Do you struggle to set healthy boundaries?
Setting boundaries can seem off-putting, aggressive, or downright impossible for those used to pleasing others and putting others’ needs before their own. But we’re here to set the record straight: The word “no” can still be said with love, kindness, and respect. The definition of boundaries means anything that marks a border. It’s a real or imagined line that marks the edge or limit of something or the limit of a subject, principle, or relationship.
Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits. They are built out of a mix of conclusions, beliefs, opinions, attitudes, past experiences, and social learning. Personal boundaries help to define an individual by outlining likes and dislikes and setting the distances one allows others to approach. Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, really, a healthy life. Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill.
UNHEALTHY Boundaries are characterized by:
- Sharing too much too soon or, at the other end of the spectrum, closing yourself off and not expressing your need and wants. Feeling responsible for others’ happiness.
- Weak sense of your own identity.
- You base how you feel about yourself on how others treat you.
- You allow others to make decisions for you; consequently, you feel powerless and do not take responsibility for your own life.
HEALTHY Boundaries allow an individual to:
- Have high self-esteem and self-respect.
- Share personal information gradually, in a mutually sharing and trusting relationship.
- Protect physical and emotional space from intrusion.
- Have an equal partnership where responsibility and power are shared.
- Be assertive. Confidently and truthfully say YES or NO and be OK when others say NO to you.
- Separate your needs, thoughts, feelings, and desires from others. Recognize that your boundaries and needs are different from others.
- Empower yourself to make healthy choices and take responsibility for yourself.
3 Steps to Set Healthy Boundaries
- Make the deeper choice- Connect within:
Look at your values. Who are you? What do you value? Your boundaries are about YOU, so take the time to decide what you really need from others in your life. For example, as an introvert, you probably value alone time — and your boundaries should reflect this.
- Communicate your boundaries to others.
For introverts, who value the inner journey more than the outer one, this can be a difficult step, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. Keep it short and simple.
When setting boundaries, I always recommend using “I” statements to create a collaborative conversation and prevent sounding critical. For example, a statement like, “You’re always late,” is almost guaranteed to put the other person on the defensive. Instead, you can reframe a statement like that as, “I feel like I’m unimportant to you when you’re late.” Because you’re speaking from experience and stating how you feel, the other person can’t argue the point you’re making.
- Build Your Self-Commitment Muscle
When you make your boundaries clear, others may feel hurt, angry, or disappointed. They may lash out at you and try to get you to change your mind — especially if the boundary had been weak or leaky for a long time. But this is not your problem. You cannot simultaneously set a limit with someone and also take care of their feelings.
Additional tips for setting boundaries:
- Start small.
Changing too many things at once can unsettle the relationship and make the other person feel like the relationship they used to know is gone.
- Prepare for pushback.
When a new boundary is set, the other person in the relationship may push back. While new boundary setters often have been keeping these feelings to themselves for a long time, for the other person, this boundary has suddenly surfaced as something that needs to change.
- Be consistent and compassionate.
Once a boundary and enforcing action have been identified, it’ll be important to be consistent with reminding the loved one about the boundary and following through with the action step. Keep returning to your “I” statements, continue to communicate in a calm voice, use mindful breathing or other helpful calming skills, and always be respectful to your partner. Let them know that you care about them and that you are serious about needing their behavior to change.
Eventually, it’s up to you to decide when to set, enforce, or change your boundaries. It’s impossible to control others’ actions, but you can maintain control over your own emotions, thoughts, and actions.