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How to Set Healthy Boundaries

by Mary Beth Janssen

Get yourself ready for the best new year ever!

Setting healthy and safe boundaries is an important part of our self care, deserving of our attention and intention. It’s also an integral life skill in any relationship, but especially in situations where people are controlling, aren’t accountable or won’t take responsibility for their actions. It is, however, our duty to take responsibility for how we allow others to treat us.

Boundary setting is the practice of communicating and asserting your personal values and needs as a way to prevent having them compromised or violated. It’s learning how to negotiate having your needs met, as well as how to say “no,” rather than being manipulated into doing anything you do not want to do. Clear, strong boundaries are healthy for your mind, body and spirit. Allowing anyone to violate what is life affirming for you drains the joy from your life.

Remember, we condition people how to treat us by what we allow, reinforce or stop. Our physical and emotional health is at stake when we fail to say “no” to excessive demands or abusive behavior, whether subtle or blatant. Any relationship where we feel a diminished sense of self makes it difficult for us to have our needs met.

When we constantly give to others at the expense of fulfilling our own needs or dreams, not only do we feel drained, but we can feel hurt, angry, resentful, and even hopeless. What one of us wants to put ourselves in this position? Boundary setting allows us to stand in our power and be treated with the respect we deserve.

It is also a necessary step in learning how to love and be a friend to ourselves. These imaginary lines we establish around ourselves help define limits and protect our mind, heart and soul from the unhealthy, draining and damaging behavior of others.

Where To Begin First, become aware of how you feel when you’re with someone. If you don’t feel comfortable, safe or good about yourself in their presence, then, chances are, important boundaries are being violated.

Define Your Needs You need to be quite clear on what your needs are in order to define boundaries. Remember that boundaries will shift and change according to the rhythm of our lives. A daily mindfulness practice allows for clarity and flexibility in navigating through life’s changes, thus any boundaries that need to be refined/redefined.

Beyond physiological needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, etc.), fundamental human needs include: attention, affection, appreciation and acceptance. These needs can be expressed in a number of ways.

Our emotions (both comfortable and otherwise) derive from needs. Contemplate and define what needs are not being met in your important relationships, so that you can not only strive to have them met, but also resolve any stressful emotions.

Translate your thoughts into honest but nonconfrontational language, devoid of blame. You are setting boundaries as a way to love yourself, not as a way to vent or rage against others. It is best to proceed when you are calm and very clear about what you’ll allow or not allow this person to do in your presence.

Avoid words that put the person you’re speaking with on the defensive and encourage victimization (i.e., “You betrayed me.” “You manipulated me.” “You patronized me.”). Ideally, the words that you use express your feelings and unmet needs in a safe, nonthreatening way (i.e. “I feel afraid.” “I feel helpless.” “I feel overwhelmed.” And “I don’t want to feel this way any longer.”).

It is important to state our feelings out loud, and to precede the feeling with “I feel.” This is owning the feeling. By stating the feeling out loud we are affirming that we have a right to feelings. We are affirming it to ourselves and taking responsibility for owning our reality. It is vitally important to own our own voice. To own our right to speak up for ourselves.

Next Steps When you inform others of your boundaries, you can expect some resistance. Some (especially your children) may test you until they realize that you mean business, and their unacceptable words or behaviors will no longer be tolerated. So make certain there are set consequences where there are infractions.

With consistency, our boundaries become automatic. People will become respectful without you having to tell them to be.

And as you set clear boundaries for yourself, others learn to do this for themselves. You are modeling and teaching others to become more respectful of themselves and others.

So in the end, this is about positive, life affirming energy. When we have clear boundaries, we attract similar energy into your lives: those who have clear boundaries, self respect, and in turn, respect for others.

Express gratitude to those who respect your boundaries. And please do remember the golden rule of setting boundaries: Respect and honor other’s boundaries as you would have them honor yours!

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