How to set healthy boundaries with the people in your life
They’re absolutely essential.
Setting boundaries can sometimes feel like a daunting task, especially if you have never put any in place with specific people in the past. Psychologist Bethany Howsley explains how to effectively set boundaries with the people in your life.
Boundaries are a sign of emotional health, self-respect, strength and mutually respectful relationships. In most cases, we teach people how to treat us but unfortunately, if boundaries are not set, it can mean that other people can cross the line.
Vocalising your boundaries to others can ensure that you’re setting basic guidelines on how you would like to be treated. This can aid you to have effective communication with those around you and ensures that your relationships are healthy.
Don’t be afraid to have an open, clear, and honest conversation from the very start. Many people will avoid letting other people know what they truly want for fear of offending them or ‘scaring them off’.
Instead, just try having an honest conversation which will allow you to talk about things that are important to you, or the things that might be bothering you. By learning to effectively communicate in an honest way, you can grow as a person and facilitate the growth of others as well.
Know your limits
Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill that everyone can benefit from, however you need to know what your limits are. Boundaries are essentially limits we set for other people, so ensure that you identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. Know what you personally consider as ‘ok’, ‘not ok’ or ‘too far’ etc and be clear in your mind about those limits.
Some people can mistake assertive behaviour as aggressiveness, however, it is healthy to stand up for yourself, your values, feelings, and beliefs. Of course, there is a line where things can be communicated in an aggressive manner, but simply being assertive is not aggressive.
Assertiveness looks like honest, open and direct communication that respects both people. A great way to ensure that you are acting with assertiveness is by using ‘I’ statements rather than any blaming and accusatory ‘you’ statements.
Set realistic expectations
Setting realistic expectations is about realising that not everything has to always be perfect. If you think back to a time when things went wrong, at the time it can feel like the worst thing in the world, but these things are often the memories you’ll look back on and laugh about. Imperfections can make our lives unique and when your expectations are realistic, it’s easier for other people to meet and exceed them, rather than to disappoint you.
Say no if you want to
If you receive any push back or feel as though the other person isn’t meeting you in the middle, you can simply say no. Setting boundaries can sometimes feel like a negotiation exercise, but if you’re being fair and respectful, you shouldn’t need to negotiate. Don’t be afraid to say no, even if you feel like you don’t have a good enough reason. Your boundaries are your choice and prioritising yourself and your limits is a good enough reason to say no.
Be mutually respectful
All relationships should be built on mutual respect however without it, things can turn sour pretty quickly. A lack of respect can make a person feel rejected, marginalised and criticised. Over time it can also do some deep psychological and sometimes irreparable damage to a person, so make sure you respect each other – from your morals, ideals, career, family values and everything in between. That doesn’t mean you need to tolerate any bad behaviour, it simply means that you both respect each other’s boundaries and expectations.
Be mindful of triggers
If you are aware that the person might become emotionally charged around a conversation, try to be aware of how you would like to communicate and what you would like to express prior to the discussion. Approach the conversation in a fair and empathic manner, and ensure that you are honouring the relationship by having the conversation in the right environment without time constraints.
Focus on the present
If you decide to have a conversation about boundaries, be sure to focus on the present moment and not continually bring up the past. Someone’s behaviour five years ago is likely different from the present day, so try to avoid old wounds and focus on recent examples.
Tell the person how their words have made you feel by using ” I feel x because y” statements and concentrate on facts rather than judgment or speculation. Take a deep breath, try to stay grounded and don’t air a long list of dirty laundry.
If it starts to feel like the pressure is getting too much for you, or if you don’t know how to approach the situation, seek help. This could simply mean talking to a family member or loved one about how you’re feeling or seeking the expertise of a professional.
A professional can help arm you with the right advice and specific ways to approach things, whilst being there to work through any issues that might arise. Beyond Blue and Lifeline offer free over the phone counselling services.
These services can be available at your discretion so can really help if you are running a busy schedule, or even a shift worker as you can engage in therapy when it suits you – no matter the time.
Bethany Howsley is a clinical psychologist from Lysn, a digital mental health company with world-class wellbeing technology. It helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist while being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.