Setting Boundaries

Setting Boundaries — one source for stress is a lack of boundaries, AKA the inability to say no.

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What Are Boundaries?

Per­son­al bound­aries are emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal, and men­tal lim­its that we estab­lish. Bound­aries dif­fer from per­son to per­son, and are:

  • based on one’s needs and desires
  • designed to pro­tect him or her­self from being used, manip­u­lat­ed, or even vio­lat­ed by others.

Setting boundaries is a personal responsibility, rooted in self-care and a desire to cultivate well-being. The premise is that no one and nothing can hurt you if you don’t allow it.

Please note that last clause: “…if you don’t allow it.” The only excep­tion to this rule is phys­i­cal assu­alt, which you may or may not be able to “stop,” depend­ing upon your phys­i­cal abil­i­ties. All oth­er forms of “bro­ken bound­aries” hap­pen because they are “allowed” to happen.

Boundaries are commonplace.

Coun­tries have bor­ders, homes have fences and doors, and offices are either sep­a­rate rooms or cubi­cles which serve to main­tain secu­ri­ty and a sense of privacy.

Personal boundaries can serve us in the same ways.

Bound­aries are cru­cial to healthy rela­tion­ships, a healthy self, and a healthy life. Set­ting and sus­tain­ing bound­aries is a skill that many peo­ple have not learned or mas­tered, but is essen­tial for gen­er­al well-being.

Boundaries are wide and varied:

  • Say­ing no to a friend who requests a favor that will infringe on your own well-being
  • Estab­lish­ing clear lim­its as to what you will or will not do in order to pro­tect your health and sanity
  • Set­ting rules and ensur­ing your kids fol­low them while liv­ing at home
  • Set­ting lim­its with­in a roman­tic rela­tion­ship as to what behav­iours you will allow
  • Bound­aries can also involve a per­son­al deci­sion as to how much you will tol­er­ate in any giv­en situation–for exam­ple: need­ing to take a time out dur­ing an argument
  • Set­ting emo­tion­al expres­sion lim­its to pro­tect your emo­tion­al health
  • Not doing things you don’t want to do or like to do just because some­one else wants to
  • Set­ting time for work, and mak­ing sure that work does not inter­fere with fam­i­ly and leisure time
  • And, of course, set­ting lim­its in order to reduce stress, over­whelm and burnout

In essence, personal boundaries provide you with security and safety; they are your armour in ensuring self-care


It Is Not Selfish To Take Care Of Yourself 

This is some­thing we must real­ize when we want to learn to set bound­aries and under­stand our lim­its. For many this is an obstacle.

Why are your needs any less important than those of others?

The belief that self-care is self­ish is a false one. No one else can take care of you but you. No one else but you can under­stand and iden­ti­fy what impacts your well-being, san­i­ty and stress lev­els but you.

When we put the needs of oth­ers before our own… we com­pro­mise our well-being, and this places an undue bur­den on our­selves and our rela­tion­ships.

When we learn to say no, (or to set lim­its on what we will tol­er­ate so as to not com­pro­mise our own per­son­al val­ues, needs and desires) we devel­op self-care, and this is the linch­pin for reduc­ing stress and liv­ing the lives we were meant to live.

How Boundaries Help You Manage Stress

The skill of setting boundaries is one of the most effective stress management tools. There are several reasons for this:

  • First, with­out bound­aries you are like­ly to be run­ning around doing every­thing for oth­ers, with­out tak­ing care of your own needs. This is pro­found­ly and fun­da­men­tal­ly stress­ful. The lack of under­stand­ing your own needs, desires and lim­its makes it dif­fi­cult to take care of your­self, and with­out self-care, stress is bound be ram­pant in your life.
  • Sec­ond, with­out bound­aries it may seem that oth­ers are tak­ing advan­tage of you, which can cause immense men­tal and emo­tion­al stress.
  • Third, the lack of a com­fort zone (which is pro­vid­ed by set­ting lim­its) can make it seem that you are always liv­ing on the edge, with­out a safe­ty net. This leads to stress and its con­se­quent respons­es in the body.

Key Considerations In Setting Boundaries

  1. Set and under­stand your lim­its — in order to have healthy bound­aries, you must know where you stand. This means that you must iden­ti­ty your lim­its: emo­tion­al, phys­i­cal, men­tal, and spir­i­tu­al. Bound­aries mean lim­its, and this means that you must be aware of what you can tol­er­ate with­out stress or discomfort.
  2. Self-care is at the core of bound­aries — bound­aries are indi­vid­ual and per­son­al choic­es that stem from and sup­port the need to take good care of ourselves.
  3. What makes you uncom­fort­able may not be uncom­fort­able for oth­ers. This can become an obsta­cle, as oth­ers may exert pres­sure to “per­suade you” to change a boundary.
  4. Self-aware­ness — set­ting bound­aries requires a deep lev­el of self-aware­ness and hon­or­ing of our own feel­ings. For exam­ple, a friend calls and says she needs you to babysit, but you are exhaust­ed and have had a long week, and were plan­ning to just relax. At this point it is cru­cial for you to iden­ti­fy your fatigue — and your own needs — and not say “yes” — even though this will put your friend in a bind.
  5. Deal With Per­son­al Chal­lenges — self-doubt, guilt, and fear are all poten­tial pit­falls when it comes to our health, well-being, and how we set limits. 
    • We may be fear­ful of how the oth­er per­son will respond, or imag­ine they may not like us if we say “no” to them.
    • Guilt often pre­vents us from say­ing “no” and set­ting lim­its because we feel it is our duty to be help­ful, to take care of oth­ers; to be good par­ents, friends, and lovers.
    • Doubt­ing if we are deserv­ing of the self-care that bound­aries pro­vide is anoth­er chal­lenge that results in our doing more than we want to or are able to. This self-doubt results in us putting the needs of oth­ers before our own.
    • All of the above are issues that place focus on the oth­er per­son rather than our­selves. They must be addressed before we can move for­ward to set­ting healthy bound­aries. The truth is that let­ting self-doubt, guilt and fear make the needs of oth­ers more impor­tant than our own is a recipe for disaster.
  6. Dis­com­fort and Resent­ment —
    • Dis­com­fort stems from doing or act­ing in a way that is beyond our com­fort lev­el. While learn­ing to stretch out bound­aries (anoth­er arti­cle!) is impor­tant, one has to have bound­aries to begin with! Press­ing against a bound­ary always results in discomfort.
    • Resent­ment occurs when you do not think you are appre­ci­at­ed or you think that some­one is tak­ing advan­tage of you. This occurs when we push our­selves beyond our own lim­its, (typ­i­cal­ly when we want to be good friends, wives, hus­bands, work­ers, daugh­ters, sons, sib­lings and par­ents and we don’t want to say “no”.) Iron­i­cal­ly, the resent­ment is mis­di­rect­ed, as it is you who has allowed your­self to go beyond your own lim­its, since no one can make you doing any­thing that you don’t want to do.
  7. Being Direct — one of the key skills in set­ting bound­aries is the abil­i­ty to be direct with the peo­ple in your life. This means learn­ing to say “no”. Say­ing “no” means using dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ca­tion styles with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, but no mat­ter who you are deal­ing with — be it par­ents, kids, friends or your spouse — set­ting bound­aries requires a clear-cut and direct dialogue.
  8. The Care­tak­er Syn­drome — how you were raised can be a sig­nif­i­cant obsta­cle in set­ting bound­aries. If you were taught to be a care­tak­er, and your fam­i­ly placed undue expec­ta­tions on you when grow­ing up, then ignor­ing your own needs is like­ly to be your norm. Con­sid­er all your rela­tion­ships; is there a healthy give and take?

Some Ideas to Help You Start Setting Boundaries

  • Make Self-Care A Pri­or­i­ty — Mak­ing self-care a pri­or­i­ty requires that we give our­selves per­mis­sion to put our­selves first, which moti­vates us to set clear and healthy bound­aries at work, at home and in social sit­u­a­tions. Self-care also means rec­og­niz­ing that your feel­ings are valid — and these feel­ings serve as essen­tial cues about your hap­pi­ness and contentment.
  • Be Assertive — it isn’t enough to cre­ate bound­aries, we need to fol­low through. Even though we know intel­lec­tu­al­ly that oth­ers aren’t mind read­ers, we still expect them to know what we want, what we hurt our feel­ings over, and what infringes on our lim­its. But, of course, they don’t know and they are not mind read­ers! It is crit­i­cal that we assertive­ly com­mu­ni­cate with oth­ers about our bound­aries, and let oth­ers know when they have crossed them — all in a respect­ful way.
  • Let Go — of course, there will be peo­ple who will not under­stand or respect your bound­aries, and they will con­tin­ue to try to infringe upon them. Being proac­tive in your self-care like­ly will mean let­ting these peo­ple go, in order to remove tox­ic rela­tion­ships from your life.
  • Get Help — you may need pro­fes­sion­al help to learn how to be com­fort­able with set­ting bound­aries and with self-care in gen­er­al. A good ther­a­pist can help you to get in touch with your issues, so you can be more present for yourself.


Note: And if your present rela­tion­ship needs work, well… check out The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever. It’s my rela­tion­ships book… you’ll find all the help you need!


How To Establish Personal Boundaries

setting boundaries

Bound­aries are cru­cial to liv­ing a healthy life. Specif­i­cal­ly, when think­ing about reduc­ing stress and risk for burnout, bound­aries can save you the seri­ous con­se­quences that these sit­u­a­tions can bring.

For any­one accus­tomed to being com­pli­ant and accom­mo­dat­ing, the process of imple­ment­ing bound­aries may feel unnat­ur­al at first, or down­right awful. How­ev­er, as you stand up for your­self and your bound­aries, you will feel increased con­fi­dence and empowerment.

Steps To Setting Personal Boundaries

Define

Write down how you have allowed oth­er peo­ple to manip­u­late you, and how you have gone along with sit­u­a­tions that are not accept­able to you.

Make a “bound­ary list” made up of things that oth­ers may no longer do to you, do around you, or say to you. List your val­ues, your out­look on life, and your belief system.

Change Your Mindset

Start with the mind shift that hav­ing per­son­al bound­aries is good for you — that it does not mean that you are self­ish or don’t care about oth­ers. Rec­og­nize that your self-worth is key to man­ag­ing your well-being and avoid­ing stress, burnout and over­whelm. Real­ize that you are not defined by the accep­tance of others.

Learn To Say No

Learn­ing to say “no” is key to hav­ing healthy bound­aries. We are able to bet­ter man­age stress and avoid being burned out and overwhelmed. 

If you have been a care­tak­er or a “yes man/woman” your whole life, it will be a for­eign thing to say “no”, but you have to start some­where. As you say “no” more often, be mind­ful of and note the rewards of self-care — this will moti­vate you to continue.

Expect Discomfort

You can expect that the “bound­aries con­ver­sa­tion” you have with oth­ers will feel dif­fi­cult and uncom­fort­able, espe­cial­ly if you have been a peo­ple-pleas­er. There may be some push-back and defen­sive­ness from some peo­ple who have for­mer­ly “pushed your buttons.”

Be aware that some peo­ple in your life may fall away as a result of your new out­look, but these are not the kind of peo­ple you want in your life anyway.

What­ev­er you do, don’t com­pro­mise your val­ues, self-respect, and dig­ni­ty just to keep some­one in your life. You just can’t sus­tain that.

Reinforce

It may take some time to train your­self to enforce and rein­force your bound­aries. Cre­ate a plan for those times when some­one actu­al­ly cross­es your bound­aries. Tell them what they are doing. Ask them to stop right away. 

Be Flexible

There is a big dif­fer­ence between rigid and healthy bound­aries. Bound­aries are flu­id and can change over time and in dif­fer­ent circumstances.

To use our pre­vi­ous exam­ple, with a twist: if a friend calls and asks you to babysit so they can go out to a club when you have made oth­er plans or just want to relax, that’s one thing. 

It’s quite anoth­er if they have a med­ical emer­gency and real­ly need to leave their kids. At this point, it would not be unrea­son­able for you to say “yes”. As you gain con­fi­dence, you will know how and when to bend your boundaries.

Be Patient With Yourself

Real­ize that this skill will not be per­fect­ed overnight, espe­cial­ly if set­ting bound­aries is some­thing that is new to you.

Start to become aware of, chal­lenge and rec­og­nize the hid­den beliefs that under­mine your set­ting of bound­aries. Make sure to always be clear about your bound­aries, even when you are uncomfortable.

Believe In Yourself

You need to believe in your val­ue as a unique indi­vid­ual who is wor­thy of self-care, calm and peace. Trust your feel­ings and instincts about what you don’t and do want in your life.

No one knows you or your needs bet­ter than you do. Nev­er allow oth­ers to set your bound­aries for you. You need to prac­tice self-respect until it feels nat­ur­al — set­ting bound­aries is a good way to prac­tice this.


About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is known on the web as the Sim­ple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Pri­vate Prac­tice Coun­sel­lor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the lat­est being The. Best. Rela­tion­ship. Ever.

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