“Boundaries are a form of empowerment, strength, and a way for us to align with our identity, our desires, and where we stand in the world,” writes Michelle Maros, for her Peaceful Life, Peaceful Mind blog. “When you don’t have boundaries, you are sending out a signal that you don’t know what you want, that you’ll take whatever you can get, and that you won’t put up a fight along the way.”

Maros adds that not having boundaries makes you “feel like you are constantly living in a ‘doormat’ mentality. Setting boundaries is a form of self-respect and self-love. By respecting yourself enough to set the necessary boundaries in your life, you’ll discover a unique sense of freedom and peace of mind.”

It isn’t easy to set boundaries, but the successful women I admire have learned to do so. And they feel more powerful as a result.

Physical vs. Emotional Boundaries

With physical boundaries — fences, walls, doors — there is an inherent assumption that crossing them is prohibited. People we live with a sense that closing a door signals a need for privacy. Neighbors know that a fence translates to the separation of one’s property and space.

When someone crosses physical boundaries without our consent, we feel invaded.  Margarita Tartakovsky, associate editor and contributor at Psych Central writes, “When someone has broken a physical boundary, it’s usually easy to tell. These boundaries relate to your body, physical space and privacy.”

Emotional boundaries, on the other hand, are more subtle, Tartakovsky writes. The challenge comes when learning to identify if someone has broken those boundaries.

Signs of Broken Boundaries

In her blog, Tartakovsky, who earned her Master’s in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University, writes about mental disorders, body and self-image issues for psychcentral.com. She cites six subtle signs indicating whether emotional boundaries have been broken, and how to tell those who crossed the line that they’ve done so.

Tarkovsky cites Jan Black, the author of Better Boundaries: Owning and Treasuring Your Life, who says that we tend to make excuses or even justify other’s bad behavior. I’m guilty of this myself sometimes. We attribute someone’s rudeness to stress or make excuses for their bad behavior, even if it makes us feel inferior or intimidated.

We blame ourselves when things go wrong — it’s easier than blaming someone else and facing confrontation. I don’t think I’m alone in my discomfort with confronting someone about a sensitive issue.

Tartakovsky also believes that we feel shame and doubt our decisions. We second-guess ourselves. Yet we know something isn’t right. We feel the pain of having our thoughts and opinions dismissed.

Black says that we can learn to communicate clearly with someone who has crossed the line by using words or actions. In most cases, she writes, “your tone does not need to be angry or dramatic. You are simply stating and managing what is.”

Tartakovsky’s references a full list of sample phrases from Black, some of which include:

  • I’m drawing new lines around that and need you to respect them.
  • I am uncomfortable with this.
  • I am no longer willing to do that [or] go there.
  • That doesn’t work for me.
  • If you want to be with me, things need to change.

Brené Brown is someone I admire, not only for her candidness but her insightfulness as well. Reading about her career and extensive accomplishments have always taught me a great deal. About setting boundaries, Brown says, “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

Food for thought, indeed.