Do you feel like you’re always giving and never getting the same in return? Do you feel like people are constantly taking advantage of your good or giving nature, and you end up burnt out after putting all your time and energy into filling up everyone else’s cup?
If so, it might be time to start setting some healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are essential for maintaining a healthy balance in our lives. They help us to protect our time, energy, and emotions.
Understanding how to set boundaries (and maintain them) is an important step in taking care of ourselves and our relationships.
What are boundaries?
A boundary is a line that we draw to protect ourselves. It’s our way of saying “no” to something that we don’t want or don’t have the energy for. It’s all about setting limits on what we will and won’t do.
Boundaries show where one thing ends and another begins, so by persevering our own boundaries we are understanding that our well-being needs to be prioritised, separate to someone else’s needs. Even if that person is related to us.
Creating healthy boundaries doesn’t mean becoming a cold, heartless person or cut off from the people in our lives. You are not a bitch for having boundaries.
Setting boundaries is about learning to respect our own needs and limits and communicating those to others clearly and assertively.
We need to take care of our selves and preserve our own well being just like we do for others.
What are the types of boundaries?
Boundaries can come in all different types… here are a few, each will apply in different situations
- Time boundaries
- Physical boundaries
- Emotional boundaries
- Intimacy boundaries
- Sexual boundaries
- Financial boundaries
- Material boundaries
- Spiritual or religious boundaries
Why are boundaries important?
When we have healthy boundaries, we are less likely to feel overwhelmed or taken advantage of. We are also more likely to be able to stick to our goals and maintain healthier relationships.
Boundaries help us to stay in control of our lives.
For a lot of people, creating boundaries is the first step towards taking better care of themselves.
When you say “no” to something that you don’t want to do – this allows you the space and energy to say yes to something that does make you feel excited.
Examples of Healthy Boundaries
We need different boundaries in all kind of situations. The particular boundaries you set will vary according to the circumstances, and according to the level of familiarity and comfort you have with that person and what you feel comfortable with.
- In the workplace with your boss or co-workers
- In professional situations to keep the appropriate distance between teacher and student, or provider and client for example
- With parents and relatives
- With friends
- With acquaintances
- With neighbours
- In a romantic relationship
Some basic examples of boundaries are
- Asking friends to call before coming over, rather than dropping by unannounced
- Limiting the amount of extra time you can spend on a project
- Not accepting family members to comment about your weight
- Not letting your partner’s feelings dictate your own, in a relationship.
How Do You Know if You Have Poor Boundaries?
- Struggle saying no to others
- Feel burdened with worry about how others will react to your decisions, or perceive your actions?
- Strive to make everyone else happy?
- Disregard your own feelings for the sake of someone else?
- Give or help others even when it’s actually harming you?
- Have no time for yourself because it’s been taken up by everyone around you?
If any of these resonate then it sounds like you could definitely benefit from working on your boundaries.
How to Create Healthy Boundaries
Creating boundaries does not come easy, especially when it’s something new. It is going to be challenging, but ultimately worth it.
Setting and maintaining boundaries requires us to be clear about our needs, wants, and limits.
It also requires us to communicate those to others in a way that is assertive yet respectful. Here are five simple tips for creating your own healthy boundaries.
Assess your needs
Before you can set a boundary, you need to get clear on your own needs, wants, and limits.
What do you need to feel good? What are your deal-breakers? What are your non-negotiables? Once you know this, you can be firm in your boundaries to make sure these things happen.
Take some time to think about what is and isn’t important to you. When you know what your bottom line is, it will be easier to stand up for yourself and say “no” when necessary.
Communication is vital, and makes all the difference.
Once you know your limits, it’s important to communicate them to the people in your life.
This can be done in several ways, depending on the situation. You might have a conversation with your boss about what you’re comfortable taking on at work, or you might set some ground rules with your partner about how much time you need for yourself.
If you’re struggling with this, practice with something that’s low risk first.
This will help you to get a feel for how to communicate your needs in an assertive yet respectful way.
It’s important to be assertive when setting boundaries. This means being clear, direct, and firm in your communication.
The way you phrase your sentence makes a difference. Avoid using passive language or making excuses.
For example, instead of saying “I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” try “No, I don’t have the time for that.” – See how the tone is so much more assertive?
This is probably going to feel extremely uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re not used to setting boundaries.
You may feel like you’re being rude, if you’ve become used to being overly apologetic but it’s not rude, you are just taking some of your power back and re-asserting yourself.
You may also feel like you are being controlling by setting boundaries but the difference is, you are not demanding what the other person should do, simply communicating what you will or won’t do or accept.
Setting boundaries is about taking control of yourself whereas being controlling is about controlling the other person.
Be Prepared for Pushback
It’s normal for people to test our boundaries. They might try to convince us to do something that we don’t want to do, or they might ignore our boundaries altogether.
After all, your lack of boundaries has probably been benefitting them as they get to take advantage of your time and energy without considering the impact that was having on you.
It’s not uncommon for people to guilt trip and try and make you feel like you’re in the wrong for setting a boundary.
It’s important to stand firm and be prepared for people to challenge your boundaries. It’s inevitable, but remember that you have a right to set boundaries in your life.
If someone can’t respect your boundaries, that’s their problem, not yours, and the people who want the best for you will try to understand and respect your boundaries, even if they find it to be an adjustment.
Practice saying “no”
Saying “no” can be harder than it seems, especially if we’re worried about what other people will think of us. People pleasing and lack of boundaries definitely go hand in hand!
But it’s important to remember that we don’t owe anyone an explanation for setting a boundary. Sometimes the best response is a simple “no.”
If you need help, ask a friend to present you with a made-up situation that you don’t want to do and practice telling them no.
Getting used to saying the word in a low-pressure situation will make it easier to do in real life and soon it will be a breeze.
Enforcing your boundaries
Once you’ve set a boundary, it’s important to enforce it.
If someone doesn’t respect your boundary, you need to decide whether this is something non negotiable and if so, you have some difficult decisions to follow through on.
This could mean walking away from a conversation or even ending a relationship. It can be tough to do, but it becomes necessary if someone can’t or won’t respect your limits.
It’s also important to practice self-care. This means taking care of yourself both emotionally and physically.
When we’re stressed, our boundaries start to crumble, and when we are suffering from low self esteem, we normally find it hard to set solid boundaries.
Whatever makes you feel good, and self care can look different for introverts and extroverts, make sure to schedule it in your life regularly.
It’s Okay to Change Your Mind and Adjust Your Boundaries Over Time
Boundaries are not set in stone. We might find that our needs or limits change over time, and that’s okay. If you find that a boundary isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to adjust it.
Tips for Successfully Setting Boundaries with Others
Now that you know how to set boundaries, here are a few tips for surviving the process:
You don’t owe everyone an explanation.
Just because you’re setting a boundary doesn’t mean you always need to justify it to the other person.
It’s okay to be firm.
In fact, it’s not just okay it’s very necessary. If you’re not firm in your communication, people will likely misunderstand and may take advantage of your good nature.
You might need to practice a few times before you get it right.
And that’s okay. Just like with anything else, it takes time to learn how to set boundaries effectively.
You are not responsible for the other person’s reaction.
They might not like it when you set a boundary, but that’s their problem, not yours.
Setting boundaries can change your life for the better
There’s no doubt that setting boundaries is difficult at first, but it’s so important for our mental and emotional health, and can end up even improving our relationships.
The tips we’ve provided in this article should help you get started on setting boundaries in your own life.
Remember to be assertive, firm, and direct in your communication, and be prepared for people to push back.
If someone can’t respect your boundaries, that’s their problem, not yours. With time and practice, you’ll be setting boundaries like a pro.
Further Reading on Boundaries
If you want to delve deeper into this topic, here are a few insightful books on boundaries that you may enjoy and find useful (affiliate links)
- Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life
- The Art of Everyday Assertiveness: Speak Up. Say No. Set Boundaries. Take Back Control.
- Healthy Boundaries: How to Set Strong Boundaries, Say No Without Guilt, and Maintain Good Relationships With Your Parents, Family, and Friends
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