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How to set healthy boundaries

The word ‘boundaries’ can feel really scary! From childhood, we’re often taught to put the feelings of others ahead of our own needs, to make others comfortable. And setting boundaries can at times feel a little like you are doing the complete opposite and feel a bit uncomfortable.

However, boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, really, a healthy life. They are an essential part of a good self-care routine. When we set boundaries with ourselves and with others, we avoid the feelings of resentment, disappointment, and anger that build up when limits have been pushed.

Ever had a friend do something that really bugged you, but you just kept sweeping it under the rug until it eventually ruined your friendship? What if you had just had the conversation the first time it happened? When you don’t address your boundaries being crossed with others, it can turn into a feeling of resentment and end up impacting you and those around you. Boundaries are ultimately a very good thing!

Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill. Maybe you’ve never set boundaries before, or maybe the most recent lockdown has resulted in a boundary slip. Either way, it’s a great time for a check-up to ensure that YOUR needs are being met, and that you are protecting your own mental wellbeing. Like putting your own oxygen mask on before helping someone else with theirs!

Here are some tips on setting healthy boundaries with those around you.

1) Figure out what’s important to you and what’s not working

Take some time to be present and think about what in your life drains you of your energy. Is there someone that makes you feel sad, frustrated, anxious, or uncomfortable every time you spend time with them?

  • Maybe it’s a friend who is demanding of your time and emotionally dumps on you, so much so that your interactions leave you feeling overwhelmed.

  • Maybe it’s a family member who speaks poorly to you and leaves you questioning your value.

  • Maybe it’s a mutual friend who you feel invades your personal space on a night out and makes you feel uncomfortable.

Establish what your limits are so you have a clear idea in your mind of what this might look like when these boundaries are crossed and how this impacts you.

2) Reflect on why you have struggled to set these boundaries in the past

Take a good, hard, look at what’s been preventing you from setting or maintaining boundaries in your life. Are you afraid of what people will think of you? Are you afraid to lose relationships and friendships? For many of us, a difficulty with setting boundaries can stem from upbringing.

We often learn to swallow our discomfort and accept things the way they are in order to please others. But this doesn’t do anyone any favors. Remember that speaking up is uncomfortable, but the discomfort is temporary.

3) Reframe your perspective around boundaries

Boundaries are healthy, normal, and help you have better, more fulfilling and healthy relationships. If you can’t openly communicate with the people in your life, how can you expect to have healthy relationships?

Ask yourself, wouldn’t you like to know if you were (unknowingly) making someone uncomfortable?

4) Have the hard conversations - but they don’t need to be that hard

Being able to openly communicate your needs allows others to step up and meet them. The people in your life can’t read your mind, so help them by openly communicating - even when it’s hard!

Remember, especially if this is the first time you bring up the boundary, it doesn’t have to be a confrontation! Always assume that the person may not even know they are crossing a line for you, and they may feel awful that they have. Be firm, kind, and try to keep it lighthearted.

You could throw in an “I’m sure you don’t mean to, but…”. Most people won’t mind when you set a boundary, and they’ll be glad to know. Most people don’t want to intentionally disturb others.

The best thing you can do having established a boundary is to then step back and let it go. Give the other person a chance to respect your boundaries and move forward with you in a healthy way. Try not to hold a grudge now that you’ve had the conversation and look forward with a fresh set of eyes.

5) Open up the lines of communication for others to share their boundaries with you

It’s a two-way street! And when you respectfully communicate your boundaries with others you are teaching them that it’s okay for them to do the same with you. So when they do communicate these with you, make sure you smile and thank them!

And what if your boundaries are still crossed?

You don’t have to go through life accepting behavior that impacts your mental health. Once you’ve given someone a couple of reminders, if they continue to ignore your boundaries it may be time to assess the type of relationship you have with them.

The ability to set boundaries will improve your friendships and relationships, offer you more peace of mind, build your confidence, and prevent resentment from building up. It’s worth it - we promise!

Some key things to remember about boundaries

  • Boundaries allow you to show up more fully and presently.

  • Someone else can feel bad about your boundary and it can still be the right thing to do for you.

  • Your worthiness is not tied to how boundary-less you can be.

  • Just because it feels bad doesn't mean it’s wrong.

  • Saying no to one thing allows you to say yes to something else.

  • The people who get upset when you set boundaries are the ones who benefited from you having none.


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