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How You Can Set Boundaries & Why They Are Important

Written by: Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT

Boundaries are where you end and others begin. It's essentially the fence you build around your physical, emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual space. And that fence allows you to play gatekeeper, to decide who can come in, who can't, and under what circumstances. Setting boundaries can be complicated and sometimes intimidating depending on who you are setting them up for, like your boss, kids, spouse/partner, coworkers, friends, siblings, parents, grandparents, etc.

Our Harrisburg Counseling office is often asked:

How can I set & enforce boundaries?

Let’s talk about that. But first, what happens when we don’t have, or don’t set clear boundaries?

When we don't set clear boundaries, we…

  • Feel burned out or taken advantage of.

  • Avoid focusing on our own needs because it feels selfish.

  • Experience overwhelming guilt about letting people down.

  • Say yes, all the time, even when we don't want to.

  • Agree with others or avoid speaking up to keep the peace.

  • Give away too much of our time to others and their needs.

  • Take responsibility for other people's feelings at our own expense.

Boundaries outline the primary foundation for how you want other people to treat you. They can ensure mutual respect and limit the likelihood of people manipulating or taking advantage of you. Noticing that you need to have a boundary in place can be scary. It is important to remember the boundary is for you. It helps to protect your personal and mental space. Some people might not understand or even feel offended that you put your foot down, but in the end, you must protect yourself. There is a saying that it is not a good idea to say yes to someone if we are saying no to ourselves. This clearly shows how important it is to set boundaries with others, particularly when it could negatively impact us.

The first step is to figure out how you know that you need to set boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries requires self-awareness. It would be best to be clear about your expectations of yourself and others and what you are uncomfortable with in specific situations. Setting healthy boundaries requires good communication skills that convey assertiveness and clarity.

The next part of setting boundaries is being assertive. Assertiveness involves expressing your feelings openly and respectfully. It is not about making demands but instead having people listen to you. Setting healthy boundaries requires you to assert your needs and priorities as a form of self-care.

There are many different types of boundaries.

Building healthy boundaries hinges on understanding the types of boundaries.

  1. Physical. This refers to your personal space, your privacy, and your body. Healthy boundaries include the autonomy of your body.

  2. Sexual. These are your expectations concerning intimacy. Sexual comments and touches might be uncomfortable for you.

  3. Intellectual. Intellectual boundaries are broken when someone dismisses another person's ideas and opinions. These boundaries concern your ideas, thoughts, and beliefs.

  4. Emotional. This refers to a person's feelings. You might not be comfortable sharing your feelings about everything with a friend or your partner. Instead, you prefer to share gradually over time. This boundary is crossed when feelings or personal information you have disclosed is belittled, minimized, or shared without your permission.

  5. Financial. This boundary relates to money. As we know, money is a tricky topic to talk about. This boundary can be crossed when pressured into lending, giving things away, spending, or loaning money when uncomfortable.

  6. Time. This boundary refers to how you spend your time. This boundary is crossed when you have too much asked of you in your day. It is when you find it hard to say no and take on too much. It stems from everything involved in your life, such as family, work, and friends.

How to leave the questioning out?

When telling someone your boundary, it is essential to be clear and specific while not backing down. Here are some examples of boundaries that meet those criteria:

When you disagree…

  • I'm afraid I have to disagree with your approach.

  • This will not work for me.

  • I'm not prepared to change my mind on this.

  • That's not been my experience.

  • I'm confident in my decisions.

  • Thank you for sharing your opinion. Allow me to ask for it next time.

When you need a break…

  • I don't know off the top of my head. Let me get back to you.

  • I want to take a break and return to this after we've both had time to think.

  • Let's schedule a time to discuss this tomorrow when I have more availability.

  • I'm feeling overwhelmed, and it's hard for me to focus on your feedback.

  • I will step away from this but I'll circle back this afternoon.

When you want to say no…

  • I don't have time to discuss this now.

  • That's not going to work for us.

  • That's not up for discussion.

  • I am not available during that time.

When you need to take control…

  • I appreciate your concern about X. I've got it from here.

  • I'm putting my needs first.

  • I don't have to explain myself to you.

  • My feelings are equally important as yours.

  • We are going to stay on task here.

When you're not quite sure what to say…

  • What an odd thing to say.

  • Why would you say that?

  • Why would you ask me that?

  • Do you think that's appropriate?

  • I am uncomfortable having this conversation with you.

Maintaining boundaries can be tricky.

Now that you have put the boundaries in place comes the maintenance portion. Here is how you can maintain your boundaries.

  • Reflect on the reasons for your boundaries. It is essential to understand why they are important to you and how you will benefit from them.

  • Start with a few boundaries. Build up your boundaries. Implementing too many too quickly can become overwhelming. Introducing them slowly allows you time to get comfortable with it and allows you time to reflect on what is heading in the right direction or if you need to alter it. This is also beneficial when you come from a mindset where boundaries have never been respected nor enforced, and you still need to be comfortable setting them.

  • Consider setting boundaries early on. By setting boundaries and expectations from the beginning, everyone knows where you stand, and feelings of hurt, confusion, and frustration can be lessened. Doing so also allows others to follow your lead in respecting your boundaries because they have never had to take advantage of or violate them.

  • Be consistent. Keeping things consistent and steady helps reinforce your original thresholds and beliefs and ensures that those lines remain established. Letting boundaries slide can lead to confusion and encourage new expectations and demands among those around you. This also puts you in danger of others ignoring your expectations or taking what you say or do for granted because they already think you can easily change your mind. Think about it: how can you expect others to be if you're not serious about the boundaries you put in place?

  • Carve out time for yourself. Boundaries vary depending on the relationship, but you can still have a few basics that you adapt to accordingly. An example would be carving out a few hours on the weekend for alone time. This boundary can be transferred into living with a partner, having a busy weekend, or being close to your family. Also, practicing self-care allows you to consider respecting the boundaries you want others to follow.

  • Feel free to include extra boundaries. In some aspects of our lives, boundaries are already in place- such as your place of work. Colleagues will have some of their own in place, and it is okay for you to do the same. Doing this can enhance your performance.

  • Set healthy boundaries on social media. If you consider the boundary crossed in real life, then it counts in the digital world. Social media can be another communication tool that can lead to boundary blurring.

  • Communicate when your boundaries are crossed. Communication is critical in boundaries, especially when someone oversteps them. At the same time, it is essential to address the concern; it must not be done confrontationally. However, it would be best if you addressed it as it happens. This supports your importance on this boundary and projects that are important to others. Delaying can discredit the value you place on this boundary and the value you place on yourself.

  • Practice self-love and engage in activities you enjoy. For boundaries to have a strong foundation, you need to show yourself a bit of love. Engaging in activities that release feel-good hormones, like singing, running, dancing, or whatever your preferred activity is that feeds your heart, will help you change your internal dialogue and make you feel more deserving.

  • Gain some perspective on your boundaries. Not having boundaries can harm one's mental health, but going too far and overthinking them can also impact your emotional well-being.

Why are boundaries setting necessary?

Setting limits can provide balance in your life. Here are some benefits of putting boundaries in place.

  • Avoiding Burnout. Doing too much for too many is an easy way to burn out. Setting boundaries can prevent burnout and allows you to assert your right to respect.

  • Less Resentment. Giving and helping others is a strength, but when it turns into doing too much for others, you may begin to feel resentful. Setting boundaries around what you can do can reduce or eliminate resentment.

  • More balance. Sometimes the boundaries we need to set are for ourselves. Setting a boundary with yourself to go to bed earlier may provide more balance. While staying up and binge-watching a show can be nice, staying up late on a work night can lead to exhaustion. Just like anything new, getting comfortable with setting boundaries takes time. The first time you place a boundary, you may notice that it is too broad or too narrow and needs to be adjusted, which is okay.

Boundaries are the limits of appropriate behavior between people. Personal boundaries define where one person ends and the other begins. Boundaries affect intimate relationships, families, and colleagues in a work environment. Setting these boundaries can be challenging, but it can ensure the relationship.

Not every person comes from an environment that promotes healthy boundaries. Setting them for yourself with others can safeguard you against those who wish to violate them. People break boundaries for different reasons. It can be because they need to be taught what boundaries are, what they mean, why they're essential, and how it helps both parties communicate or relate to each other. You may have trouble setting boundaries and still not be entirely sure about asserting yourself. If you need assistance setting boundaries and taking control of yourself, one of our excellent therapists would be happy to help you. Contact our office by phone or email to arrange an appointment.

There are so many more things that can be said. These are just some suggestions. Standing up for yourself and owning your boundaries can be empowering; however, many of these statements can be harsh and hurtful, depending on how they are presented. You do not want to sugarcoat your needs; however, making sure you are coming from a necessary but loving place when you vocalize them is needed. Remember, you are building a fence, and you are the gatekeeper, not an executioner.

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