While there are many aspects to self care, setting healthy boundaries is one that can exponentially help your relationships feel less exhausting and more refreshing. The problem is, however, that boundaries are likely a foreign concept, and many of us don’t even know where to begin.
One of the reasons that self care is so important in any relationship is because we need to know what we want and love in life before we can put those expectations on anyone else. Self care is the means through which we find clarity about who we are. If we haven’t clearly defined what’s important to us, there is no way others can meet our expectations. Also, when we don’t have a solid foundation of who we are, what is important to us, and what we stand for, our relationships suffer from that lack of clarity and we tend to allow life to happen to us rather than creating a life centered around our desires and needs.
What does a healthy boundary look like?
A boundary is a rule or a limit that is predefined about what you allow into your life, how you allow other people to behave around you, and what you do in response to someone or something stepping outside of that limit.
It is a line that you don’t allow to be crossed because it interferes with your goals and direction for your life.
It is the standard to which you hold your life.
It is the amount of stimuli you allow into your life.
It is saying “no” to things that harm you physically, emotionally and spiritually while saying “yes” to the things that inspire, uplift and motivate you.
It is only when we have enough respect for ourselves to say “I won’t tolerate this” or “I don’t want that in my life” that other people can also define where they stand in relation to you and your expectations.
Boundaries are easier to set and communicate when they are clearly defined ahead of time so that you can react to events with grace rather than emotion.
Having unclear boundaries very often lead to frustration, resentment, anger, stress, relationship problems, dependency, uncertainty, exploitation and burnout. In short, a lack of boundaries can negatively affect your life and those around you.
Setting healthy boundaries is Honest
Creating healthy boundaries is actually a gift to the people around you because there is no guess work involved. It is honest. It is upfront. It eliminates inconsistent behaviors. It lets other’s know where you stand and where they stand in relation to you.
When you clearly define what your boundaries are and convey them in a clear, concise manner, they serve to protect your ability to separate your feelings from other’s. All your expectations are set beforehand and they either fit “the mold” or they don’t. This might seem ruthless at first glance but hear me out.
Let’s say that I’m wishy-washy about my boundaries. They aren’t clearly defined. While I know certain things bother me, I typically just see what my mood is, and take each day as it comes at me.
Here’s an example.
I know that I don’t like staying out late with my friends. It makes me feel terrible in the morning, and I really enjoy having my personal space to unwind in the evenings. My friend keeps trying to convince me I need to stay another hour, and since she was able to convince me last time we hung out together, she’s trying really hard again this time. I decide to do what’s best for me. I decline and go home early. The next few days are met with frustration because now my friend thinks I am mad at her because of my decision to leave early. It had nothing to do with her. But it is easy for her to take my actions personally because of MY inconsistency.
When we stand firm in our beliefs, it sets clear expectations to those around us and helps to prevent misunderstandings. Instead it allows space for others to show their respect for us as separate individuals.
Setting Healthy boundaries makes us consistent
Other people are clearly able to know where they stand in relation to what’s important to us when we take the time to define our boundaries.
For example: My friend has made it clear that honoring the sabbath on sunday’s is something that she practices weekly without fail. As her friend, I know about that boundary because she has expressed how important it is to her, and I don’t push the envelop by trying to convince her to go have lunch on a sunday. She has verbalized her boundary that says she is unavailable, and there is no need to try to convince her otherwise or take her decision personally. I show my respect to her by honoring this boundary.
Setting Healthy Boundaries Eliminates Overcommitments that Lead to Anxiety
Overcommitting to our friends and families creates immense unnecessary anxiety. Inside, our intentions are usually filled with goodness but there often just isn’t enough time to go around, no matter how much we want to help. Clearly defining boundaries around our time can alleviate the anxiety that comes with overcommitting. When we make arrangements to attend activities or help someone that is beyond what we are capable of, we create unnecessary stress and anxiety for ourselves, which can lead to frustration, disappointment and poor relationships.
I was notorious for doing this when it came to volunteering in my kid’s classrooms. But since getting real with myself about what I was capable of committing to, I have been unapologetically NOT volunteering in classrooms since 2018.
Why it is difficult to set boundaries?
Maybe some of these…or a combination of them have been what has prevented you from creating some necessary boundaries in your life. Look, I get it. These are real and valid concerns. And there are varying degrees of all of these depending on how toxic your current relationships are. Look at the list below and try to think of a time when you might have reacted against your own intuition because you may fear…
- Being viewed as selfish
- The repercussions
- Being judged by others
Or maybe you feel
- Guilty for not putting others ahead of yourself
Or maybe you just have never been taught how to advocate for yourself.
No matter what the circumstance is, there is no denying that this can be difficult. There are people that will try to manipulate you when you begin to set boundaries. It’s real, and it should be expected. It takes practice and determination, and change isn’t going to happen overnight. But in the process of honoring yourself through your boundaries, you will achieve more happiness. This I can assure you.
How to set a boundary
Sometimes things seems so much easier in concept than what they look like in practice. So, I’m going to give you a tool to help you set boundaries a little bit easier by giving you a simple dialogue to follow for guidance.
- Define what you need
- Communicate what you need using “I” language.
- Strive to be clear, specific and concise. One sentence is sufficient. Don’t overexplain. Don’t apologize.
- Convey why it is important to you so that other people have a clear understanding of your expectations.
Try this Activity to help teach you how to Communicate your Boundaries
I feel___________ when________________ . In the future, what I would like is _____ so that ________.
Arguing makes me frustrated, angry and gives me anxiety. Because I’m not willing to communicate through arguing, this is the conversation that I have had to have with my kids when that boundary is crossed.
I feel frustrated when I make a decision that you disagree with and you instantly want to argue with me. In the future, what I would like is for you to come talk to me in private rather than arguing with me so that I am in a position to hear what you have to say.
Notice that when you communicate your boundaries to someone, it’s not always going to be what they want to hear but it absolutely should be respectful. It should never shame them, which is why the emphasis on “I” language is important.
Final Takeaways about Setting Healthy Boundaries
Healthy boundaries are a critical part of establishing your identity. When we are clear about who we are, what we want in life and where we are headed, it makes the process of setting boundaries a much easier task. If you’re anything like I was and find the process of setting boundaries difficult, know that you aren’t alone. It is extremely difficult when you’ve never been taught. But it is important to learn…for the sake of your happiness, the quality of your relationships, and your overall well-being. When we learn to set our own boundaries, we consequently get better at respecting the boundaries of others as well. Boundaries help us to learn that even when our lives are drastically different from someone else’s, we can still practice mutual respect by honoring one another’s boundaries.