Steps to Setting Healthy Boundaries
Updated November 20, 2019
Reviewer Lori Jones, LMHC
We all have limitations in life when it comes to our interactions with those around us. These limits, known as boundaries, prevent people from wreaking havoc on our mental or physical health by letting them know what they are and are not allowed to do when they are engaging with us. Much like a physical fence would protect your property from those who are not allowed into your house without an invitation, boundaries protect you from unwanted behavior that could be detrimental to your current state. That said, not everyone may know exactly how to identify or set boundaries.
Why Is Setting Boundaries Necessary?
Learning how to set healthy boundaries is important and also necessary to protect yourself from emotional, physical, and mental harm. Personal boundaries are established when we decide to separate ourselves and give ourselves an inner voice. They are essentially our own rules that tell other people what lines they should not cross when it comes to what they can say or do to us.
If you do not set healthy boundaries in relationships, no matter who the relationship is with, you will find that your relationship is doomed from the start. It is vital that everyone in the relationship recognizes that they are an individual, and they have their own emotions, preferences, and needs. Once you hone in on these needs and preferences, you can set healthy boundaries. Below, we will take a look at some of the steps you can take to set healthy boundaries.
Steps To Setting Your Personal Boundaries
Boundaries are one of your most useful and powerful tools out there, and you should use them. Your boundaries make you feel safe and content, as well as protect you when you may start to feel like a situation is not right for you. Often, individuals give in to peer pressure, or they involve themselves in situations they should not be in. This can be either because they do not have boundaries set or they are struggling to understand their boundaries.
Naturally, you may be questioning what boundaries are. Boundaries are simply the limits that you set for yourself. These limits will dictate what you are and are not willing to do or participate in. The key here is that your boundaries are not about making anyone, or anything, change.
Step 1: Identify Your Wants
The first step in the process is to identify what it is that you want. You may be in a position where you are used to giving to others, or you are used to neglecting your wants in favor of someone else's wants. Take a moment to sit down and think about what it is that interests you and what you want to get out of any relationship or friendship. For example, consider the following:
- What is it that is most important to you when you enter into a relationship?
- What are some of your values and what values do you want someone else to have?
- What is something that you secretly want in life?
- What is something that bothers you the most in a relationship?
Step 2: Provide Yourself With Permission and Always Be Specific About What You Want
Now that you have identified your wants, it is time to ask for them. This is one of the biggest problems that individuals encounter because they are afraid to ask for what they want. This fear often comes from worrying that the other person will become upset or mad. If you are ready to set boundaries, you need to face this fear. Trust us, it will get easier the more you do it.
The second part of this step is that you need to be clear about what it is you want. Often, people do not make themselves clear enough, and this can cause a lot of confusion. If you remember, we mentioned above that setting personal boundaries is not about change. You do not want to ask anyone else to change, but you do want to make sure you voice your wants and make them as clear as possible.
Step 3: Never Apologize
Your boundaries are important, and one of the reasons people often lose their boundaries is because they feel guilty when they make a request. You want to ask for what you want without the guilt. Remember, you deserve it, and you are the one in control!
Step 4: Do Not Set Expectations
Expectations can cause you to feel down, and they often build you up for something that may not happen at all. When you ask someone for something that you want, you should do so without trying to determine what the outcome will be. If you expect someone else to handle your wants and needs for you, you are setting yourself up for disappointment later on down the road.
Step 5: If the Answer Is No, That Means No
While it would be nice to always hear the word "yes" when you ask for something, it does not always happen. You will not always get exactly what you want, and this is something that you need to understand. When it comes to healthy boundaries in a relationship, the goal is to take the step to ask for what you want rather than simply receiving a "yes" answer. If someone says no to your request, you need to respect their boundaries and accept the answer as no.
There are some instances where you may ask for something and receive a poor reaction from the individual that you just asked. Do not take this personally. In fact, if they have a bad reaction, it is something that they need to work on and not something that you have done. The only thing that is your responsibility is the initial request and the clear delivery of voicing that request.
Step 6: Fulfill Your Own Needs and Accept the Outcome
If you ask your loved one or friend for something and they are unable to fulfill that need for you, then you need to find a way to do it yourself. You should not avoid accomplishing the things you need to get done simply because the individual is not willing to help you do it.
Arguably, one of the hardest things to do when it comes to setting boundaries is accepting the outcomes that come along with them. There are times when you will get what you want, and then there are times that you will not receive the response that you want. It is important that you learn how to accept the outcome, no matter what it may be.
Create a Healthy Boundaries Worksheet
A healthy boundaries worksheet can help you with setting boundaries in your relationships. If you are struggling to determine what your boundaries are, it is helpful to seek out professional counseling to assist you in the process. When you first start thinking about your personal boundaries, try to think about the things that you want the most.
Setting boundaries is not always easy, and it will take some time, especially as you implement them. There are healthy and unhealthy boundaries, as well. When you do create a healthy boundaries worksheet, you should set up a column to include what is healthy and what is unhealthy and use it as a guide. Healthy boundaries will allow you to:
- Have self-respect and develop a higher self-esteem
- Make your own decisions
- Share information about yourself with your partner
- Protect your emotional and physical space
- Separate your needs, feelings, and thoughts from others
- Be assertive when saying yes or no
- Have an equal partnership in a relationship
Unhealthy boundaries typically include:
- Sharing of information too soon or before you are ready to
- Inability to say no to things due to fear or guilt
- Feeling responsible for the happiness of other individuals
- Disempowering you
- Weakening your sense of self-identity
Tips for Setting Healthy Boundaries
As mentioned above, setting boundaries can be difficult, especially if you do not have any practice with it, and it is your first time taking steps to empower yourself. Here are some tips that will help you to identify, develop, and set some of your own boundaries.
First and Foremost: Remember You Are Allowed to Have Boundaries
Quite often, individuals will feel as though they are being mean when they set boundaries, but this is not the case. Boundaries allow you to set up walls or a means of protection where you can feel safe and happy. You do not have to please others when you set your boundaries, and you are entitled to have your boundaries in relationships.
Other's Feelings Are Not More Important Than Yours
It can be easy to put everyone before you, but this can have a negative impact on your health. It is vital that you recognize your own needs and feelings and understand that you are just as important as anyone else. You deserve a break. You deserve time for yourself. You deserve to feel taken care of by yourself.
Take Your Time When Setting Your Boundaries
When you identify that you need to set boundaries, you should approach the process respectfully, clearly, and calmly. You do not want to make any aggressive decisions, but you do want to make sure that your voice is heard and clear. If you are unsure of what your boundaries need to be, you should take the time to think about what it is you want most and start slowly.
Do Not Feel Embarrassed, Overwhelmed, or Guilty
Remember, you only need to worry about the way you communicate what you need. You do not need to worry about the other person's reaction to it, and you do not need to worry about whether or not it upsets them. You need to take care of yourself first. Your goal is to communicate your needs and make them known effectively. What happens from there is on the other individual. You should never feel guilty, overwhelmed, or embarrassed when you express your needs.
Have a Support System
You should develop a support system that includes people who respect you, your boundaries, and your ability to set those boundaries. You should always eliminate toxic individuals from your life because they will only want to control, abuse, and manipulate you.
How to Maintain Your Personal Boundaries
Like any shift in thinking and behavior, setting boundaries is only helpful if you follow through on those desired changes. Maintaining your personal boundaries is a vital skill to learn that will make sure you are successful after implementing some of the tips for boundary-setting listed above. To help you maintain your personal boundaries, here are a couple of valuable pointers.
Develop a Greater Awareness Around Your Feelings
Awareness is an invaluable tool for behavioral change. To set and keep your boundaries in place, you have to become more aware of your feelings, especially when it comes to interacting with certain people in your life. How do these interactions impact you? Are there any interactions that leave you feeling negative afterward? Have these boundary changes impacted these relationships? The only way you can change how you are feeling is to fully understand your feelings and then make a conscious effort to change it.
Have Regular Check-Ins With Yourself
When we lack boundaries, it can be easy to give ourselves to others too much. When we finally start to set up boundaries, we still may have trouble readjusting or may dismiss some feelings as being irrelevant. To make sure that you are doing what is best for you and maintaining your progress, you should try to set up regular check-ins with yourself where you examine your emotional state, your interactions, and where you may have given in or hold up when it comes to your new boundaries.
Get Professional Help When You Need It
Setting healthy boundaries is paramount in any relationship and should be done, especially if you find yourself in a position where you are uncomfortable or where you find yourself begging for something to be accomplished. It takes time and effort to establish these new boundaries. As such, having someone on your side can greatly improve the process and make it easier for you emotionally and physically.
If you do find yourself in a position where you need help, it is vital that you seek out a licensed or certified professional, such as those found on BetterHelp. BetterHelp is an online counseling platform dedicated to taking out the travel and scheduling issues that often come with traditional counseling appointments. You can connect with a counselor, set up a schedule that works from you, and receive therapy anywhere! BetterHelp therapists also have an excellent reputation among their clients.
"Pat has been an incredible advocate for me! She checks in and cheers me on and has given me advice and tools to deal with professional and personal/familial conflicts that left me doubting myself. She's been instrumental in helping me discover and unpack learned behavior I wasn't even aware of and helping me understand and establish healthy boundaries with people in my life. I can undoubtedly say that I've been feeling better about myself and more comfortable with the way I walk through the world in large part thanks to her."
"Mike's been my therapist for well over a year now, and since then, it's really given me the space to evolve emotionally. It's given me a bit of a safe space where I can express myself freely (which has been very beneficial), and I'm much better and more confident at setting boundaries."
When it comes to your mental and emotional health, learning to say no can make it so that you can maintain your peace of mind. If you have yet to set your own boundaries but feel that you need to, use the tips above to turn your draining interactions into positive encounters. Take the first step today.