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  • Setting Healthy Boundaries

    Have you ever allowed yourself to be talked into doing something and afterwards regretted it? Do you want to help out other people but then take on too much yourself? Setting healthy boundaries allows you to take on what works for you so that you can excel at what is most important.

    What is a boundary?

    Boundaries can be emotional or physical. A boundary is simply space between ourselves and others to preserve stability. Poor emotional boundaries at work or in our relationships lead to resentment, anger and burnout. Without insight into our difficulty to set boundaries, it can feel like others are taking advantage of our kind and helpful nature. We need to be aware of our responsibility in setting boundaries with others to prevent this.

    How do we set boundaries?

    The key to setting boundaries is first figuring out what one wants from their various relationships, setting boundaries based on these desires, and then being clear with oneself and with other people about these boundaries. A lot of work is done in the first step of figuring out what you want from a relationship. What has made you feel uncomfortable in the past? What have you said yes to that you wished you would have said no? A therapist or an assertive friend can help you identify this if you are struggling.

    Some tips on setting boundaries:

    1. Back up boundary setting with action.

    2. Be direct, firm and gracious.

    3. Don’t debate, defend or over-explain.

    4. Have support easily available on the sidelines in the beginning.

    5. Stay strong, don’t give in.

    What does a healthy boundary look like?

    A friend asked to come over when you are cleaning your house to prepare for your parents to come over the next day. When you explain this, she says that she’ll help you and it will be more fun. You feel like this is something you need to do yourself, but can tell that she wants to spend time with you. How do you respond? Be careful of wanting to spare her feelings by saying something like, “Oh I don’t want to subject you to my messy house.” By placing the emotion in her court, she can counter that by saying she doesn’t mind and will be over soon to help. If you are more assertive, but respectful in saying something like “I appreciate your offer to help, but I need to do this on my own. Let’s get together next week to do XYZ activity.” This gives no opportunity for her to counter your suggestion, and makes plans to get together with her soon.

    Physical boundaries

    Setting physical boundaries is very important. We are in charge of who is in our physical space. Everyone’s comfort level with physical space is different. It’s important to be able to set those boundaries early in relationships with others. The person in the relationship with the more strict physical boundaries is in control. If one friend is a hugger and the other isn’t, an agreement needs to be made about how to handle affection. Holding your hand out for a handshake is a good way to show your level of comfort with a greeting. Physical boundaries are essential in sexual relationships. Practice setting boundaries with those that you trust first or maybe it’s easier to set a boundary with a stranger.

    What should I do if a boundary is violated?

    Bring it up right away. The longer you wait to address the violation, the more uncomfortable it will be. If this happened in front of other people, it may feel more comfortable to do this one on one with the person who violated your boundary. Explain the violation and your boundary clearly.

    What are the benefits to setting boundaries?

    Setting boundaries improves your own self esteem, self respect and is good self care. You will receive more respect from others and will be a role model to others setting boundaries. You will set the precedent of honest, direct communication with others. You will contribute to others’ well being as they will know that they have behaved in a way that meets your needs.

    Setting healthy boundaries allows you to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t. You will feel more in control and comfortable with your interactions with others. It may feel difficult to start doing this, but the benefits will help you continue to set boundaries with others. Keep practicing. Enlist a friend to help talk out how to set difficult boundaries. The more boundaries you set, the more skilled and graceful it will feel.