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How To: Set Healthy Boundaries

Author: Tammy Taylor, CPT

Boundaries play an essential role in any long-term goal. Our boundaries are what enable us to prioritize all of life’s responsibilities and what help to set expectations for how we want others to treat us. They are an important way to measure our sense of self-worth.

Boundaries, much like values, are unique to each individual. No two people’s boundaries will necessarily be the same and, therefore, not everyone may understand why you need to draw certain lines. And because everyone may not understand why you need to say “no” to his or her invite, to let’s say a work happy hour or a trip to a winery next weekend, you may have to mentally prepare yourself.  A consequence of you prioritizing your needs may potentially make people disappointed or even mad. I can already imagine those of you who are more prone to being people pleasers biting your nails and feeling very uncomfortable and guilty with just the mere thought of upsetting anyone.

Cheryl Richardson says guilt is the most common obstacle to taking care of yourself. “You will feel guilty by making yourself a priority. View it as a sign that you are on the right track.” 

So let’s talk about how we can make setting boundaries a bit more comfortable.

First, tune into your feelings. What are your own limits? We all have things that we find intolerable and can’t accept. Psychologist and coach Dana Gionta has observed two key feelings that are red flags or cues that we’re letting go of our boundaries: discomfort and resentment.  Gionta suggested asking yourself: What’s changed? Consider “What I am doing or what is the other person doing?” or “What is the situation eliciting that’s making me resentful or stressed?” Then, mull over your options: “What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over?”

Second, check how strong your internal boundaries are. An internal boundary is like an invisible shield that protects you from taking in other people’s perceptions or opinions of you. When someone may have a negative reaction to a boundary you are trying to set, it is very important to make sure your shield is strong. You can reinforce your internal boundaries by asking yourself three questions:

  • How much is this true about me?
  • How much of this is about the other person?
  • What do I need to do to regain my personal power and stand up for myself?

Thirdly, have a support system in place. Setting boundaries is not always easy and having a support system can help to balance out some of those stronger emotions that may emerge. Having a place to vent out your frustrations can help you to remain calm and manage stress. Seek out family or good friends who may let you practice setting boundaries. Consider seeking support through resources like books, too.

Lastly, follow through. Like any new skill we are trying to develop, being assertive may not feel natural at first. A great way to strengthen your confidence is to start with a non-threatening boundary that does not feel overwhelming. Then you can slowly build upon your success and tackle some of the more challenging boundaries. 

If setting boundaries feels difficult for you, consider this quote:

“When someone expresses a boundary to me, I say thank you for being authentic, vulnerable and transparent. Thank you for modeling personal integrity. Thank you for helping me to understand how to love and care for you. Thank you for this opportunity to grow more in intimacy.” – Maryam Hasnaa