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Limits make me who I am

Limits. We hear this word got thrown around a lot. Maybe you know it as boundaries. What does it mean? Is it something that just means observing the speed limit, or is it more? Do limits have any applicability to our lives? What about the ways that we think about ourselves or behave? 

In this article, we’ll talk about what limits are and why they are so important. We’ll discover that we need to set them to allow ourselves to have the space we need to thrive and grow. We’ll see that we assume our partners know how to treat us, but that’s not the case. 

We need to help them by making what’s okay and not okay very clear. Next, we’ll learn that the first step to enforcing limits is to make them effective. We can do this by making them clear, consistent, and well-advertised. Finally, we’ll come to understand that often don’t know where our limits are. We can discover them by pondering over some questions we’ll present.

In the next article, How to Use Limits to Feel Better and Strengthen Our Relationships, we’ll discover limits in more detail. We’ll learn about why we’re uncomfortable setting them and what to do about it. Hint: it has to do with the way we perceive ourselves. We’ll learn how to make ourselves feel more valuable. 

Next, we’ll discover how we can apply them to the way we treat ourselves. Then, we’ll go over more tips we can use to succeed in communicating our limits with our partners. Finally, we’ll go over the biggest mistakes partners make when setting limits with examples.

What are limits?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word limits? To me, the first thing that comes to mind is a speed limit. I think about a sign that says something like maximum 60″ or “maximum 100.” It sounds a little bit boring when we think of it in this way. How limiting! Do we honestly want to place more limits on our lives if they already are so limited by everything else? I mean the noun limit relates to the verb limiting right? So is that what we want?

What we’re going to discover through this post is that setting limits is actually essential to help us feel valuable. We need them to create the space to thrive and grow in all aspects of our lives. Without them, we feel lost and we struggle. Believe it or not, we can even prevent most fights by using them.

Limits are boundaries that say what’s okay and not okay. For example, speed limits tell us the speed boundary which we should not pass. Another example is the minimum age that one can buy alcohol. Or property lines like fences that clearly mark where one property starts and the other ends.

Applied to our own lives, limits can regulate the way that we allow ourselves to speak about ourselves. Or what we allow and don’t allow other people to do with us. Even what we allow ourselves to do in general.

 

What makes a limit effective?

Every limit needs to have all three of these characteristics. Failure to include any one of them will lead to it not being followed. Every time.

The best limits are those that are very clear, consistent, and well-advertised. What do we mean by this?

An example of a clear limit would be a speed limit. It’s clear because we know where the boundary is. We know for example that if the speed limit says 60 kilometres per hour, then that is the boundary. It’s clear what the boundary is – anything more than 60km/h is against the limit, and anything less than it is okay.

If the limit was vaguer, for example, if it said “don’t go fast,” that wouldn’t be clear. We wouldn’t expect people to follow this, because wouldn’t expect them to know what fast means. If you ask different people what they think of when you say fast, you’ll get a bunch of different results.

The next thing that makes a limit effective is when it’s consistently enforced. A great example of this is the age that you can buy alcohol in the City of Toronto. There is a consistent minimum age to buy alcohol in the city which, is 19 years old. This means that no matter where you go in the city, you will have to be at least 19 to buy alcohol.

This is excellent because it’s consistent. It’s not confusing. Imagine if only some stores allowed you to buy alcohol if you were under 19. That means that a minor wouldn’t know if it’s a good idea to go to the store or not if they’re looking to buy alcohol. If some stores say yes, and others say no, should they try to buy? 

If only 1/5 times that they try to buy alcohol they get turned down, is it worth it to try again? (This is so important when applied to our own lives. If you only tell your partner that something doesn’t work for you 1 in 5 times they do it, should they keep trying?)

It’s so much better if you make a consistent rule about any limit. No sometimes. Always. Every time you want to buy alcohol, you have to be at least 19. That way, minors won’t waste their time. They’ll know that they won’t get alcohol in a store. Eventually, they’ll get the message and stop trying to buy it there. They already know the answer to what’s okay and what’s not okay. (Your partner will also eventually stop doing that thing that’s bothering you).

Another important part of an effective limit is that it is well-advertised. For example, if we never posted signs of what the speed limits are, we shouldn’t expect people to follow them. A big part of enforcing a speed limit is having signs available everywhere. 

Over and over again. The same is true for the millions of dollars spent on advertising the minimum age to buy alcohol. You have to keep reminding people.  This makes it very clear for everyone to know what’s okay. (You have to also keep reminding your partner what’s okay too).

When either of these three components of a limit – clear, consistent and well-advertised – are missing, people won’t follow them. For example, think of a road where there is construction. Let’s say that during the times when construction workers are present, the speed limit drops from 60km/h to 40 km/h. 

If the sign suggesting that is poorly placed, cars likely won’t slow down when they approach that area. Have you ever gotten a ticket for speeding in an area you didn’t know was speeding? This would constitute as something that’s not clear and not well advertised.

Another example is a property line. Sometimes, they are groups of houses that don’t have fences around their backyards. It’s kind of like one large backyard that connects all the houses together. Have you ever seen this before?

If you have this, it’s hard to tell your neighbours where they can and can’t go unless you put a fence. Let’s say children are running around playing with a ball. If there’s no marking on where your property line starts, you can’t get mad at them for going there. 

This is an example of a limit that isn’t clear. The fence makes it clear. (The clear boundary of what’s okay and not okay makes behaviour clear to your partner).

Finally, it’s hard to keep a limit when it’s not consistently enforced. A great example of this is highways where the speed limit is actually 100km/h, but police won’t pull over a car unless they go over 130km/h. Cars will all drive at 120km/h without thinking about it. 

This happened to me when I was doing a driving test for my license. The speed limit on the highway was 100km/h, so I thought that if I drive more than that I would fail the driving test for speeding. But my driving examiner told me that all the other cars are going 120km/h, and he’ll fail me if I don’t go the speed of traffic. What?! Telling me to speed on my driving test?

This is an example of a limit that’s not enforced. If the police don’t consistently enforce the speed limit by pulling drivers over when they go above 100km/h, well, you know what will happen. (Your partner will keep doing that thing that’s bothering you, too).

Effective limits are clear, consistently enforced and well-advertised. Click To Tweet

 

Why is it so important to apply limits to our own lives?

Sometimes we think that our partners understand us very. That they know exactly how to treat us. Exactly what we want.

This is both fortunately and unfortunately not the case.

I say unfortunately because it’s more work to clearly and consistently tell your partner how you want them to treat you. If only they got it the first time! I say fortunately though because this process of discovering each other can be fun. If there was no need to work for it, we’d get bored!

Often times we are treated in ways that we don’t want to be and don’t make it clear to the other that it’s problematic or why.

Have you ever let something go with your partner for a long time? Then, one day at you exploded at them out of the blue? Everything was fine, they thought, and then it wasn’t?

This can cause a lot of damage to your relationship. Maybe your partner didn’t see it coming. It’s scary when someone explodes and you didn’t expect it. But you felt like you needed to!

It’s important that we set limits to show our partners what’s okay and what’s not okay. We can think of ourselves kind of like a very complicated machine. Imagine a machine with lots of pulleys and levers. It has a big instruction manual on how we function.

We think that we are simple and that our partners understand is. But we couldn't be farther from the truth. We need to make it clear to our partners what our manuals are, and be specific, so they know how to treat us! And just like you're not perfect, we all have challenges following instructions sometimes. That's why we need to be reminded of them.

If you were interacting with a complex machine, you’d want an instruction manual, right? The problem is though that a lot of us actually have no idea what are blueprints are. We think we do, but don’t ever put in the time to really think about what’s okay and not okay to be done to us. 

 

If we have no idea how we want others to treat us, it’s impossible to communicate a clear manual to them. We need to think honestly and openly about how we want to be treated. Then, we must share that with our partners in a clear, consistent, and well-advertised way.

Have you ever felt suffocated before and your relationship?

This means that you didn’t set up limits to create the time and space you need to thrive. We need to practice things that are important to us outside of the relationship. But if we don’t protect this time with limits, it will get lost. 

Do you like spending time with your friends, for example? Then you need to make a limit on the times your partner cannot make plans with you, so that you can spend time with them, too.

If we don't protect our time by setting limits, then that time will get lost. share with a friend

 

Why are limits important to my identity? 

Limits make you who you are. They form the boundary for where you are and where others begin. They form an outline of what makes you, you! If you have no limits, then you have nothing to you. You have nothing to protect. And you have nothing that is worth protecting. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way! We all have something that is worth protecting and that makes you unique. We need to celebrate this by bringing it out and ensuring that people know it’s there. The more that’s okay and not okay, the more defined we are. The more we exist. The more we matter. 

Moreso, the easier it is for others to know how to treat us. And the happier they are to be around us. When they know what to do, they feel more comfortable interacting. 

If you have no limits, you will get pushed around by life. You will go wherever life takes you, and do whatever life brings you. People will take advantage of you. You will feel bad about it, but not understand why. 

When we hold things in, they often end up coming out in other ways.

When we hold things in, they often end up coming out in other ways. We need to set limits so we don't get pushed around by life. amplify this

If you want to have some control over your outcome, you have to chart your path. Make it clear what’s okay and not okay. What you need and what you want. What you’re not willing to give up. What matters to you. The more you do this, the more you make you, you! 

We have to compromise sometimes, we can’t just say that we don’t want to clean the floors and expect our partners to abide by that. But our partners want to support us and discover who we are. So do our friends and family. Discussing limits with them will invite them to feel closer to us, know us, and understand us more. 

And finally, sharing our limits with them in a respectful way invites them to do the same thing to us. We’re going to discuss this in more detail in the next article. Partners want to have their space sometimes. That’s okay! By opening the door to talk about limits, we invite them to feel more comfortable sharing theirs with us too. 

It’s a win-win. Both partners can build their identity, feel more comfortable having the space they need to grow, and feel better about themselves. More on this in the next article.

Setting limits is a win-win. With them, partners can feel more comfortable with the space they need to grow, understand each other more, and feel better about themselves. tell someone who needs to hear it

 

How do I know where my limits are?

But first, how do I know where my limits are? The first step to setting up limits is to think deep down about what’s important to us. How do we want others to treat us? We have to think about this.

Ask yourself the following questions to start the process of discovering where you need to set limits:

Use this questionnaire to help you discover your limits. We can't just walk around having no idea what they are, then expect people to treat us according to them!

First, what are things that people do that hurt you? This is probably a place to set limits. If someone is doing something that hurts you, you need to establish that it’s not okay. We have to be realistic as well with our expectations. Sometimes things hurt that are part of life, such as having to do housework. Sometimes though they hurt us deep down and are not okay.

We expect our partners to know what to do. But they don’t because they’re not superhuman and they can’t read our minds.

Another thing that we can think about is what makes us feel really good? The opposite of this is probably going to need a limit.  For example, say it makes you feel good when your partner calls you nice names. Setting a limit on the opposite of those names might be a good idea. There are mean words we all know about and don’t like being called. You definitely can tell your partner what they’re allowed to call you!

We can’t assume that they know that we’re going to take a certain name the way they think we will. To them, it likely doesn’t mean something in the same way that it means it to us. That’s why we communicate.

Another question that we can ask to set limits is: what are things that people do to us which leave us feeling lonely, sad or angry? These things are probably a place where we can put a limit.

Say for example that someone doesn’t like it when their partner compares them to their peers or past partners. If we’re sensitive about that, then we have the right to ask for it not to occur.

The final question to think about is: what are you not willing to give up for the relationship? These are great places to set limits. If it’s important for you to go out with your friends a couple of times a week, you must set a limit to guard this time. You can set a limit on the times that your partner can ask to be with you. This way, you’ll be able to spend that time with your friends.

Setting limits doesn't have to be hard. We can ask ourselves questions to understand where ours are: What hurts? What feels good? What can't we give up? help someone

Conclusion

In this article, we talked about what limits are and why they are so important. We discussed that we need to set them to allow ourselves to have the space we need to thrive and grow. 

We discussed that we assume our partners know how to treat us, but that’s not the case. We need to help them by making what’s okay and not okay very clear. The first step to enforcing those limits is to make them effective. We can do this by making them clear, consistent, and well-advertised. Finally, we often don’t know where our limits are. We can discover them by pondering over the questions above.

In the next article, How to Use Limits to Feel Better and Strengthen Our Relationships, we’ll discover limits in more detail. We’ll learn about why we’re uncomfortable setting them and what to do about it. Hint: it has to do with the way we perceive ourselves. We’ll learn how to make ourselves feel more valuable. 

Next, we’ll discover how we can apply them to the way we treat ourselves. Then, we’ll go over more tips we can use to succeed in communicating our limits with our partners. Finally, we’ll go over the biggest mistakes partners make when setting limits with examples.

Thank you for reading.

Additional Formats

Prefer podcasts? We got you covered! See our episode, “What are Limits and How Do We Guard Them?”, wherever you get your podcasts:

 

Prefer Video? Check out our specially made video all about limits below!

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