I Have A Personal Bill Of Rights, And You Should Too

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I Have A Personal Bill Of Rights, And You Should Too

I started therapy in the second month of quarantine. We'd taken to meeting in the park across the street from my house, sitting six feet apart. The park was quiet and usually deserted, save for a couple of people wandering around here or there.

We’d sit in the outdoor amphitheater, facing the empty playground. The pandemic successfully took the life out of the park.

The weather in Washington had been unseasonably warm, and I enjoyed the time in the sun. The sun would shine down onto my shoulders and into my hair. The glare on my glasses didn’t bother me — I just enjoyed being in nature.

On one of those golden mornings, I looked at my therapist in complete confusion as she asked, "Do you have a personal bill of rights?"

It sounded a little cheesy, but I asked her to send me an example of a personal bill of rights. I looked over the 25 rules — personal boundaries you set for yourself.

Some of them were simple like "I have the right to ask for what I want," but I realized I didn't think I had the right to anything on that list.

She prodded me slowly, asking, "Why do you think you aren't entitled to these things?" It was a simple question, of course, but when you've spent your life putting others first, it seemed to be a foreign concept.

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What I was lacking, I came to learn, was boundaries. I hadn't erected any personal boundaries — none with my sister, friends, nor partner.

I was unhappy, but I didn't know how to ask for what I needed.

I spent my time trying to be everything for everyone in my life. I put those in my life before myself, and I didn’t realize I was selling myself short. You can’t be everything for everyone, and you can’t do everything for everyone.

When you have no personal boundaries, you are inviting people to walk over you. It's exhausting to frequently people-please.

Personal boundaries are powerful and healthy. They help you value yourself, your attributes, and help you relate to others in a healthy, meaningful way.

Here’s an example of the Personal Bill of Rights my therapist gave me:

  • I have the right to ask for what I want.
  • I have the right to say no to requests or demands I cannot meet.
  • I have the right to express all of my feelings, positive or negative.
  • I have the right to change my mind.
  • I have the right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.
  • I have the right to follow my own values and standards.
  • I have the right to say no to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe or violates my values.

And you can make your own set of boundaries that makes sense for you and your life too. Use this Personal Bill of Rights handout as a starting point to get you started.

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So what exactly are personal boundaries and how do they help us?

Boundaries are guidelines for how you want to be treated.

For instance, my partner previously commented on what I wore, and it made me very irritable. Instead of lashing out, I now say, "I have the right to wear what I want."

Your personal bill of rights — or boundaries you put in place in your life — create respectful, appropriate, and caring relationships.

Limitations can be physical or emotional and psychological, and when those boundaries are crossed, you can feel it.

Suppose you don't have an established set of boundaries or interact with someone who has no boundaries at all. In that case, it can feel violating and uncomfortable because there is no mutual respect.

There can be feelings of worthlessness, depression, anger, and vulnerability when a line has been crossed. The best thing to do is to identify your limits and begin creating boundaries.

I didn't know where to begin, so I stuck with the 25 rules my therapist gave me, and over time, those boundaries evolved until I created my own.

Utilize the handout as a starting point for your personal bill of rights; there is no right or wrong rule; whatever makes you feel safe and secure is perfect!

If you feel like saying, “I have the right to be myself, without question.” Then that is perfect, and you do not have to explain yourself, nor your boundary, to anyone else.

Remember, boundaries are expectations of treatment. If there is something you need, it’s okay to ask for it!

After you create your own personal bill of rights, then it's more important than ever to stick to your boundaries. Create a plan of action for when those boundaries are crossed, and be willing to have tough conversations. Saying no or calling someone out for mistreatment is your right.

Once you have boundaries established, great things happen. You’re likelier to be more compassionate, more assertive, and less angry. You’ll feel safe, you’ll communicate better, and your needs will be met. Your self-esteem can increase, as can your confidence.

More importantly, you will be able to identify and protect yourself from exploitation and trauma.

I won't lie to you and say that it is easy -- it's not. We are conditioned to act on a 'script' and disrupting that can make the other person more persistent or angry.

The first time I attempted to stand my ground was with my partner. He and I were working on communication, but we always seemed to be on different pages. I recall he’d asked why I was spending money online, and my default reaction was to defend myself and give him reasons why I was spending, and what it was for.

However, this time, I said to him, "I'm entitled to spend my money, and I don't have to explain it."

I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and he thought I was starting an argument. Still, I had to remind myself that we are conditioned to repeat the same behaviors unless we change them.

After trial and error, my boundaries became my new normal. I no longer felt like I needed to always please other people.

You might feel selfish or guilty, but those emotions are based on the fear that disrupting regular social interactions will lead to a relationship loss.

We have to remember that setting limits on behavior isn't a punishment; it's for our well-being. It's a form of self-care.

Be self-aware and confident in your learning. Every time you reinforce a boundary, you are showing yourself grace and compassion.

It's been three months since I've begun my personal journey with setting boundaries. All of the relationships in my life have improved. All of the benefits of boundaries? I've reaped those. I can assure you it is beneficial.

I feel confident and compassionate, and you will too.

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Rachel Reed is a writer and editorial intern interested in news, culture, self, and relationships.