Below, offers insight into building better boundaries and maintaining them.
1. Name your limits.
You can’t set good boundaries if you are unsure of where you stand. So identify your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits. Consider what you can tolerate and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed. Those feelings help us identify what our limits are.
2. Tune into your feelings.
There are two key feelings that are 'red flags' or 'cues' that we are letting go of
our boundaries: discomfort and resentment. Think of these feelings on a continuum from one to 10. Six to 10 is in the higher zone.
If you are at the higher end of this continuum, during an interaction or in a
situation, ask yourself, what is causing that? What is it about this
interaction, or the person’s expectation that is bothering me?
Resentment usually comes from being taken advantage of or not being appreciated. It is often a sign that we are pushing ourselves either beyond our own limits because we feel guilty (and want to be a good friend or wife, for instance), or someone else is imposing their expectations, views or values onto us. When someone acts in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s a cue that they may be violating or crossing a boundary.
3. Be direct.
With some people, maintaining healthy boundaries does not require a direct and clear-cut dialogue. Usually, this is the case if people are similar in their
communication styles, views, personalities and general approach to life. In
other words, you will approach each other similarly.
With others, such as those who have a different personality or cultural background, you’ll need to be more direct about your boundaries. Consider the following example: one person feels that challenging someone’s opinions is a healthy way of communicating, but to another person this feels disrespectful and tense.
There are other times you might need to be direct. For instance, in a romantic
relationship, time can become a boundary issue. Partners might need to
talk about how much time they need to maintain their sense of self and how much time to spend together.
4. Give yourself permission.
Fear, guilt and self-doubt are big potential pitfalls in setting healthy boundaries for ourselves. We might fear the other person’s response if we set and enforce our boundaries. We might feel guilty by speaking up or saying “no” to a family member or friend. Many believe that they should be able to cope with a situation or say 'yes' because they are a good daughter, son, or friend, even though you feel drained or taken advantage of. We might wonder if we even deserve to have boundaries in the first place.
Boundaries are not only a sign of a healthy relationship; they are a sign of self-respect! So give yourself the permission to set boundaries and work to preserve them.
5. Practice self-awareness.
Boundaries are all about honing in on your feelings and honoring them. If you notice yourself slipping and not sustaining your boundaries, ask yourself: What’s changed? Consider What I am doing or what is the other person doing? or What is the situation eliciting that is making me resentful or stressed? Then, mull over your options: What am I going to do about the situation? What do I have control over?
6. Consider your past and present.
How you were raised along with your role in your family can become additional obstacles in setting and preserving boundaries. If you held the role of caretaker, you learned to focus on others, letting yourself be drained
emotionally or physically, Ignoring your own needs might have become the
norm for you.
Also, think about the people you surround yourself with today. Are the
relationships reciprocal? Is there a healthy give and take?
Beyond relationships, your environment might be unhealthy, too. For instance, if your workday is eight hours a day, but your co-workers stay at least 10 to 11, “there’s an implicit expectation to go above and beyond” at work. It can be challenging being the only one or one of a few trying to maintain healthy boundaries. Again, this is where tuning into your feelings and needs and honoring them becomes critical.
7. Make self-care a priority.
Make self-care a priority, which also involves giving yourself permission to put yourself first. When we do this, our need and motivation to set boundaries become stronger. Self-care also means recognizing the importance of your feelings and honoring them. These feelings serve as important cues about your well-being and about what makes you happy and unhappy.
Putting yourself first also gives you the energy, peace of mind and positive outlook to be more present with others and to be there for them. And when we are in a better place, we can be a better wife, mother, husband, co-worker or friend.
8. Seek support.
If you are having a hard time with boundaries, seek some support, whether that’s a support group, church, counseling, coaching or good friends. With friends or family, you can even make it a priority with each other to practice setting boundaries together and hold each other accountable.
Of course, we know that it is not enough to create boundaries; we actually have to follow through. Even though we know intellectually that people are not mind readers, we still expect others to know what hurts us. Since they do not, it is important to assertively communicate with the other person when they have crossed a boundary. In a respectful way, let the other person know what in particular is bothersome to you and let them know that you can work together to address it.
10. Start small.
Like any new skill, assertively communicating your boundaries takes practice. Start with a small boundary that isn’t threatening to you, and then incrementally increase to more challenging boundaries. Build upon your success, and try not to take on something that feels overwhelming, at first.
Setting boundaries takes courage, practice and support. Remember that it is
a skill you can master!