The term ‘boundaries’ is one that is often thrown around; however, what it truly means to set and maintain healthy boundaries remains blurred. It doesn’t help that there are many negative perceptions about boundaries which make people feel as though setting them would injure their connections. It is actually just the opposite.
Setting appropriate boundaries with those in our lives is crucial for being able to preserve our connections. In this article, we will take a deeper look into boundaries, their central role in our relationships, and strategies to help you get started.
Simply put, boundaries are knowing ‘where we end and others begin’. It is recognizing that we are only responsible for ourselves and we cannot carry the weight of others’ feelings, decisions, and needs. Boundaries are an essential aspect of self-care, which allows us to protect our own time, energy, and emotional well-being.
A boundary may be physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, or involving time. Examples of boundaries might be declining a request to give your time, emotional energy, or resources when you feel unable to do so, asserting you are not comfortable discussing a particular topic, sharing with your partner that you need more alone time, or resolving not to complete work-related tasks over the weekend.
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Why Boundaries are Important
Setting appropriate boundaries is crucial for forming and maintaining healthy relationships with friends or family, a romantic partner, and at work. If our boundaries are loose or nonexistent, it is more likely that others may violate our limits, sometimes unintentionally.
Over time, if we continue to give more than is healthy for us and do not assert our own needs, we may start to feel emotionally depleted, resentful, or angry.
While many people find it uncomfortable to ‘say no’ and set limits, taking the time to evaluate our boundaries and communicate them to others shows that we value the connection. Not being clear about where we stand may allow overwhelming resentment or anger to build up until we reach the point of needing to withdraw or sever the relationship entirely.
Despite popular misconceptions, setting boundaries is not a selfish act. It is instead recognizing what is ours to take on and what is not. Boundaries free us up to care for others without feeling like we are responsible for them, obligated to meet their every need or sacrifice our own well-being to comply with their demands.
Let’s take a look at some tips for getting started setting healthy boundaries with the people in your life.
4 Tips for Boundary Setting
1. Take time for self-reflection.
The first step to setting boundaries is assessing how you feel within your relationships. Maybe when you stop to think about it, you feel uncomfortable with some of the demands placed on you by your family or in your workplace.
Perhaps one of your friends is constantly calling you to vent, without consideration for your time or whether you are in the right headspace to be a listening ear. Take the time to consider what feels uncomfortable to you and what a healthy limit would be in the particular situation.
2. Clearly communicate your boundaries to others.
This is often much easier said than done, especially for those who have spent their lives pleasing others instead of voicing their own needs. It takes practice to become more comfortable with saying ‘no’ and asserting what feels okay to you and what doesn’t. Use ‘I’ statements to clearly and directly let the other person know what your boundary is and what needs to change moving forward.
3. Continue to be consistent in asserting your boundaries.
It is important to be unwavering in enforcing your boundaries. The other person might try to push against it at first, especially if they are used to you complying with what you ask of them. Pay attention to how others respond when you set boundaries; this can be very telling.
If someone repeatedly violates your limits and won’t respect your boundaries, you might re-assess if this is a relationship worth having in your life.
4. Remember the importance of respecting others’ boundaries as well.
As you start practicing healthy boundary setting in your life, you must also be receptive to the boundaries of others. It is crucial that both people within a relationship feel safe and respected in their limitations. This protects the connection from anger and resentment that may occur as a result of feeling burnt out, violated, or taken advantage of.
Seeking Further Support
If you are continuing to experience difficulties within your relationships, and want additional support with boundary setting, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.
A therapist can help you to explore what is underlying your challenges with boundary setting and provide the tools to help you to separate yourself from others. It is possible to pursue meaningful connections and care for others without losing sight of your own well-being.