Learning how to set boundaries can be challenging at the best of times, but it can be especially difficult in our personal relationships. Setting limits on the behaviors and interactions we will allow in our lives can feel uncomfortable, but it can also be extremely rewarding. It can improve our physical, emotionaL, and mental well-being, remove unhealthy imbalances and expectations in our personal and professional lives, and empower us to create healthy relationships that promote equality and growth.
If you want to know how to set boundaries, we’re sharing 9 tips to help!
What Are Boundaries?
Boundaries are like unwritten guidelines and rules the define the things we will and will not tolerate in our relationships with others. They help define the kinds of interactions, behaviors, and forms of communication we find acceptable. The boundaries we set in our lives are governed by where we live, our culture, our upbringing, our living situation, whether we’re an introvert or extrovert, and other personality traits we have.
Setting clear boundaries is important to our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. It helps us create and maintain healthy relationships with others, while also improving our self-esteem and self-respect. Boundaries are empowering, provide a strong sense of self-identity, and remove unhealthy expectations in our relationships with others.
How to Set Boundaries: 9 Tips
1. DEFINE YOUR CORE VALUES
If you want to know how to set boundaries, a good first step is to take the time to define the core values that guide your personal beliefs and behaviors. Think of the type of person you want to be, and write out a list of things you have to do (and not do) in order to bring that person to life. Words like happy, positive, friendly, loyal, and dedicated come to mind for me, but your list may look very different. This list of 220 core values is a great resource to help you define the values that matter most to you.
2. GET REAL ABOUT YOUR LIMITS
We often say ‘yes’ to things even though they make us feel stressed, anxious, angry, resentful, exhausted, etc. Visiting with family members who rub us the wrong way, volunteering at our child’s school when we don’t have the time or interest, and passively listening to someone gossip about someone we care about are all examples of ways we struggle to set limits in our lives, which prevent us from being our authentic selves.
If you want to know how to set boundaries, use your core values to help you identify the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual limits you must set to help you live an authentic life. Do you need to limit interactions with toxic family members? Is it time to stop volunteering for things you don’t have time for? Are you ready to stand up for the people you care about? Knowing your limits will give you greater clarity on where to draw the line.
3. REMOVE THE GUILT
Learning how to set boundaries can cause us to experience a lot of uncomfortable emotions, particularly feelings of guilt. We are pre-programmed to put the needs of others first, even if it’s to the detriment of ourselves. We worry that if we’re honest about our thoughts and feelings, we will strain important relationships in our lives and that others will perceive us as being too assertive, cold, selfish, etc. It feels easier to do what we feel is expected of us, instead of being true to ourselves, but what we fail to realize is that establishing boundaries can actually improve our relationships over time. Recognize that you will feel guilty as you start to place limits on your interactions and relationships with others, but instead of letting it derail you, give yourself a pat on the back and view it as a sign of progress!
4. PRIORITIZE SELF-CARE
If you are trying to figure out how to set boundaries, take a step back and spend some time thinking about your own needs. Instead of worrying about how you are showing up for others, consider how you are showing up for yourself. When we take care of the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of our lives, we reduce emotional issues like stress, anxiety, and depression as well as the physical reactions they create. Engaging in regular self-care leaves us with more energy and motivation, allowing us to show up well for our family, friends, and colleagues. Finding time to do something that rejuvenates us on the regular is a great way to get comfortable with setting boundaries and putting our own needs first.
CLICK HERE for a list of 21 self-care care ideas for women you actually have time for!
5. START SMALL AND BUILD OVER TIME
Whenever we set out to make positive changes in our lives, our inclination is to make a lot of big changes all at once. And while we should be commended for our enthusiasm and dedication, the reality is that we are more likely to maintain new habits if we start small and build upon them over time. When drafting a list of boundaries you’d like to implement, identify one change that would have the biggest impact in your life, and go from there. As you observe and adhere to that boundary, you will inevitably see positive changes in many other areas of your life, which will naturally make you set and maintain additional boundaries over time.
6. REMEMBER THAT BOUNDARIES CAN BE FLEXIBLE
Many of us tend to shy away from setting boundaries because they feel too rigid. We worry they will get in the way of our ability to maintain close relationships with the people we love, and that they will limit our ability to fully participate in all areas of our lives. An important thing to keep in mind as you try to figure out how to set boundaries in your life is that they can be flexible, and that they can be different across the many aspects of your life. For example, the boundaries you set with your parents may look very different from the boundaries you set with your clients and colleagues. My only word of caution is not to be too flexible when setting boundaries, as this can be counterintuitive!
7. PRACTICE HOW TO SAY NO
As much as we want to be everything to everyone, the truth is that we are only human. There are only so many hours in the day and we need to be better about managing our time so we can prioritize the things that matter to us most. If you’re trying to figure out how to set boundaries, learning how to say no to the things that don’t merry up to your core values will be life-changing for you. If something isn’t personally important to you, doesn’t contribute to your goals, and/or goes against the things you stand for, it doesn’t belong in your life.
Of course, this sounds great in theory, but if you’re a people-pleaser, saying no to someone can be really difficult. Here are some tips to help!
- Do it quickly. While waiting until the last minute to come up with an excuse may seem a lot less stressful than being upfront and honest from the get-go, remember that it’s highly unfair to the other person. This is especially true if someone is relying on you for something. The more notice you give them, the more likely they will be able to find someone else to fill your shoes.
- Be honest. As tempting as it is to fabricate an elaborate lie to try and get out of something, honesty really is the best policy. You’re less likely to get caught in a lie, and the person you are letting down will respect you more in the long-run.
- Don’t dwell. When you’ve made your decision to say ‘no’ to someone, do it as honestly and quickly as you can, and then move on. Get straight to the point and don’t over-explain. The more you dwell, the more you open yourself up for negotiation, which is exactly what you’re trying to avoid!
- Propose a compromise. If you’re really struggling to say ‘no’ to someone, consider coming up with an appropriate compromise to help show your support. It can go a long way in letting someone down gently!
- Stop feeling guilty. The problem with guilt is that it eventually turns into resentment, and while it would be nice to have a never-ending supply of time to commit to every single thing that crosses our paths, we must remember that we are only human. There are only 24 hours in each day, and while we don’t want to let people down, we need to focus on the stuff that matters most to us.
8. BE CLEAR AND DIRECT
One of the reasons people struggle to set boundaries is that they fear they need to use harsh language that isn’t characteristic of how they typically interact with others, and worry they will come across as abrasive and hurtful. If this sounds like you, rest assured that you can be direct without being rude. It just takes a little practice! Be careful to opt for simple language that can’t be misinterpreted, twisted, or misconstrued, and use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements. For example, instead of saying, ‘you make me feel uncomfortable when you gossip about others’, say something like, ‘I feel disloyal to my friends when I talk negatively about them behind their backs’. Remember that you don’t need to defend, debate, or explain the boundaries you are setting.
9. RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR RELATIONSHIPS MAY CHANGE
My last tip for those who want to know how to set boundaries is to come to terms with the fact that your relationships will likely change. Not everyone will be supportive of you setting limits, putting yourself first, and saying no to the things that don’t merry up to your goals. Your relationships may become more superficial with some people, and you may decide to end your relationships with others, and that’s okay! Trust the process, allow yourself to grieve, and seek help from a therapist if needed.
I hope the tips and ideas in this post help you in your quest to find out how to set boundaries in your personal and professional life. Remember to stay true to your core values when setting limits on what you will and will not tolerate, to start small and build over time, to be clear and direct, to learn how to say no tactfully, and to recognize that your relationships may change.