When you hear the phrase ‘setting boundaries’ you might think it’s all about putting up walls or barriers between you and your loved ones. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Essentially, setting boundaries means creating rules and limits with other people. And it could actually make your relationships healthier and happier. If anything, it shows just how much you care about the other person, because you’re willing to put in the effort to nurture and sustain that relationship.
Many of us struggle to say ‘no’ or put other people’s feelings before our own simply because we’re eager to please. We might worry about what will happen if we tell someone that they’ve crossed a line. Will the other person get angry, think badly of us or, even worse, abandon us?
So, we agree to take on that extra work from our boss even though we know we don’t have enough time. We don’t tell our friend that they upset us by cancelling at the last minute, even though we had other plans. And we spend another evening with our partner, when we’d much rather have a bit of ‘me’ time.
We’re not born people-pleasers though. It’s a learnt habit. As a child, you may have eagerly said ‘no’. But as we grow up, many of us learn it’s selfish, rude or impolite. We’re taught to ‘do as we’re told’, and we may even replicate the people-pleasing tendencies of our parents.
As adults, we might even pride ourselves on being “helpful” and “non confrontational”. Saying ‘yes’ can make us feel worthy and valued as a friend, co-worker or partner.
But it’s a slippery slope.
We can all be guilty of people-pleasing. But when we fail to create healthy boundaries, we can feel overloaded, overwhelmed and even burnt out.
It can be lonely too. Even when you have friends and family around you, you may never feel truly ‘seen’ as no one knows what you really think or feel.
Just imagine how liberating it would be to say ‘yes’ not because you feel you should, but because you actually have chosen to help. Imagine having your needs, wants and desires fully met.
This is where healthy boundaries come into play.
If you’re not used to asserting your boundaries, it’s only natural that it might seem a little daunting at first. But it’s completely healthy and valid. And, if put into practice, it could do wonders for your mental health.
Types of boundaries
Boundaries aren’t one size fits all – they vary from person to person depending on our past experiences. You can create boundaries for your friends, family, work colleagues or even your partner.
For instance, you may want to set boundaries about:
- Personal space
- Time and energy
- Intimacy and sexuality
- Religion and ethics
What are boundaries in a relationship?
When it comes to romantic relationships, we may think of boundaries as a bad thing. After all, when you find your soulmate, surely they should be able to anticipate your wants and needs?
We may fear that boundaries will tarnish the romance and spontaneity of a relationship. But, believe it or not, setting boundaries – big or small – can actually help you connect on a deeper and more intimate level.
Setting boundaries is vital for any relationship, whether it’s a long-lasting marriage or a newfound romance. Your boundaries may be physical, for instance, you may want to set rules around physical intimacy or financial spending. But they can be emotional too. For example, you may feel like you’re doing the emotional heavy lifting in the relationship. You might want your partner to take more responsibility for their own happiness, to be less dependent on you or to give you more personal space.
If we let people trample over our boundaries, it can hold us back from forming meaningful romantic relationships where our partner knows what we really want. Or, at worst, it could make us susceptible to abusive or toxic relationships where we are easily manipulated or forfeit our needs for the benefit of others.
How to set healthy boundaries
Let’s face it, sometimes it can be tough to set healthy boundaries. With this in mind, we’ve compiled some tips on how you can set boundaries with people in your own life.
Define your boundaries
Tune into your feelings and examine past scenarios where you felt discomfort, anger or frustration. It could have been because someone overstepped your boundaries. Take time to explore the issues and values that are important to you.
Be direct and communicate clearly
Try practising saying “no” when you don’t want to do something. You don’t need to explain yourself or offer an excuse, just remain calm and polite.
Sometimes, when people cross a line they may not even realise it. Explain clearly how they have overstepped the mark, how it made you feel and how you’d like them to act in the future.
Be kind to yourself
Has someone ever crossed a boundary and you didn’t know how to react in the moment? If you’re caught off guard, don’t worry. Give yourself time to reflect and come back to the conversation later.
If you’re not used to stating your boundaries, it may all seem a little intimidating – especially if you think the person will react badly. If it seems scary, start small. It may also be helpful to meditate or to speak to a therapist.
Realise that your boundaries can be flexible
Your boundaries aren’t drawn in permanent ink. It’s good to take time to reassess. You might even find your boundaries with a person may move and shift over time or as your relationship changes.
Like any skill, setting boundaries takes practice. But, by putting in the work, it could improve your relationships with others, and it could also better your relationship with yourself.