Monthly Featured Article (October 2018)
Out of Bounds: How to Set Healthy Boundaries
Chapter 3: Developing Healthy Boundaries
by Susie J. Briscoe
Setting healthy boundaries in your life can often be fraught with difficulties because you’re dealing with so many different personalities – those of your co-workers, family members, spouses, and friends. All of these people have different expectations of you and some may cross healthy boundaries.
If you haven’t set certain boundaries for yourself, stress, bad feelings, breakup of a relationship, and anger may occur when you change. It’s important that you know how to set boundaries for yourself and which are most important to you, but it’s also important to know how to deal with the reactions of others to the boundaries you’ve set.
You have rights that need to be respected – to be able to say “No” when you want to and to expect courtesy from others. It’s your right to let the phone go to voicemail, ignore email for awhile, or not answer a question if you don’t want to.
Think about your current boundaries. Are you saying “Yes” when you’d rather say "No" – or are you using anger or nagging to get your way rather than expecting others to recognize and respect your boundaries?
If you’re experiencing anger and disrespect from others not adhering to your boundaries, you may need to rethink how you communicate with others. Keep in mind that boundaries aren’t meant to punish others – but are set in place for your own protection.
Setting boundaries works best when you don’t shout or nag, but remain calm and collected when you carry out compliance to the boundaries you’ve set. Speaking your mind and setting limits for others requires you to make yourself the main priority and not be afraid of the consequences of protecting yourself.
How to Develop and Set Healthy Boundaries
Developing and setting healthy boundaries help you lead a very healthy life. It’s a skill that may not have been learned in childhood or even far into your adult life. It may take a professional coach or counselor to help you along the path of boundary-building if it’s a new and scary concept for you.
First, you’ve got to know and understand yourself and your own boundaries. Basically, any situation which makes you feel uncomfortable, or that you regret later on, requires that you reset – and follow through with – your current boundaries.
If you periodically find yourself becoming “soft” on your boundaries and it’s making a difference in how much you’re enjoying your life and feeling that you garner respect from others – it’s time to rethink your boundaries and set ones which you’re comfortable with.
It may help you to write down some boundaries which you feel are “non-negotiable” and work from those. Be clear when you describe what it would take to cross that boundary. Also, think about how you’ll handle the situation if that boundary is crossed so there will be no question or arguing about the subject.
For example, if you have a co-worker who crosses your boundary of touching, it’s time to set the boundary and clarify it to yourself and the co-worker. A pat on the back may be acceptable, but hugging may not. In some instances, all touching might be off limits with this person and/or others.
Knowing your personal limits on what you can tolerate – or not – is an important part of how you’ll develop and set boundaries you can live with. Consider the following tips when developing and setting boundaries and how you’ll cope with reactions from others.
- Know thyself. When you’re tuned in to your feelings about boundaries, you’ll soon discover exactly what’s bothering you about certain situations. What are you resentful about – or what makes you uncomfortable about an issue? The more you know yourself and what makes you feel as you do, the better able you’ll be to set the boundaries which will be most important to you.
- Ponder your past. What, if anything, in your past has led to feelings that your boundary has been broken? Perhaps you weren’t respected as a child or in a job after you became an adult. If you learned how to deal with it by accepting the behaviour, you likely feel anger or resentment now. Write down all you can remember about what may have happened in your past to make your boundaries weak and unacceptable.
- Ponder your present situations. Are your relationships healthy with spouse, family, and friends? If not, which situations may need new boundaries which demand respect and that will protect your physical and emotional well-being? Ignoring your needs can keep you drained and might eventually affect your health.
- Make yourself the main priority – Your energy, health and peace of mind must come first or you won’t be able to effectively help and deal with others. When you practice self-care, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to be the best spouse, mom, co-worker or friend you can be. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’ll have certain cues such as lack of energy, anger and mistrust of others.
- Know that you deserve to have boundaries – Give yourself the permission you need to set and enforce your personal boundaries. There’s no need to feel guilty about enforcing boundaries. You have every right to the self-respect you deserve and every right to demand that others give you the same respect.
- Be firm and direct with those who cross your boundaries – Some people will welcome your newly set boundaries and see it as a good thing for you. Others will rebel, get their feelings hurt and you may possibly run the risk of losing a friendship, marriage or cause rifts at work or between family members. As long as you’re firm and direct about your needs, you are in the “right” and others should respect that.
- Learn to be assertive – When it comes to your healthy boundaries, you may have to push the “assertiveness” button more than you ever have before. After you’ve communicated what your boundaries are, be assertive in protecting those boundaries. People can be like children – once you let them get away with a little bit, they try your patience more. Communicate with the trespassing person in an assertive manner.
Developing and setting appropriate boundaries will protect your self-esteem and keep you from expending time and energy on people and things which ultimately drain you and keep you angry and frustrated.
How to Protect Your Boundaries with Difficult People
Poet, Robert Frost, once said, “Good fences make good neighbours.” That’s true with boundaries you set around your beliefs and to protect your health. When you begin to protect your boundaries, you may expect some outcries from those in your life who would like to keep the status quo.
You may need to seek counselling or support of some type when dealing with difficult people in your life. The other person may respond better if you make setting boundaries a mutual decision. For example, you may also be breaking a boundary with a friend and the friend may be reticent in telling you.
When you practice setting strong boundaries with each other, it can be a good way to draw even closer together and understand the other in new ways. Setting new boundaries won’t work with everyone and you need to be sure you’re ready to leave a relationship or job if common ground can’t be reached.
Think of your boundaries as doors to the inside of you. Some people may have to remain outside on the porch, while others you may ask into the drawing room. Still others may earn their way to sharing confidences and become important in your life.
Some unscrupulous and manipulative people will take advantage of those with weak boundaries. Strong boundaries will let these “takers” know that you’re not a person who will put up with boundary trespassers. As a result, you’ll become more attractive to others who also have strong boundaries and those who have crossed your personal boundaries will be weeded out.
Below are some tips on protecting your healthy boundaries:
- Don’t worry what people think when you set your boundaries. Your boundaries will differ from those set by others, but respect is key here. You must express your true feelings without being rude or mean but with enough of a tough demeanour to let others know you mean business.
- Address issues immediately. Don’t let your anger and frustration at a person’s disrespect for your boundaries blow up. Tell the person exactly how you feel and why the behaviour needs to stop.
- Learn to set boundaries with everyone. That means your children, spouse, friends and family – and also customer service people, co-workers, a reservation clerk, housekeeper and mechanic. Boundaries should be firmly in place with everyone you come in contact with.
- Learn to recognize when you’re being manipulated. A sarcastic comment may be a demeaning message to get you to do something you don’t want to do. The messages may be subtle, and it may take practice for you to recognize that they’re disguised as “teaching” when they’re really forms of manipulation.
- Intuition can serve you well in setting boundaries. If something doesn’t “feel” right to you – it probably isn’t good for you. Listen to the inner voice that tells you when it’s time to set a boundary. If you feel angry or suspect someone is taking advantage of you – set a boundary.
Setting and protecting your boundaries may be a skill that you’ll have to learn – especially if you have poorly defined boundaries. It will take practice and determination to stick to the process of meeting the challenges you’ll face when you begin to set personal boundaries.
It’s best to begin with small boundaries which aren’t exactly threatening to you and then – when you become comfortable with those – begin to set more challenging boundaries. You can master the art of setting personal boundaries with practice and courage.
Main Points of Chapter 3: Developing Healthy Boundaries
Developing healthy boundaries is a way to ensure that no one encroaches on your time or your emotional health. If you’ve always had “soft” boundaries, you may feel frustrated and angry at times when being taken advantage of and you lack the ability to say “No.”
This chapter teaches you how to develop and set boundaries and how to carry them out in a good way so hurt feelings don’t occur and so you’ll experience more control over your life. Some main points of “Developing Healthy Boundaries” include:
- Know that you have rights and that they should be respected by others. When someone deliberately or accidentally crosses the boundaries you set for yourself, you should be able to speak up immediately and proclaim that the person has gone too far and what you expect from now on.
- If you’re new at setting boundaries it’s important that you take the time to think about the new ones you want to set and develop and how you’re going to carry out the protection of them if someone trespasses.
- Don’t shout and get angry when someone crosses one of your newly-formed boundaries. Keep your cool, but address the situation quickly and let the person know that this boundary is non-negotiable and that you enjoy being with them, but can’t be if they continue the behaviour.
- Don’t worry what others think when you decide on the boundaries you want to set. It’s only important what you think and how you feel. It may mean that some people you’re close to will have to behave differently around you.
- Seek help to set and keep boundaries if you’re having trouble. Counsellors, your minister or priest and much information exist online to help you know what to do to enforce your newly set boundaries.
- Be assertive with others when enforcing boundaries. Don’t let people think that your new boundaries are just a fleeting idea you’ve come up with. Let them know you mean business and educate them whenever a boundary is crossed.
- Start with small boundaries that are perhaps annoyances and then move to the larger ones which bother you deeply.