Boundaries. A term we have become all too familiar with over the last few years, yet sometimes we still have difficulties with it. Sometimes it's difficult to implement healthy boundaries; sometimes it's difficult to stick to the healthy boundaries we have established. Nevertheless, having healthy boundaries are important and are a necessary component of self-care.
Before we get into the tips for healthy boundaries, let's look at what a boundary is and what it is not. A boundary is a way for you to express to others what you deem acceptable or unacceptable when it comes to how they interact with you. It is your way of letting others know what you are willing to accept from them and what you are not. Essentially, boundaries protect you as the individual. Boundaries can work to help you not feel overwhelmed, stressed out, taken advantage of, etc. When used correctly, boundaries are a beautiful tool.
Boundaries are not meant to be utilized to cut people out of your lives unexpectedly and without warning, to give people an ultimatum, or to purposely hurt others. If you are setting a boundary because you want someone to behave or treat you right or respect you, then you are setting boundaries for the wrong reasons. You cannot "MAKE" someone treat you right or behave or respect you, regardless of how many boundaries you establish. You do not have control over anyone else, only yourself. Other people don't have to respect your boundaries; you do.
Whether you have had difficulty setting or maintaining healthy boundaries before, or if you have misused boundary setting in the past, that's okay. Below are 5 simple tips to begin setting healthier boundaries in your life. There is more that goes into boundary setting than what is listed below. This is just a way to kickstart better self-care practices and make sure that you are taking care of you.
Tip #1 - Decide Where You Need to Set Boundaries
Understanding what area in your life needs healthy boundaries is important. Your boundaries at work may be different than your boundaries with friends, which may also be different than your boundaries in a relationship. For example, you may be able to set really good boundaries when it comes to the workplace, but maybe there's not as good of boundaries established for when you are at home. Thus, boundaries in the home will need more attention than boundaries at work.
Take some time to self-reflect. What area in my life can I use healthy boundaries (home, work, family, friends, relationship, etc.)? If I have good boundaries already, is there anything else I can do that make them better or healthier?
Tip #2 - Acknowledge Your Limits
You cannot establish a boundary without being aware of your limits. After you have determined which area you would like to establish healthier boundaries in, make a list of your limits, or deal breakers. Keep in mind, these limits are meant for you even though they may be expressed to others. For example, if you need to set healthier boundaries with family because you're the "go-to" person, you need to be able to determine where you draw the line at being the "go-to" person. Maybe you establish a limit that you will not be the "go-to" person when there is family gossip because you do not want to be put in the middle. You are expressing that limit to family, but you're the one that gets to enjoy the benefit of that boundary.
Some things to consider: What are my deal breakers in the area I have chosen to place limits/boundaries? Am I setting boundaries for others or for myself? Who is benefitting from the boundaries I set?
"Other people don't have to respect your boundaries; You do." – Bree Vanley, LPC
Tip #3 - Communicate
Boundary setting would be null without communication to go with it. You can decide which area of your life to focus on and you can determine your limits in that area, but if you are not communicating your limits to others, you are not giving them the chance to respect the boundaries that you set. While it is true that boundaries are not meant for anyone else but you, it is also true that we want to feel heard and understood and respected as individuals. Make sure that when you are communicating your boundary that you are not using language and tone that can be seen as offensive, degrading, criticizing, blaming, or hurtful. You will want your message to be clear and concise to eliminate any miscommunication. In this case, it is best to go with an "I" Statement.
Points to consider: Have I clearly communicated my boundary to others? If not, what are some ways that I can improve how I am communicating my boundary so that it comes out clearly?
Tip #4 - Start Small
Sometimes boundary setting seems like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. If you engaged in self-reflection and realized several areas that need healthy boundaries, pick one to work on at a time. You do not have to tackle every area at once. You will overwhelm yourself and set the tone for your approach in boundary setting. Also, it's okay to start with a smaller boundary and work yourself up to a bigger boundary. This allows you to build up your confidence in setting boundaries, as well as to assess if it is working on needs adjusting before moving on to bigger boundaries.
Reflection time! What is a small boundary I can set? How confident am I in setting this small boundary (1-5; 1=not confident; 5=very confident)? If I am not yet confident in setting this boundary, is there an even smaller boundary that I can start out with?
Tip #5 - Be Firm
You know those parents that say they're going to whoop their child but never do? The child learns that the parent is all talk and no action. Eventually, the empty threat has no effect on them and the negative behavior they were engaging in continues. It's the same way when we establish a boundary but do not stick with it. People will learn that we're not serious about that boundary and that it's okay to cross it. And they will continue to cross that boundary until we stand firmly behind it. Being firm in your boundaries does not equal you being mean to others. It simply means that you respect the boundary that you have set for yourself. Others will take their cue from how you treat you. If others see you being inconsistent in respecting your own boundaries, so will they. If they see you being firm in your boundaries, they will be more likely to respect them.
Ask yourself: Am I respecting my own boundaries? Do I release my boundaries to make others happy and pleased? If yes, how can I turn that focus back on me so that I am the one benefitting from my boundaries? If I am not yet firm in my boundaries, what can I adjust to respect my own boundaries more?
Healthier Boundaries = A Healthier Me
Just because you are setting healthier boundaries, does not mean they will not be violated. Remember, others don't have to respect your boundaries, but you do. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Once you get comfortable in setting boundaries, you will be able to feel the difference it makes in your life. Boundaries are not established for the benefit of others; they are established for your benefit. It is a necessary part of self-care and, when used correctly, can be a beautiful tool to use. Reflect on the different areas of your life and see where you can start to implement healthier boundaries today. It only takes one boundary to make a difference in your life.