It's interesting, the people who know me will often say they see me in two ways: 1) as a generous, positive, compassionate, and loving person, and 2) as a take no shit hard ass that can be extremely strong-headed and strong-willed. So when it comes to having boundaries, for me it has always been a matter of knowing when to say "no" without guilt, but also knowing when to say "yes" only because I truly want to.
Because of this apparent duality in my personality there were times in my life when I knew exactly where my boundaries lay, and this allowed me to say "no" with ease. Yet, there were also times when I simply didn't have any defined lines at all, which inevitably caused me to feel depleted and resentful time and time again.
The thing is, when you don't have defined boundaries it becomes more of a hit or miss type situation where sometimes it works out for you, while at other times it does not. As a hard ass, sometimes it worked to my benefit to be strict with my lines, yet sometimes I was too hasty and over-protective. As a compassionate person, at times my generosity was met with appreciation, yet at other times it was completely taken for granted. At first I blamed the outside world for these apparent
inconsistencies, but then I realized that I was just setting myself up for what I was receiving. My lines were blurry and, as a result, so were my results. Because I did not have clearly defined boundaries cross the board, the feedback I received was confusing and erratic at best. But when I clearly defined my deal-breakers, i.e., what I would and would not tolerate, I finally became more empowered to affect the types of experiences I wanted to attract into my life.
What I learned through the process of determining my boundaries was that I didn't need to be overly protective of myself, but I also didn't need to deny my right to manifest what I wanted. You see, I thought that in order to protect myself from hurt I had to be suspicious at all times. And I thought that in order to be a generous and loving person that meant I had to defer (or deny) my own desires in favor of pleasing others. But, either way, instead of feeling gratified I ended up taking myself out of the running.
The thing is, I thought I was being kind by being agreeable, when really I was just being self-sabotaging. And I thought I was being diligent by being firm, when sometimes I was just being too abrupt. However, when I defined my boundaries that's when I realized how to be kind while also being self-respectful. I realized that saying"no" did not mean that I was depriving others of what they deserved, but rather giving myself a fair chance just like everybody else. And I realized that by saying "yes" it did not mean that I was being a pushover, but rather someone who made conscious decisions based on free will.
Over all, what all of this has taught me is that boundaries are not just about what you will and won't tolerate from others but also what you will and won't accept for yourself. When you don't have clearly defined boundaries, you will likely end up in a really confusing spot that will ultimately lead you to stagnation and making decisions in haste rather than true mindfulness. Consequently, I believe that the best way to determine your personal boundaries is to ask yourself this question:
"Why am I saying yes/no in the first place?"
When you understand your motivations you will also have a clearer picture of your best response. For example, if you are saying "yes," is it because you actually want to, or is it because you are afraid of what will happen if you don't? Are you worried about being judged or hurting someone's feelings, or are you truly considering the impact your actions will have, including on yourself? And if you are saying "no," are you doing so out of stubbornness, or do you truly not feel good about taking the action being asked of you? Is the request actually reasonable, or is it asking too much of you based on someone else's sense of entitlement? Are you actually helping the other person by saying "yes," or are you unknowingly hurting or enabling them? Are you, perhaps, even hurting yourself? These are all questions that can help you figure out where your clear lines are. And when you know where you stand it is so much easier to stand your ground, for when you are clear in advance of what you will and won't accept, it is so much easier to make positive decisions for the good of all concerned.