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  • SuePattonThoele

What Are Limits and Boundaries?



An emotionally strong and independent woman knows and states her limits. She can stay within the boundaries of what she knows is good for her in both her personal and public life. Because she gives herself permission to be herself, she is able to say no without guilt, or at least not let feelings of guilt keep her from doing what she knows is best for her health and well-being. Having emotional independence means we are no longer tied to the need for constant approval and are, therefore, not coerced into doing more than we feel comfortable doing by our need to please others.


Let’s approach the idea of limits and boundaries through the backdoor. Do you ever allow people to treat you in a way that you secretly find unacceptable? For instance, do you try to keep the peace by quietly accepting unkind, disrespectful treatment that makes you feel devalued? I came from a family where teasing was a way of relating for some of the members. I hated it and felt hurt each time I was teased. I didn’t ask for the teasing to stop because I feared that setting a limit would make them, especially my father, tease me all the more or (oh, horrors!) cause them to reject and ignore me. Finally, as an adult, I was able to tell the teasers that being teased was not acceptable to me. Without any fuss at all, they stopped. When we are really solid in our belief that we don’t need to submit to unacceptable treatment, and state our limits clearly, it will probably stop.


Whenever we receive unacceptable treatment in silent suffering, or whine and beg ineffectually to be treated better, we ignore our limits and permit others to invade the boundaries of our self-respect.


When others need something, do they always call on “good old you” and know you will come through even if you’ve just come home from ten days in intensive care? Letting people take advantage of you is not honoring your limits.


If we say yes when we’re actually yearning to say no, we aren’t communicating our limits honestly, and we’re setting ourselves up to feel resentful, hostile, and depressed. Women who do this tend to adopt one of two modus operandi: withdrawing from others or blowing their tops. Not being honest about our personal limits and boundaries creates feelings of betrayal, anger, defensiveness, and bewilderment, not only toward others but also toward ourselves. In our hearts we probably know that we’ve allowed fear to keep us from standing up for ourselves, so when we repeatedly allow our limits and boundaries to be trampled, we run the risk of lowering our self-esteem and losing respect for ourselves.


Learning to stand up for ourselves and honor our limits and boundaries involves, first, noticing when we’re being taken advantage of; second, giving ourselves permission to have and to honor our limits and boundaries; and third, exploring and healing the fears that make us a living doormat. In order to stop giving ourselves away and have fair and open relationships with others, we must learn how to communicate our limits and boundaries honestly and effectively.


Excerpted from The Courage to Be Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.


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