“I allow myself to set healthy boundaries. To say no to what does not align with my values, to say yes to what does. Boundaries assist me to remain healthy, honest and living a life that is true to me.” ~ Lee Horbachewski
In my previous blog post I discussed how healthy boundaries are essential to our overall happiness and well-being. They’re also key to the well-being of those close to us. While we may all agree they’re important, the difficulty is actually establishing and holding others and ourselves accountable to them.
What is a personal boundary?
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.* Boundaries help us feel comfortable and to develop confidence and positive self-esteem.
Why we need boundaries
We need to set boundaries because the way we treat ourselves sets the standards for others around us. If we don’t put the effort into getting clear about what we really want and don’t want, then we can’t expect others to know how to treat us. And if we don’t define them, then someone else will do it for us. Without awareness or consideration of our boundaries, they can be crossed, forgotten, overlooked, or rejected. This, in turn, can make us feel invalidated, confused, hurt, or all of the above. And if this happens long enough, these moments can alter our reality and affect the relationship we not only have with ourselves but with others as well.
Thankfully, with time, you can develop the boundaries that are considered non-negotiables to create a healthy and happy life. According to Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear, you want to set boundaries to create a sense of internal and external security. “Boundaries allow us to be clear on our own needs and preferences, and this helps us maintain clear limits with others,” Manly said. “While some boundaries may be rather flexible in nature, our non-negotiable boundaries are absolutely essential to our sense of being honored and respected.”
Boundaries can be defined for every area of your life. When you have them, you’ll no longer wonder what to say when your friends ask you to go to a place you don’t like, or when your colleagues guilt you into joining another project team that you don’t have the time or energy for. You’ll no longer feel the urge to react to the comments on your life choices or opinions by your well-meaning friend, partner or family member. With clearly defined boundaries you will know what to say without being reactive or impulsive (previous post). How many times have you felt like saying no to a social engagement or a work assignment but instead you heard yourself agreeing because you didn’t know how to get out of it. We are prone to over-committing because we either feel uncomfortable saying no or we’re afraid that we’ll come across as rude or because we don’t want to upset other people. That’s why having healthy boundaries can really help you navigate life situations without feeling this way every single time.
3 Steps for Establishing and Honoring your Boundaries
Step 1: Identify your boundaries
Reflect on the areas in your life where you need to create boundaries the most. Then identify what you want these boundaries to help you with. For example, navigating your work environment better, improving relationships with friends, or feeling more valued at home with your spouse or children. It can be anything really and there are no limits so list as many as you like. You can meditate on this and then write down everything that comes up for you. Once you’ve identified these areas and situations you can move to the next step in the process.
Here are a couple of questions to help you get started:
- When and where expressing your needs and desires feels most challenging?
- In which situations do you find it difficult to be fully yourself?
- When do you hide your voice or opinion the most?
- When are you putting your needs last?
- What makes you put other peoples needs first?
Step 2: Establish your response
Next, write down a sentence or two for each one of your chosen areas. These sentences will be the basis of your boundaries. Now, come up with a response for each of them.
Here are examples for a few areas in your life:
Your friend: Your friend wants you to go out on a Saturday night but you feel really tired but you don’t want to hurt her feelings and say no, so what do you do? You can say something like, I would like to spend some time with you but I’m not feeling well right now and I don’t want to ruin your evening so I’d rather spend it here and take care of myself. I really hope you understand. Keep your language simple expressing gently but firmly your needs and desires, while showing empathy, understanding, and compassion for your friends needs.
Your spouse: You and your spouse are having a disagreement and the conversation escalates to the point where your spouse becomes condescending and critical of you. This is making you very uncomfortable. Be very strict with your spouse and tell them that, “If you criticize me any further, I’m will not discuss this with you.”
Your work: Your boss asks you to join another team project but you don’t have the time or energy. You are very committed to your job and you don’t want to disappoint your boss by saying no, so what do you do? You can say something like, I really appreciate you thinking about me for this project but I already have a full plate with my current work load and won’t have the time to take on more and do a good job. I really hope you understand. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to negotiate your current workload and take on the new project.
When you set your boundaries you don’t need to explain too much or get into detail of why you are choosing to do something. You want to show that you’re confident in your decisions and that your needs are valid. So make sure you don’t get into saying too much, backtracking or changing your mind. If you have an instinct to start with “I’m sorry, but…” it’s important to get out of this habit because you don’t need to apologize for feeling the way you feel, or for the choices you make. This is especially common for women as we’ve been socialized to put others needs first.
Step 3: Honour your boundaries
Once you’ve identified your areas, and set your boundaries, you’re ready to go. You need to be very consistent and firm with them. This, by far, is the most difficult step because it requires a lot of courage, pushing past fears and developing your self worth.
State the consequences you will enact to create safety for yourself. Pay attention to people’s reactions. If your boundaries make someone mad, then that person is abusing you. Be aware that the urge to slip back into old habits will be strong at first, so you need to show that you are absolutely serious about your boundaries and you’re willing to honor them no matter what. The tough part is when the people in your life don’t want you to change. They will resist and fight it because they simply aren’t used to the new you and your boundaries. They will test you and trigger you and it will be difficult at first but it will pass. As long as you are honoring your boundaries they will eventually get the message and let it go. Until then, stay firm. People will start respecting your boundaries when you really show them that your new boundaries aren’t going anywhere. Be patient with your self, and the people around you.
It’s important to be aware that you will most likely feel guilty when you exercise your boundaries, and it may take some time to fully release this feeling. This is especially true if you’re used to putting yourself last. This guilt will likely show up in the third step when you are honoring them. The more we remind ourselves that there is nothing wrong or bad about valuing our self-worth and taking care of our overall health and well-being, we will feel less and less guilty. When we define and honor our personal boundaries we show up as authentic and confident, which ultimately improves the lives of all those people around us.
I hope this helps you set your own healthy boundaries, feel more confident, and makes your life easier and more enjoyable.
And if you’re needing a bit of a confidence boost when honoring your boundaries, change your body language by doing a power pose, as described by Amy Cuddy in this Ted Talk video.
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