How to Set Healthy Boundaries in 5 Fool-Proof Steps
That is why we need to put healthy boundaries in place for our lives – so that the people we interact with know what we are ok and not ok with.
But, especially for those of us brought up in the U.K, it can feel uncomfortable and stressful to impose boundaries. Heck, it can feel downright impolite! But in order to protect ourselves, we need to learn to push past this and put healthy boundaries in place.
What is a healthy boundary?Before we work on setting boundaries, let’s get clear on what they are.
A healthy boundary is a physical and emotional space you put between yourself and others in order to protect your mental stability. You could have boundaries in relationships, in friendships, at work.
People can have more rigid boundaries, more flexible ones, or a mixture of both. As with anything, there is nothing wrong with any of these unless they rest on the extreme.
Boundaries also tend to change depending on the social situation we find ourselves in. For example, you may have strict boundaries on what you will share about your life at work but are much more open with that boundary in your family and friend circles. It all depends on what you are comfortable with.
Why is it important to set healthy boundaries?
Boundaries serve two main purposes.
Firstly, they let the people around you know the behaviour you expect from them when communicating with you.
Secondly, it lets those around you know the behaviour that they can expect from you when interacting with you.
With these two clear barriers in place, you reduce the risk of social unpleasantries, and in extreme cases, mental anguish.
If you struggle with setting boundaries, some advantageous people around you may notice this. By placing them, it stops you from being taken advantage of by those around you and feeling forced into doing things that you don’t want to do or feel uncomfortable doing.
Five steps to setting healthy boundaries
1. Get clear on what you are comfortable withAny good life change starts with a healthy dose of introspection, and boundary setting is no different.
Think about all the different social settings you typically find yourself in – work, family, friends, romantic relationships, etc. Alternatively, you can characterise your interactions by how well you know the person, for example, co-worker, acquaintance, close family member, best friend, and partner.
Make a list of all the things you feel comfortable with in each situation. Then make a second list of the things that make you uncomfortable in each case.
The lists won’t be fully comprehensive as it’s challenging to think of everything you like and dislike in one sitting, but that’s ok. The important thing is to start the thought process of what is acceptable to you in various social situations.
As you start to pay attention to how you feel in different interactions, these lists will expand and change – relationships are ever-evolving entities, so having a degree of fluidity is crucial.
Once you have these lists prepared, you will feel much more confident moving forward and implementing your boundaries.
2. Have an open conversationOk, now that you are clear on the boundaries you would like to see in your social life, it’s time to make them known.
Conversations like these can be immensely uncomfortable when you have found it difficult to implement boundaries in the past. Still, they are the next vital step in protecting your mental wellbeing.
Start small and pick someone that you trust to have an open conversation about boundaries with. You’ll find that they are receptive to what you have to say and will give you the confidence to keep the ball rolling.
Bit by bit, continue going through people in your social circles and have an open conversation about the boundaries that you would like to be respected.
As you get less familiar with the person or start bringing conversations to those that have been consistently overstepping your boundaries, you may feel wary of the conversation becoming confrontational. However, remember that asserting your limits is not confrontation; it is your human right to express your barriers. And for the majority of people, they may not have even realised they were doing that and will adjust their behaviour as soon as you tell them.
The sooner you can have this conversation when you meet someone, the better the relationship will progress.
3. Learn to say no
“No” might be one of the most underrated tools we have available to protect our mental wellbeing. And yet, many of us are scared to use the word for fear of judgement or rejection.
From an early age, our parents and teachers have taught us that good people are helpful and always look out for others. And while this is true to an extent, this can be pushed to the extreme. And that extreme is that we become people-pleasers, too scared to let people down.
When we focus on people-pleasing, we put the happiness of others above our own every single time. We run ourselves ragged, trying to make sure we serve those around us because we fear they will reject us if we don’t.
But guess what? There is nothing wrong with putting yourself first. If you are tired or simply don’t want to do something, you shouldn’t feel pressured to do it.
And so, you need to learn to say no.
No to the extra hours at work. No to making the coffee run every single morning. No to prioritising someone else’s project after your own. Whatever it is that has you feeling uncomfortable, just say no.
If it helps, practise saying no in the mirror until the word feels natural in your mouth. And remember that you don’t need to give an explanation as to why you don’t want to do something. If you say no, it’s no – case closed.
You’ll find once you find your “no” voice, you won’t be able to stop!
4. Curate your social mediaSetting boundaries isn’t limited to face-to-face interactions. Our phones have made us hyper-accessible. Instagram, WhatsApp, and news notifications mean we are never not in the loop.
And while it is good to stay informed, not all information is good for us.
Only you can determine the type of information you feel comfortable coming in regular contact with, and this will vary between people.
So, it’s time to make use of that block button.
Unfollow anyone on social media that makes you feel less than.
Mute anyone on WhatsApp or Messages that you need a break from.
Mute topics on social media that you find triggering.
Delete apps that serve no positive purpose for you.
Unfriend people that you are no longer on good terms with.
Limit who can see and comment on your social media posts.
In short, create a safe space for yourself on the internet where you won’t feel uncomfortable or put your mental health in jeopardy.
5. Stand your groundNow that you’ve implemented your boundaries make sure you congratulate yourself and recognise how brave you have been. It’s not an easy thing to do.
But unfortunately, the work doesn’t end after you establish your boundaries. While most people will respect your boundaries, there will always be a few opportunistic people that try and push your limits.
Perhaps they have very different boundaries and struggle to understand yours. In any case, this is not a reason to disrespect someone’s wishes.
If someone is trying to push you to a place you are uncomfortable with, hold firm and re-establish your boundaries. Do not feel forced into bending your boundaries if you aren’t interested in doing so. Only you get to dictate what is right for you.
Tips for setting boundaries:Now that you have all the steps you need to build some firm boundaries, here are a few things to remember:
- Be kind to yourself; it takes time to implement change in your life.
- Some people may need a little time to adjust to your boundaries.
- You are allowed to change your boundaries whenever you see fit, but try and keep others in the loop so they can continue to respect your wishes.
- If you are struggling to assert your limits, try and get a friend or manager (depending on the setting) to help you.
- You don’t have to do everything at once; start small and build up to it.
Final thoughts on boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries provides you with a safe space to interact socially while protecting your mental health.
And while it can be difficult to assert yourself after struggling with your limits in the past, the health benefits are worth the discomfort.