How would you define "boundaries?" While I'm sure you were probably able to come up with an answer, you might be surprised to know that most people don't understand what boundaries actually are. Often, they think of them as a sort of "dictator rule" against another person; something that makes you build walls around yourself and say, "You are not allowed to do this!" Here's the thing: while boundaries are needed to protect yourself, it doesn't mean that you've built a wall.
Boundaries are when you draw a line in the proverbial sand indicating what is appropriate and what is not. It is saying, "I am not willing to be treated that way," or "no, I'm not doing that thing," and also "no, you can't take advantage of me in that way." But you also have to be okay with whatever consequences ensue. A personal example of a boundary I set is limiting phone calls. When a phone call comes late in the evening, I'm simply not going to pick it up because it's disruptive to me. After a long of work, I need to reset, take time for myself and go to bed early. It's a healthy boundary of my time and how much of it others get to have. Some people don't like that, and I've accepted that as a consequence of my boundary.
Boundaries are not a control thing. You can't control other people. This means that boundaries have to be enforceable, so you have to put them on yourself. It's like saying to someone, "When you do this, this is how it makes me feel. And if you do it, I'm going to step back." You're not telling people to stop doing something, that they're doing something wrong or being bad; you're just saying that their behaviour is unacceptable and that you will not be engaging in it. You remove yourself from a situation that you don't appreciate. With that, though, comes a piece that people always forget: boundaries will not take away suffering. But you will suffer for the right reason.
That's a lot to take in, I know. It's not an easy thought. But as I mentioned, there are consequences to setting boundaries. Sometimes, people get mad because they're not comfortable with them and they don't agree with them. We have to be able to hold people in that position and stand firm on it. When you don't hold people to the boundary, you're showing a level of disrespect to them, in that you are saying that you don't have a strong enough relationship with that person to trust that they can handle that boundary. It doesn't mean you have to stay firm on your position forever—sometimes boundaries can be released (and sometimes reinstated!) under certain circumstances and for certain people. It's a personal choice.
Let's imagine for a minute that you are the house. Think of your boundaries as the fence around your house. You're more than welcome to open up the gate and allow anybody in, but you choose who gets to come through that gate. You choose who comes to your doorstep. You, again, choose who can come into your house. And at that point, you also choose who is allowed into your bedroom. Those are different levels of boundaries for people, and that is totally okay because it is safe and really, really healthy. Boundaries are not meant to cut people out of your life. They're a way of saying what you need, where you're at, and how something is making you feel. Only if things lead to complete mental disaster and toxic damage, then protecting yourself might mean cutting loose the people who are causing the distress.
When setting boundaries, consider your intentions behind them. Are you putting boundaries into place to hurt somebody? Then you should think twice. Are you setting boundaries to protect yourself? Then that's good. Protecting yourself is allowed. You are worth protecting. Your money, your time, your space are worthy of protection. You can also have boundaries on relationships. This means that you can have different levels of people in your life. Look at it this way: if you got married tomorrow, who would be sitting in the first few rows? Who would be sitting further in the back? Who would only get an invite to the reception? And who wouldn't be invited at all? These people are all on different "levels," and for each level you have to ask yourself, "How much of me do the people in this level get? How safe are these people to my mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and financial health?" So, one of the ways to build boundaries in your life is by starting to say "no." If you're not feeling in the right headspace, say no to the volunteer thing that somebody asks you to do. Say no to the friend who asks you to help move. Put boundaries in place—they'll help you stay safe and healthy.