People who prioritise themselves and are able to implement well-defined boundaries, experience less stress, and have greater self-belief and confidence.
Setting boundaries with others might not come instinctively to you, and it can be scary doing it for the first time.
Be patient with yourself and take small steps to practise standing up for yourself and your needs.
Here are some tips on how you can build healthier boundaries:
Prior to establishing boundaries in any relationship, understand what your values and needs are.
This will allow you to define the non-negotiables for what the boundary is trying to achieve. Ask yourself:
- What is important to me in life?
- What do I want to stand for?
- What do I value doing with my time?
Understand the relationship type
The boundaries that you set will vary among the different people in your life.
For example, the boundaries you set with your partner will be very different from those that you set with colleagues at work.
It is important to understand the type of relationship that you have with the person and the regular interactions you have with them.
Boundaries can also be rigid or flexible, depending on the circumstances and individual person.
Rigid boundaries are non-negotiable guidelines that are never adjusted no matter what, whereas flexible boundaries may change over time and with different people.
Give and take
Any relationship you have should be reciprocal and involve an element of give and take from both parties.
In most cases, this reciprocity should be equal, but in some cases (such as in parent-child or boss-employee relationships), it may be more heavily weighted to one side.
What is important is knowing that the value, respect and time you have for a relationship is being reciprocated, and no-one is being taken advantage of.
Consider the relationships you have in your life and whether they are reciprocal. What do you give to this relationship? What do you get out of it? Is this unfairly weighted? If yes, why?
Answering these questions honestly will help you to better understand the appropriate boundaries that need to be set.
Practise saying ‘no’
Being able to say ‘no’ is a powerful way to take back control.
When you set boundaries, you are doing more than just saying ‘no’. You are giving yourself back the time to say ‘yes’ to the priorities you want to focus on.
It can be difficult to start saying ‘no’ to people who you have always agreed with and kept the peace with, but practise beforehand at home to help you build up your confidence for the real deal.
Communicate your ‘no’ calmly, clearly and confidently. There is no requirement for you to justify or overexplain your reasoning.
Remove any fear or guilt
Do not allow people’s opinions or reactions to make you feel afraid, ashamed or guilty for enforcing your boundaries.
If you know setting your boundaries with a particular person may become confrontational, it is best to avoid using phrases such as ‘you did’ or ‘you do’.
This can come across as an accusation and they may feel defensive. Try using ‘I’ statements, such as, “I feel (feeling) when you do (action) to me”.
If the other person becomes confrontational when you are setting the boundary with them, avoid reacting emotionally.
Leave the conversation after making your boundary clear and give them time to process and understand the change.
Enforcing your boundaries is about protecting your own peace of mind and wellbeing. While others may think that your boundaries are impacting them, stay firm and don’t let their opinion or perspective affect you.
Take your time
Setting boundaries can be tricky. It is best to plan and implement your boundaries when you have a clear mind and are not being influenced by reactive emotions.
Don’t make important decisions when you are tired, stressed or emotional. Sleep on it and speak to the person calmly the next day to discuss your feelings and establish your boundary.
Start slow and keep it simple
Having a difficult conversation with your partner, friend or family member is never easy, so start off slowly and build it up gradually.
Avoid sitting down with someone and discussing every little issue you have with them, when, ultimately, there may only be one or two key boundaries that you need to set.
This is an edited extract from Smart Moves: Simple Ways to Take Control of Your Life (Wiley) by Téa Angelos. Purchase a copy of the book here.