Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, really, a healthy life. Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill that takes practice. Having healthy boundaries means “knowing and understanding what your limits are.
I. Give yourself permission.
Fear, guilt, negative life experience, and doubt are possible barriers to preventing one from creating healthy boundaries. If one sets and enforces boundaries, you might feel guilty by speaking up or saying “No” to a family member. One might fear the other person’s response may lead to conflict, disappointment or a desolation of a relationship. Many people believe that they should say “yes” because they have been taught as children to help others and not be selfish, even though they feel drained or taken advantage of.
II. Your past and present affect your boundaries.
How you were raised along with your role in your family can become additional barriers in setting and preserving boundaries. If you held the role of caretaker you learned to focus on others, letting yourself be drained emotionally or physically, and possibly financially in many cases. Ignoring your own hierarchy of needs might have become the norm in your family.
Think about the people with whom you associate with and have a relationship with. Is there a give-and-take on both sides? If not, maybe you need to re-evaluate this relationship or speak up about the differences in the commitment in the relationship.
Think about work-- it might be unhealthy, too. For instance, if your workday is eight hours a day, but your co-workers stay until 10 or 11 at night, there’s an implicit expectation to go above and beyond at work, however you can say ”No.”
III. Name your limits.
You cannot set good boundaries if you are unsure of where you stand. So identify your physical, emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual limits. Consider what you can tolerate and accept from others and from yourself. What makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Those feelings help us identify what our limits are.
IV. Tune into your feelings.
Two key red flags or cues that we are letting go of our boundaries are: discomfort and resentment. If you have these feelings, I suggest thinking maybe not doing the activity. Let’s say you initially said “yes,” you can always come back and say “No”, it’s ok.
Resentment usually comes from being taken advantage of or not appreciated. It’s often a sign that we’re pushing ourselves either beyond our own limits because we feel guilty (and want to be a good person), or someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values on us.
V. Be direct.
The best way to avoid any issue with boundaries is setting those limits from the beginning of the relationship. Whether it’s work, play, or relational. If you express in a healthy manner what you expect, the other party is aware of what you can and cannot do. There will be other times in which you don’t have to be direct. Those can be in situations that you feel are not important or worthy of a discussion. Learn to pick your battles not everything is a boundary issue unless you personally feel it is or the other person feels it is.
VI. Practice self-awareness.
Again, boundaries are all about cultivating your feelings and honoring them. If you notice yourself slipping and not sustaining your boundaries, think “What’s changed?”.
Consider, “What I am doing or [what is] the other person doing?” Or, “What is the situation eliciting that’s making me resentful or stressed?” Then, sleep on your options: “What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over?” It takes time, support, and relearning to be able to set effective boundaries. Self-awareness and learning to be assertive are the first steps. Setting boundaries isn’t selfish. It’s self-love – you say “yes” to yourself each time you say “no.” It builds self-esteem.
VII. Practice boundary setting.
Practice setting your boundaries on a regular basis. They may change from time to time. Be flexible. Certain boundaries may apply in one setting but may not be acceptable in another setting. Keep open to your internal compass. Listen for your inside voice for what is acceptable to you and what you feel is healthy, not what others expect of you or want from you. Boundaries aren’t just a sign of a healthy relationships; they’re a sign of self-respect. So give yourself the permission to set boundaries that make you feel better about who you are and work on keeping those boundaries.
Practice, practice, practice.
Food for Thought
Practicing saying “No” is healthy, not only for oneself but also for others. Take it from me, growing up in a home where I was not taught the most appropriate healthy boundaries was difficult. Boundary setting I learned from life experiences and the desire to bring order to chaos. I used to find myself saying “yes” to everything and feeling emotionally, financially and physically drained after I had exhausted all the resources I had tangible and intangible. I was taught at a very young age to always be helpful and kind. I missed the part that said “Don’t kill yourself in the process of bequeathing to others in need”. One day, a priest friend of mine, Father John, said to me quite frankly, “Oswaldo, God wants you to be a blessing to others; however He also wants you to be blessed. That does not mean for you to give all your possessions away at the expense of your wellbeing!” It dawned on me he was right. How can I continue to help others without helping myself? I started working on setting limits first with my nuclear family and then with others. As I did this I started to feel a weight lifted off my shoulders. I could say “No” and it was ok. The more I practiced, the easier it got. When I could, and it did not affect me or my family, I would assist others.
Most of us have been trained to say “yes” to everything. Boundaries create a safe separation between what we want to do for others and what is healthy for all involved ( thinking of it like having fence in your yard or a front door to your home keeping healthy things in and unhealthy things out. The door opens both ways, as does a gate). For example, in the past you might have spent your day transporting a friend around even though you had a day planned for self-care. Now I want you to practice saying “No” when you know it will affect you or your family in order to master boundary-setting skills. The best gage I have learned weather I say “yes” or “ No” to something is when I start thinking about why I don’t want to do it. If that pops in my mind, more often than not, I don’t say “yes” because later I will be angry at myself for not being assertive or upset at the person or people I was trying to help. That is not what being a Blessing to others is about. I want to be clear that I am not saying don’t help others out, but as the saying goes, do everything you do in moderation.