As we enter 2023, you may have begun taking inventory of things that you want to do differently this year. Some of these goals may be losing weight, taking better account of your finances or even taking better care of your mental health. As you take account of the things that you want to change, one of your new goals may be how you communicate with others. You may find that it is difficult to set boundaries with others and even more difficult to communicate them to others. The skill of setting boundaries can be compared to a muscle. Like any other muscle, it needs to be exercised. After time, working this muscle will get easier the more that it is worked out.
In setting boundaries, one of the biggest obstacles can be the instinct to please people or having a concern that setting boundaries will offend them. When setting boundaries, you cannot be responsible for other people’s emotions. You can aim to communicate effectively and kindly however after that their reaction is out of your hands. It’s natural that when you set a new boundary others may feel upset. This behavior is normal and understandable because of the adjustment to the new request, however, the other person can control their behavior after the boundary is set. Their subsequent actions will be an indicator of their respect for your boundaries. If they push back, refuse to accept it, or do not align their behavior in accordance with the boundary, that is a red flag. Truly supportive people who are invested in your wellbeing will be grateful for the guidance and respect your needs.
Before we can learn how to set boundaries, we need to explore what healthy boundaries are. Healthy boundaries are the limits you place around your time, emotions, body, and mental health to stay resilient, solid, and content with who you are. These empowering borders protect you from being used, drained, or manipulated by others. You can set boundaries around; emotional energy, time, personal space, sexuality, morals and ethics, material possessions and finances and/or social media. Now that we have identified what boundaries can be set around, we can also identify who we want to set boundaries with. Boundaries can be set with; family, friends, romantic relationships, coworkers and/or strangers.
Now that we have learned how to set boundaries, identify healthy boundaries we can learn effective ways to set healthy boundaries. Below are few ways to help you along your new journey.
- Visualize and Name Your Limits
The first and most important step to defining your boundaries is to make them concrete. Boundaries are often confusing and abstract because they feel invisible in our daily lives. However, by visualizing your boundaries and writing them down, you can get much more clarity on where you want to draw the line between you and other people.
- Openly Communicate Your Boundaries
One of the biggest mistakes people make is setting boundaries in their minds but not openly sharing them with the people in their life. Sometimes people assume that you should know their boundaries. But if they didn’t clearly communicate where they’ve drawn the line, how will you know when you’ve overstepped it? And the same goes for you as well. If your boundaries are not clear, it can be hard for others to respect them. The more precise and direct you can communicate your boundaries, the easier it will be to uphold them. Boundaries are like the “rules” of a relationship. When they are displayed for all parties involved, it is much easier to respect them.
- Reiterate and Uphold Your Boundaries
This new boundary will be hard for others to get used to and there might be an adjustment period. In this period, it will be important for you to reiterate and uphold your boundaries. In this adjustment period, avoid shifting your boundaries for somebody else’s comfort. If your new work boundary is, “I don’t feel comfortable with you contacting me about this after work hours,” it would be counteractive to send an email after work hours.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Every “yes” and “no” shapes our reality. When saying yes too often you can be left with an overwhelming amount of responsibilities and duties that you cannot keep up with. Understanding that saying no doesn’t have to be rude can help to say it more often. Saying no doesn’t require an apology or an explanation. Saying no allows for clarity on requests, where as saying maybe, when you mean no, leaves room for the other person holding out on the possibility of you fulfilling their request.
- Take Time to Reflect
Sometimes we can get super excited about setting boundaries that we forget to assess how we feel after the boundary has been set. Taking the time to reflect, allows you the opportunity to assess which areas and/or people are adhering to your boundary. Or what people and/or life areas need more work in boundary setting.
Any form of boundary setting is something to be proud of. As you embark on this new journey remember to be compassionate with yourself as you are learning to exercise this muscle. If you would like to learn more about incorporating boundary setting into your relationships and routine, reach out to Capital EAP. Our clinicians would be happy to help along this journey.
By, Denelle Abel, LMHC, EAP Clinician