Setting boundaries is crucial for your mental health. Here's how to build and maintain healthy boundaries to improve your happiness and productivity.
The importance of setting boundaries is widely known, but the act of setting them isn’t quite so easy.
Many of us are taught early that we should “be nice” and “share.” These concepts follow us into adulthood. But now, instead of sharing our toys, we find ourselves giving our time and energy to others.
Instead of causing drama on the playground, boundaries actually enforce safety in relationships. When you know what the rules are, it’s easier to abide by them. When you’re not stepping over lines, you get along with everyone better.
When people cross your imaginary boundaries, it causes you stress. The problem is that they likely don’t even know what they’re doing if you haven’t told them where your lines are. So, it’s up to you to learn how to communicate your boundaries to others.
These tips will help you determine which areas of your life need some more structure. Then, you can build and maintain healthy boundaries in all of your relationships.
1. Decide on the Hard Limits
First, take some time to reflect on which parts of your life are causing the most stress. Maybe it’s a family member who is always complaining to you, or maybe your boss has unrealistic expectations that you can never seem to meet.
Which of these areas can you do something about? What stressors do you know you have control over and don’t want in your life? Make these your hard limits and refuse to let them into your day.
If you have toxic relationships with certain people, you may need to cut them out. If there are people who are unintentionally inconsiderate of your time, you’ll have to start letting them know when you’re too busy to spend time with them.
Start with the hard limits. The little adjustments will come as you become more comfortable enforcing your boundaries.
It’s easier to be consistent when you make small changes over time, and this lets you set your boundaries organically instead of forcing them. It’s also easier for those around you to get accustomed to the new, in-charge version of you when you make changes gradually.
2. Remember That You Don’t Need Anyone’s Permission
If you’re worried about your boundaries, it probably means that other people are somehow taking advantage of you.
Those who want you to be happy will appreciate your honesty when you tell them how you feel. Those who want to take advantage of you don’t deserve your guilt.
Remember, your feelings are yours. You don’t need permission to feel them. When you remember that, it’s easier to set boundaries.
People are going to give you pushback and want to know why you’ve “changed.” You don’t owe them answers, and you don’t have to ask them if it’s okay to stand up for yourself.
3. Learn How to Accept Help
A characteristic that goes hand-in-hand with weak boundaries is the inability to accept help. It’s not a flaw on your part — it just means that you don’t want to bother anyone.
In the same vein, when people ask you for assistance, your knee-jerk reaction is to give it to them. You probably say yes to everything because you want to be helpful.
These character traits, though well-intentioned, can actually cause problems for you. If you give all of your free time to other people, you’ll end up with too much on your plate and not enough time for self-care.
Even worse, you may find yourself resenting those who ask for help innocently because you’re frustrated with takers.
Before this becomes an issue in your relationships, learn how to say no to those who don't appreciate your time. Ask for help when things are a little too much for you to do alone, and accept the aid when it’s offered.
4. Create an Action Plan
Now that you know your hard limits, it’s time to set an action plan for letting others know.
First, drop the guilt and remember you don’t need permission to tell someone what you want for your health. Let them know what you find acceptable and unacceptable.
If they have questions or concerns, you can answer them. But if they’re pushing for you to lower your boundaries, remember that it’s your choice, not theirs.
Then, let them know they are close to overstepping. Have an alternative to their action if possible. For instance, if your family member calls you to vent regularly, tell them which times are off limits.
Finally, have a backup plan if they continue the actions. Be willing to terminate the relationship for a time if necessary. Let them know that you set boundaries and they didn’t listen.
To protect yourself and your energy, distance yourself from them for a while. You can choose to try again later, or not.
5. Work on Your Confidence
As you set boundaries, you will likely notice that your confidence improves, too. You’re standing up for yourself, reducing the results of unwanted stress, and feeling better in general.
This confidence will carry over into your other relationships. Any that were strong to begin with will thrive. Those who liked you better as a pushover don’t need to be in your life, anyway.
Eventually, you’ll have weeded out the negative influences, and those who are left will be supportive. ________________________________________
The initial process of learning how to set boundaries is the hard part. Once you start enacting them consistently, you’ll come to appreciate the structure they give your life.
With careful planning, you can set your limits so well that you enforce them without thinking about it. When your friends, family members, and coworkers know what to expect, you’ll be able to maintain healthy relationships with all of them.
Angus Flynn is the business manager for Arte, a luxury apartment community in Rancho Cucamonga, CA.