Setting healthy boundaries are important for your mental health, your self-worth, the integrity of your relationships and your general comfort in life. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know how to set and keep boundaries around other people.
When you set boundaries with others, you establish what the people around you need to respect when it comes to what you are and are not comfortable with. Setting healthy boundaries with others helps them understand what to consider when respecting your space, your feelings, your limitations and your expectations. What’s more, these guidelines help you to better understand your needs, and what it takes for you to feel as safe as possible in an unpredictable world.
Not everyone will respect your boundaries when you set them. In fact, many people will try to push your boundaries, and that’s why it’s important to notice who is and is not respecting your boundaries. You deserve to have people in your life who respect your boundaries.
When we define what we need from others in order to feel safe and secure in the form of setting healthy boundaries, we create the tools that help protect ourselves, and ensure we can always be the best version of ourselves. There is a completely different version of yourself that will come out when your boundaries are being pushed.
Though setting boundaries can seem complicated, the reality is we all have our limits, and we need to be able to communicate these boundaries to the people around us – even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation.
Setting healthy boundaries is a conversation that needs to be had. So, below is your guide to setting healthy boundaries:
What are Examples of Healthy Boundaries?
Healthy boundaries are an essential component of “self-care”. Crucially, however, there is a difference between setting helpful boundaries for mental and physical health, and using rigid restrictions as a way to isolate yourself, or avoid leaving a certain comfort zone.
Healthy boundaries are the rules you establish to maintain stability and reduce anxiety in your life. Boundaries can help to establish your identity, and iterate what you do or do not hold yourself responsible for. A good set of boundaries can also protect your mental health.
For instance, setting healthy boundaries could involve asking people to avoid certain topics or actions which may trigger negative emotions.
An example of an important trigger-related boundary is if you recently were trying to conceive and had a miscarriage, so now you do not currently want to talk about anything to do with trying to have children.
While most boundaries are emotional or psychological, there can be physical boundaries as well. For instance, if you don’t feel comfortable letting your boss or colleagues hug you or touch you, that can be an important physical boundary.
If you have a roommate, you might set boundaries about asking permission before inviting someone over to your apartment.
Why are Boundaries Important?
Boundaries define who we are, what we expect, and what we’re willing to accept in our lives. While the term “boundary” often makes us think of separating ourselves from others or imposing restrictions, the result of setting healthy boundaries can be the opposite and bring you closer to others.
This is especially true if someone respects your boundaries. You’ll only feel closer to that person. Furthermore, when you set clear guidelines for your relationships and interactions, you also establish healthy principles for navigating connections.
Used correctly, setting healthy boundaries can:
- Improve relationships: Boundaries can help prevent relationships from becoming detrimental or unsafe. They can help you avoid resentment. Setting healthy boundaries about what you’re comfortable with in a relationship can help bring you closer together with your loved ones. These boundaries also reduce the risk of arguments and problems.
- Boost self-esteem and improve self-worth: Exploring your boundaries is a good way to get to know yourself. Accepting the limitations you have, and recognizing how natural they are can also improve self-esteem and encourage you to make yourself a priority. Having strong boundaries is tied to a healthy level of self-worth.
- Flex according to your needs: Good boundaries don’t need to be outlined in permanent ink. There are times when you might be willing to test your boundaries for the right people or situations. Reviewing your boundaries regularly can also offer an insight into your evolution as a person over time.
- Increase empathy: Recognizing and setting your own boundaries makes it easier to respect and understand the boundaries and limitations implemented by other people in your life. You’ll be more empathetic and considerate of other people’s boundaries when you recognize the importance of your own.
- Conserve emotional energy: Failing to set boundaries can create feelings of frustration, panic, overwhelm, and even resentment towards others when your boundaries are crossed. They’re likely to be crossed if you forgot to set them. That’s why setting healthy boundaries allows us to reserve the emotional energy associated with dealing with complex situations that blindside us.
Having boundaries can even give you space to grow. When you recognize the boundaries you’re setting, you can also determine when they might be too strict, or detrimental to the goals you have in life (such as forming new friendships).
Setting Healthy Boundaries: How to Set Boundaries Without Worrying if You’re Offending Others
Setting boundaries with others can be difficult or awkward, as it’s not always easy to have these tough conversations with others. It’s also not always easy to know for sure if your boundaries are reasonable and healthy. The best way to get started is to remember your basic human rights. For instance, all people have the right to:
- Say, “No” without feeling guilty
- Be treated with respect
- Make their needs a priority
- Honour their own individual comfort zone
- Be accepting of mistakes and failures
- Be their authentic selves.
On the other hand, you’re not required to meet other people’s expectations of you, or bend over backwards to make others happy. Once you’ve looked at your basic boundaries, you can begin to think about things that matter most to you.
Make a list of the types of conversations, situations or experiences that make you feel uncomfortable. Consider your reaction to certain things, such as feeling sweaty or having a higher heart-rate when someone comes too close to you at work. Is this a sign you need to set a boundary with them?
You can also think about your values and moral philosophy. For instance, you might have strong feelings about your vegan diet, and prefer other people not to eat meat too close to you. If this is important to you, it’s okay to set that boundary.
How to Stick to Your Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries is only half the battle. Sticking to them is the other half of the battle.
Standing by your boundaries is often the most challenging part of setting them. There will be situations where there are few things you can do to assert a boundary besides leaving the situation. Sticking to your boundaries is easier when you:
- Act assertively, and be both firm and clear: Be firm and clear about your boundaries and what they mean to you. Explain why they’re important. When discussing your expectations with others, explain exactly what you need out of the situation, for instance, you may say “I feel I need [action] because [alternative action] makes me feel [emotion].” Expressing clear thoughts and feelings makes your boundaries easier to understand.
- Learn to say, “No”: Having boundaries means you can’t always say yes to everything. “No” is a complete sentence, even if it feels daunting to say at times. If someone asks for something which breaks your boundaries, or causes discomfort, it’s okay to say “no” without any further explanation. If someone asks about your refusal, you can reiterate your boundaries.
- Find ways to preserve your boundaries: There are certain tools and strategies you can implement to make preserving your boundaries easier. For instance, if you hate having people from work contact you in your personal time, switch off your notifications for collaboration apps, and set up an “out of work” response.
- Start small: If you struggle with setting boundaries and saying no to people, it’s ok to start small. Begin by focusing on the things that really matter to you. For instance, if want to avoid talking to colleagues outside of work hours, start by putting your phone on “do not disturb” mode for an hour at the end of each day. Starting small can also give you a chance to assess your boundaries and determine how you need to implement them.
- Be flexible: Sticking to your boundaries doesn’t mean setting rules you can never break. As you learn more about yourself, others, and what you can tolerate, you can add to your boundaries or make them more flexible. Take time to reflect on yourself and how certain boundaries make you feel over time. You may be able to make changes as you go.
- Know when to ask for help: Sometimes, implementing boundaries on your own can be extremely difficult. For instance, a sexual assault survivor might not know how to implement a boundary without getting assistance from a therapist. If you’re struggling to implement your boundaries at work, you could consider talking to HR, or discussing options with a friend.
When people push your boundaries consistently, you may need to re-evaluate those friendships or relationships. You can try communicating your boundary more firmly, or setting clear consequences if they cross your boundary again. However, it’s fairly common for people to cut certain friends out of their life if they’re always trying to push their boundaries or disrespect their boundaries.
Setting Healthy Boundaries: The Bottom Line
Sometimes, people living with various mental health disorders need strong boundaries in order to get through life. Others simply have trauma or triggers that require certain boundaries to be respected at all times, whether it’s a physical touch boundary or a conversational boundary.
Don’t worry about offending others with your boundaries, restrictions or limitations. The right people will respect your boundaries, and you can communicate your boundaries clearly, without being rude.
If you’re curious if you have health conditions that might require you set certain boundaries, such as the mental health condition of ADHD, consider taking a CircleDNA test to get genetic health reports and DNA insights about your physical and mental health.