There’s nothing more complex than the nuances of social relationships. At any age or stage of life, it can be a struggle to know how people are feeling and what you can expect of others. Establishing boundaries is a solid tool to keep your relationships healthy, but how is it done?
In this article, we’ll talk about what it means to set up boundaries, when you might need them and how to do it.
What does it mean to establish healthy boundaries?
Social and emotional boundaries are the limits we impose on ourselves or others in order to protect our own (or our family or friends’) mental, physical and spiritual well-being. These expectations can be firm, or we can fail to make them clear.
We may find ourselves needing to set boundaries in response to hurt or discomfort we’ve experienced, or we may need to put them in place as a precaution.
What areas of my life do I need to set boundaries?
Depending on your own needs, emotional energy, family demands, career and other factors, you may need to set more or fewer boundaries. There are a plethora of areas to consider when you’re considering which limits may be necessary. Here are a few:
Finances (such as borrowing money or discussing how money is used)
Personal or intimate details about your life
Availability (like when you can answer your phone or be available to help)
Demands on your time
This list may help you ponder where you’ll want to establish clear lines in your life. However, if you’re having trouble brainstorming where you need to set boundaries, it can also be helpful to reverse the process, starting with a stressful area of your life and thinking back to a boundary that could be drawn.
How to set healthy boundaries, step by step
If you’re ready to put boundaries into place but don’t know where to start, here is a step-by-step guide to help you do just that.
As you’ve read, you may have already realized some areas of your life that could use some clear limits. Continue to contemplate your needs and the specific issues in your life that could be reduced by a few explicit boundaries.
Journaling with the following questions can provide a launch point for a thorough study of what needs to change.
When do I feel I’m taken advantage of?
Do I feel emotionally exhausted or overwhelmed?
Do I feel responsible for anyone’s mental wellness or physical needs?
Is there a healthy balance of time for myself and time for others in my life?
Do I have any relationships that are one-sided?
Am I uncomfortable physically in any setting?
Am I able to set aside work on my off-hours?
Do I feel that unreasonable demands are placed on me?
Answering these questions can bring up a mixed assortment of emotions. While it may be a relief to realize stronger boundaries are in order, it can also be scary if your bond with someone may be on the line.
Once you start setting boundaries and realizing how effective they are in your life, you’ll want to implement them everywhere. However, you’ll want to start with one or two areas that are most important and take the time to set healthy limits the right way.
For example, you may decide that you need to eat healthier. Cutting out all sugar, carbs and dairy may seem like a solid plan to start, but being too strict with yourself may prove unsustainable. Go for limits that are helpful and you’re able to enforce them consistently.
Whether you’re setting limits with yourself or another person, you’ll want to have a detailed and explicit plan. The best way to complete this step is to write down your expectations and how you’ll communicate them. If necessary, you’ll also want some idea of how you’ll carry them out and a consequence if it isn’t respected.
Here are some examples of establishing healthy boundaries.
My boyfriend will pay his portion of our bills to me by the first of every month, otherwise, I will move into an apartment on my own.
I will only answer work emails until 5 pm, otherwise, I will ask my boss for a raise.
My parents are allowed to stop in for a visit, but they need to give at least two days’ advance notice.
The more precise your boundaries, the easier they will be to communicate.
Once you have your boundaries set, you’ll need to communicate them to others. While sometimes we feel that non-verbal cues are sufficient for someone to know what we want, expressing your expectations verbally is non-negotiable when setting healthy boundaries.
Sadly, our boundaries won’t always be respected. When push comes to shove, you’ll find there are times you’ll have to enforce the boundaries. Thankfully, planning ahead will make this step easier.
Even more foolproof is sharing the consequences when you communicate your expectations. When there’s a known and undesirable result that comes from a ruptured boundary, it’s less likely to happen in the first place.
Get back up with setting boundaries
If you’re learning how to set healthy boundaries for the first time and the task seems daunting, it’s OK to ask for help. Pyramid Online Counseling can give you the support you need, whether you’re asking your roommate to do her share of the chores or pursuing financial independence from your in-laws.
You don’t have to handle it alone. Get in touch with Pyramid Online Counseling today.