, you need to be able to tune into your feelings and become self-aware. You can't begin to create boundaries if you can't identify what it feels like to have them violated. Usually feelings of discomfort, anxiousness, resentment, and guilt are red flags. Follow those feelings, ask yourself what about the interaction made you feel that way. Where did it cross the line? Do you feel taken advantage of or not appreciated? Take notice, and identify patterns. Noticing patterns in behavior of yourself and others will help you take the next steps more confidently, because you'll have a clearer starting place.
Not only need to be able to recognize your feelings, ideas, and beliefs by tuning in and listening to yourself more, but you also need to understand them. Dedicate yourself to learning them and really get to know who you are as an individual. The more you learn to love and respect yourself you'll notice that it becomes easier to allow only people around you that follow suit, and to dismiss the ones who don't.
This has been the hardest part for me when setting boundaries for myself. I hate confrontation, and I hate upsetting people, so being extremely direct goes against every fiber of my being. At least it used to. As with any skill, I had to practice feeling comfortable operating outside of my norm, and accept myself there. Since we all have varying ways in which we communicate or like to be communicated with, I've found being direct the most efficient way to bridge all gaps. Whether someone communicates similarly to me or not, being direct, clear, and honest eradicates all uncertainty. It not only makes conversations a lot simpler, but it also makes setting boundaries a lot easier. Don't be rude, just speak your truth.
There will come a day where you realize that not all of your relationships are healthy. I have always adhered to the belief that it's best to cut those people out entirely in a "rip the Band-Aid" like fashion. However, I've had to come to terms with the fact that that's not always possible, nor is it always the best solution, especially if the person does, in fact, bring some sort of value to my life. It is fair, though, to separate yourself enough to maintain a healthy relationship with that person again. Here's the thing, not everyone needs or deserves 100% of you (emotionally, psychologically, physically, intellectually), nor should you be giving that much of yourself to everyone. That's a recipe for burn-out and for heartbreak. Instead, create room for yourself and that other person to express yourself on a personal level without entangling emotional and psychological messes (save that for the real homies). Maybe that looks like workplace friendships, acquaintances you know through others, or just simply people you get along with on a surface level. Sometimes a little distance is vital to creating harmony within the relationships that would otherwise combust.
Take Charge Of Your Choices
By taking charge of your choices, you're taking charge of your life. Simply put, this is the practice of saying "no". Say no to the things that are draining, to the tasks you don't have time for, and to the people who don't respect you. You don't owe anyone anything more than you are willing to give, and you retain the right to change your mind or your direction at any time. Taking charge of your choices is the outward activity of exercising and implementing your boundaries.
Make Self-Care A Priority
I know, I know. "Self-care" is such a buzz-word right now. But I 100% agree with the hype, it's so so so important. Self-care not only reinforces your boundaries and reminds you why you set them in the first place, but it gives you the necessary time you need to decompress, de-stress, and re-evaluate so you can come back to the table a better, more well-rested person. Plain and simple, it makes you a better human to other humans when you've taken time for yourself. For me, my favorite self-care activity is cancelling plans. I know that sounds kinda strange, but if I'm feeling really stressed, burnt out, overwhelmed, etc., there's nothing more freeing or more empowering than saying "you know what, as much as I'd love to hang out tonight, I really am not feeling 100% and I need a night to myself. I hope you can understand. Let's reschedule for next week?" While it depends very much on the event in question, most friends will absolutely understand (because remember, you've already weeded out the ones who wouldn't!), because they, too, are free-thinking individuals who need time to themselves. Self-care takes many forms, but no matter your preferred method or style, it's important to recognize your limits and take the necessary steps to preserve your sanity.
I'm still learning a lot about my own boundaries, but while the lines might change form to allow for life changes or new responsibilities, there are a few thoughts that still hold very true to me:
Being a doormat is not synonymous with being a good person.
Accepting poor treatment of yourself because it's comfortable and conflict-free should not be confused with love, joy, or happiness.
Real relationships cannot be sustained without healthy boundaries, and respect for them.
Saying no to things that don't honor your self-worth is okay.