Most of the self-help books and advice blogs these days include this advice: “You must learn to set healthy boundaries.” If you are anything like us, the idea of setting boundaries sounds like a good idea—and many days, it is so much easier to say “yes” just to keep the peace than it is to set some limits.
Healthy boundaries help you feel relaxed and comfortable in relationships. They are an indication of how you allow people to relate to you. When you set a healthy boundary, you make it clear what you are willing to accept and how you are willing to be regarded.
Healthy boundaries also safeguard you from overextending yourself. The act of setting a boundary, and clearly communicating it, makes it evident to others what you can and cannot do. But for many people, setting boundaries brings up a lot of worry. Here are a few common concerns:
- What if people get mad at me and decide they want nothing to do with me?
- What if I am called selfish or mean?
- What if people don’t respect my boundaries? Then what do I do?
- What if I give in and I don’t keep my own boundaries?
Fears about setting boundaries may mean you are not in the habit of setting them in the first place. If you grew up in a family that denied the importance of boundaries, as an adult you may not understand their importance or know how to set them. You may have experienced guilt trips and were shamed when you asked for what you wanted. Or, you may not have been taught to stand up for yourself when someone mistreated you.
If you were fortunate, setting healthy boundaries was a natural part of what you learned growing up. You also learned that you can’t predict how others will respond to your healthy boundaries. The only thing you can control is your own behavior and what is right for you.
It is our observation that unhealthy boundaries have recently become more common, born out of our collective reaction to the pandemic and “going along to get along.” If you see yourself in this description, you may have neglected self-care, become overwhelmed, and even resented others’ requests of your time, all of which gives energy to the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) roles of Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer.
Healthy boundary setting is a fundamental act of self-care and requires the ability to self-reflect in the moment according to your needs and the situation. Here are a few suggestions to develop the habit of setting healthy boundaries:
- Notice your current pattern with setting boundaries. From a scale of 1 to 10, where do you currently rate yourself, (10 = very healthy boundaries, and 1 = none at all)? You may notice you rate yourself differently depending on the context. For example, you may be 8 or 9 at work but 2 or 3 at home.
- Practice saying “no.” Working with uncomfortable feelings when learning to set boundaries may be quite difficult, so start with those you trust and let them know you are practicing saying “no” or negotiating boundaries.
- Speak directly to those with whom you need to set a boundary. Instead of complaining to others about a concern you have with another, speak directly to the person with whom you have an issue, rather than gossiping or going behind their back.
- Be clear about your needs. Do not assume anyone knows what you are thinking. Make “I” statements about what you need and what you are and are not willing to commit to.
A boundary is a signpost clarifying to others how you want to be treated. The truth is, no one will respect your boundaries if you don’t set them in the first place. As a Creator, clarifying and communicating boundaries is an essential practice in co-creating and collaboration.