In self-development circles, we often hear about the importance of boundaries. However, we don’t hear as often about how to set boundaries or see examples of healthy boundaries.
For some people, discussion around boundaries can bring up a lot of resistance. On one hand, we have people who use boundaries as rigid walls or barriers. They find it difficult to trust people or express vulnerability which often leads to isolation and disconnection from self and others.
On the other hand, we have another extreme of people who think it’s selfish to express boundaries. They tend to put other people’s needs above their own and as a result, they end up feeling depleted and resentful. This pattern is often accompanied by codependency, people-pleasing, and enmeshment (losing own sense of self).
“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others.” ~ Brene Brown
So What are Boundaries?
Setting boundaries is simply expressing what we prefer. Being straightforward. Saying how we feel. Asking for changes. Standing for what we believe in despite potential disapproval. Saying no without having a need to make excuses or justify our preference. At the same time, boundaries are not there to control what other people do or don’t. It also doesn’t mean that we will always get what we want. Boundaries are about defining and following your preferences, personal integrity, desires, and needs.
We could say that boundaries are the space in which we navigate the relationship to self and others.
Your personal boundaries are based on your own value system and perspective and might be totally different from those of your friends, other people, parents, society or partner. Nobody else but you can tell you where your boundaries lie. Therefore it is crucial to know yourself more and your own personal truth if you want to develop healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are not set in stone. They can change over time and they vary depending on the relationship and circumstances. For example, the time you can give to others is more limited when you have a baby or start a new business project.
What Are the Signs of Not Having Healthy Boundaries? (+Boundaries Test)
Do you want to find out if you have healthy boundaries? Take this Boundaries test.
- Feeling guilty or selfish when you say no
- Going against yourself in order to please others or to be accepted
- Not addressing it when someone has mistreated you
- Saying yes when you mean no or vice versa
- Allowing physical touch when you don’t want it
- Overextending yourself just to be perceived in a good light
- Constantly trying to fix other people’s problems or difficulties
- Not communicating your emotional needs in relationships
- Allowing others to take advantage of you or bulldoze you
- Feeling depleted and overwhelmed
- Avoiding uncomfortable conversations or potential conflicts
- Not wanting to ruffle the feathers
- Feeling resentful for always giving and not receiving enough
- Apologizing for things that are not your fault just to keep the status quo
- Not speaking up when we have something to say
Why Do People Hesitate to Set Boundaries?
There could be multiple reasons some of which include:
- putting other people’s needs and feelings first
- thinking it’s selfish to express boundaries
- not knowing ourselves
- not feeling as we have rights or authority
- thinking that setting boundaries will upset or disappoint the other person and ruin our relationship
- lacking the skillset because we haven’t learned how to set up boundaries
A lot of people are afraid to set boundaries because of the potential consequences it might have. Communicating what you want, feel, and need can be quite uncomfortable and scary, especially at the beginning. But as with everything else the more you practice, the easier it gets.
It’s not your job to save or fix people. To do it all. To please everyone.
It’s your job to be authentic. To take it one step at a time. To communicate your boundaries and speak your truth.
Why Is it Important to Set Healthy Boundaries?
By allowing others to violate our boundaries, we go against ourselves. The main consequence of that is low self-esteem, lack of self trust and resentment towards self and others.
If we don’t express ourselves openly, we might end up in unfulfilling relationships. We will feel like people closest to us don’t really know us or don’t love us for who we really are. Having healthy boundaries prevents us from losing ourselves in relationships.
When we abandon our personal truth, it feels like we can’t trust ourselves anymore. It can feel like a self-betrayal. The only way to correct this is to attune back to our emotions, to know and love ourselves enough to act in alignment with our own personal truth.
“When we avoid difficult conversations, we trade short term discomfort for long term dysfunction.” ~ Peter Bromberg
How Do We Recognize If Our Boundaries Were Violated?
Our feelings always communicate to us whether our boundaries have been violated or not. Emotions such as anger, frustration or resentment. Therefore it is crucial to befriend our own emotions and pay attention to them.
This can be quite confusing especially if, in our childhood, we were shamed or dismissed for how we felt and for what we wanted. This childhood dynamic often leads to disconnection from our feelings. And disconnection from our feelings leads to a struggle with making decisions and taking actions that are in alignment with our true north.
I talk more about emotions in these articles:
How Do Healthy Boundaries Look Like?
Healthy boundaries are possible if we don’t project our past into our present interactions. They require self awareness of our emotions, thought patterns, wounds and coping mechanisms.
- Being clear about your values and preferences
- Having a healthy openness and vulnerability with people who earned your trust
- Saying no without having a need to justify our preference or making excuses
- Respecting other people’s boundaries without taking it personally
We set our boundaries by communicating them and then acting in alignment with our words.
Difference between passive, aggressive and assertive communication:
- long rambling sentences also known as beating around the bush
- using phrases such as “if it wouldn’t be too much trouble…”
- voice often dull and monotonous, over-soft or over-warm
- frequent justifications, e.g., “I wouldn’t normally say anything”
- apologies, e.g., “I’m terribly sorry to bother you..”
- self-dismissal, e.g., “It’s not important” or “It doesn’t really matter”
- self pity, e.g., “I’m useless…hopeless” or “You know me…”
- Sarcastic or condescending undertone
- Use of threats, e.g., “You’d better watch out” or “If you don’t…”
- Put downs, e.g., “You’ve got to be kidding…” or “How can you be so stupid..”Why on earth did you do it like that?”
- Evaluative comments, emphasizing concepts such as: should”, “bad”, “ought”
- Opinions expressed as fact, e.g., “Nobody wants to behave like that” or “That’s a useless way to do it
- Appears upset but refuses to admit it
- Silent treatment or ghosting
- Sarcastic or condescending undertone
- Acting moody without explaining why
- Focus on problems but not on solutions
Boundaries with others can be divided into 4 main areas: Family, Work, Romance and Friendship.
Boundaries with Family
As you get older, you start to lean away from your parents’ influence. This is an essential part of becoming an adult. I carried a lot of guilt around being a ‘bad daughter’. I found it difficult to separate my own needs and desires from my parents’ expectations of me. Maybe some of you can relate to this.
Boundaries with your parents look like this:
- Being open about how you feel and expressing your opinions
- Managing your time and finances in a way that works best for you and your lifestyle
- Not allowing them to force you or guilt-trip you into attending every family event
- Not badmouthing your partner infront of your parents
- Saying no
- Introducing your partner to your parents only when you feel ready
- Handling your own issues with others
- Not allowing them unannounced visits at your home
- Saying no to gifts that are given with the hope to get specific outcome from you
- Telling your parents that you don’t want to discuss topics that make you feel uncomfortable such as your dating life, having kids, getting married, or any other
- Staying in a hotel instead of family house when you visit them if you wish
- Not allowing them to push you into living your life on their terms
- “Before you stop by to visit, I’d like you to call.”
- “I know that you mean well and want the best for me, but I need to handle things in my life and relationship without your interference.
- “I understand how important it is to you that I remain connected to my family, but I need to have my own space. Let me decide how I want to maintain connections.”
- “When I have issues with my sister, I don’t want you to get in the middle. We are adults and can resolve it between us.”
- “I won’t accept money from you if it comes with the intention to control me.”
Boundaries in romantic relationships
Every relationship operates on its own unique set of rules and boundaries. It’s up to you to discover what you want in your relationship and to communicate it.
For example, if having kids is important to you, then it’s better to express it rather sooner than later. This way, both you and your potential partner can determine whether you’re compatible for each other.
Otherwise you might end up pushing your partner or yourself to become a square peg in the round hole.
Open communication and honesty are one of the main pillars of every healthy relationship.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- How do you envision your relationship?
- What are your top 5 needs in a relationship?
- Are your values compatible?
- What are your deal breakers?
- Do you believe in monogamy?
- What do you consider cheating?
- How will you share your finances and household duties?
- Is it ok to talk to others about your issues with your relationship?
Boundaries and friendships
Building connections with others can definitely make our lives more rewarding and enjoyable. It’s always a good sign if your friends want to see you grow.
Green flags in friendship:
- your friendship is mutually supportive and beneficial
- you feel safe to express your vulnerability including your quirks and insecurities
- setting boundaries doesn’t threaten friendship
- you can be yourself around your friends
- you can talk to them openly about your feelings.
Red flags in friendship:
- Chronic complaining and gossiping
- Competitiveness and jealousy
- You feel emotionally drained after your interactions
- They talk badly about you behind your bag
- They share your private matters with others
- Can’t be mature about disagreements
- The friend is around only when she or he needs something from you
- It’s all about them
If your friendship is toxic rather than nurturing then it might be best to first communicate our concerns. Considering it still doesn’t make any difference, the next step would be distancing yourself from them or completely cut them off.
Boundaries and work
Some boundary issues at work can include taking on more than you can handle, working overtime without pay, engaging in toxic interactions amongst colleagues, not taking time off.
- “Let’s chat during lunch. I have a few projects I need to push through.”
- “I have a lot of things on my plate, so I can’t help you with your project.”
- “I cannot work past five o’clock.”
- “I don’t check work emails while on vacation.”
- “I need more assistance with my workload.”
- “I don’t talk about personal subjects at work. It makes me uncomfortable.”
- “If you want to chat, let’s have lunch together; that way, I can focus on our conversation.”
- “Thank you for inviting me to hang out with you this weekend, but I won’t be able to make it.”
- “I don’t want to grab drinks after work, but how about going to a yoga class?”
- “I’m not available to help you with your request after hours. I like to focus my time on my family.”
Boundaries test to find out if you have healthy boundaries
Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A guide to reclaiming yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab
Centre for clinical interventions in Australia
Unfuck Your Boundaries Build Better Relationships Through Consent, Communication, and Expressing Your Needs by Faith G. Harper