How To Set Boundaries – The Definitive Guide
Over the past few years, I have made a conscious effort at setting and maintain boundaries to support my life. It hasn't always been easy but looking back to where I was and where I am today. The growth that has happened within me has been huge. I no longer second guess speaking up to ask for what I want, I can say no with ease and I can sure as hell set a boundary to protect my energy when I need to.
Boundaries have been a lesson in creating freedom for myself.
When you find yourself stuck being the yes person for others, doing extra activities to keep others happy the first thing that goes out the window are our personal standards. Our values get squashed down while our limits are thrown away as we boost up our tolerance of others. We make it okay that we missed our lunch because we felt obliged to do overtime to meet a deadline, we do errands for others in our spare time each week even though we are exhausted because they need help.
If you have found yourself, like me, kicking yourself after saying 'yes' one too many times then this blog is going to help you get back on track.
What is a Boundary
A boundary is where we draw a line of what is & isn't important to us (our values), it defines our personal limits.
There are two kinds of boundaries we can set, the first being with ourselves and the second with others. There is a multitude of areas in which we can set boundaries however the primary categories are - time, energy, physical, emotional, mental and financial.
Internal boundaries are our non-negotiables - the standards we have for life and ourselves. These personal promises tend to stay within, and when we know these or put them in place they can enrich our lives for the better.
External boundaries are the ones we set with others about what we will/won’t tolerate from them. These are the boundaries that require us to speak up and to communicate. It's where big conversations happen, explaining how we value ourselves and educating the other person/s about our limits, demonstrating how we wish to be treated.
At the end of the day our boundaries protect our energy and set the standard for the way we live.
Signs you need to set Boundaries
You are constantly over-giving and over-committing yourself which has led you to juggle all the things and find yourself lacking any time for yourself to replenish your energy. You feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders because you feel responsible for others.
You keep finding yourself in a well of deep frustration that you let others walk over you, letting yourself down, knowing full well that you deserve better.
YOU HATE SAYING NO
The thought of letting someone down and saying no just makes your stomach turn in knots. You often get caught out saying YES when you really just wanted to say no. Especially when it comes to work or with loved ones.
SACRIFICE YOUR OWN NEEDS
What you want always ends up last on your to-do list, and then never happens. This is because you are prioritising others over yourself and this can happen for a number of reasons but boundaries can fix that.
YOU HAVE BECOME AN EMOTIONAL DUMPING AREA
Overwhelmed, tired and lack energy, you still welcome others sharing their shit with you. They off-load their junk leaving you to pick up the pieces, but you don't take time to reset before it happens again? Do I know you too well?
YOU DON’T WANT TO HURT OTHER PEOPLE’S FEELINGS
You need to set a boundary with a friend, but you don’t want to tell them in case it would crush their heart. Hurting the people you love is the last thing you want to do, so you avoid doing it all together. You find that it's better that you are disappointed rather than your friend.
YOUR RELATIONSHIPS ARE ONE SIDED
Healthy relationships are a harmonious ying and yang cycle, however, you have educated others that you are willing to do just about anything for them, and they have begun to expect it. Which means they take and take. These unhealthy relationships are a product of us not speaking up for ourselves. We allow behaviours to slide due to any of the reasons above.
Dangers of not maintaining healthy boundaries
When it comes to setting boundaries, as difficult as they seem to create, the long-term effects on us are dangerous.
Things like our relationships start to crumble along with our confidence, self-esteem and self-belief.
What happens when our relationships become one-sided they are no longer healthy, we become the second wheel in someone else's life. Which can make us feel unsafe, unheard, not respected. This is not to say it's not good to be kind, we can, it's knowing when we have the capacity to do so. Setting boundaries are to support our life for the better and the sooner we get our people up to speed with how they can do this (aka educating them) allows us to disrupt the pattern of putting others first, and our needs second. Healthy relationships make us feel safe and secure and that is why it is so important that boundaries are placed in all relationships to protect our energy and beyond.
Our self-esteem and self-belief become questionable when we don't trust ourselves enough to ask for what we want. We slowly forget who we are, and things we once loved fade out of our lives as a distant memory. Passions fizzle, time for ourselves gone. Everything you need to cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself is taken away as you shift your focus towards others first (a people-pleaser's real dilemma). This leads to many physical health problems like; stress, overwhelm, worry, anxiety, lack of sleep, over-sensitivity, and our nervous system is put to the test. In simple terms, we are living in a heightened state of flight and fight mode. We are constantly anticipating, assuming and expecting.
When in a heightened state it makes it hard to establish healthy relationships as we are always on the edge.
To summarise the main key takeaway here is that healthy boundaries establish healthy relationships with others and ourselves. They support us to look after our emotional and mental health.
What stops us from setting boundaries
The thing we are most scared of when it comes to setting boundaries is that we are so scared of what is going to happen, what the other person might/could do when we finally speak our truth. This is our anxiety-talking, bringing the worst-case scenario to our forefront, which of course puts us off from the task ahead.
When we don't assert our boundaries or protect our energy we see the following behaviours come to the surface.
- Lack of self-belief that we are worthy of more.
- Frustration, due to others or ourselves not meeting our personal standards.
- Stressed and worried about disappointing others.
- Anxious because we are focusing on what could happen instead of being present.
- Passive-aggressive behaviour due to built-up resentment of bottling up emotions of frustration or anger.
- How it would affect our relationships.
- Feelings of discomfort which become overwhelming and lead us to avoid others and the issue.
- The guilt of letting others down.
At the end of the day the great unknown is the major culprit here of boundary setting, how that plays out for you determines what happens inside.
How to Set Boundaries
Step 1 - Know your limits
Knowing our limitations is understanding where we stand and what we believe in.
It's the things we get super passionate about, the ones that no one can mess with us on because we see a clear line of what is black and white, right or wrong.
These are the things that no one can force upon us or make us do.
Our secret code of conduct. ie - like your feet firmly planted on the ground because you don't like heights
Step 2 - Identify the Boundary
What time of boundary needs to be set - energy, financial, emotional, mental, time and physical.
Is it an external or internal boundary?
Who you are setting the boundary with?
OTHER: What needs to be said to educate the other person of your boundary
SELF: What practice do you need to implement to set the boundary
Step 3 - Communication
It's time to articulate what we need to say. Be confident when you ask/state what you need. Your energy is powerful so get in the right frame of mind to take on big conversations.
The art of communication is a practice, keep at it because it's our most valuable asset to get more of what we want.
Communication is often the thing we don't do in setting boundaries - however, this vital step allows us to educate the other person. Instead of focusing on what could happen - think of it as a form of enlightening others on your personal standards for life.
Step 4 - Evaluate
Not everyone is going to respond the way you want and it's important to know that we have the opportunity to problem-solve the situation if it doesn't quite go to plan.
A positive result is when someone respects your boundary moving forward. A negative result might mean that you perhaps need to rephrase what you are stating, to repeat it, negotiate or revisit the subject again at another time depending on the situation.
This is where the learning lies, exploring the outcome helps us to move forward and choose the next course of action.
Step 5 - Take Action
From your evaluation, you can take into account what happened and now take the next step. If it was a positive response obviously you were given the green light so you can take a breath and move with ease. If the response was negative. What are you going to do to problem solve the situation, what's next? Set this up, knowing what is important for you and prioritising your needs first.
When we are met with a negative response, it takes courage to stay in our lane and trust what is right for us. We must persevere until an agreement is made between both parties - Often this just means our communication skills need refining. Take yourself back to step three and repeat.
Tips for setting boundaries
Boundaries are to protect you and it's your role to educate others on them.
- Step up your communication skills. Learn to ask for help - Read this article on How to Ask for Help in a Good Way and How to say NO without the Guilt.
- Know that other people don't know your limits or what you are thinking. So it's your job to educate them. Especially when you feel that they are being taken advantage of or not respected.
- Setting boundaries does get easier the more you implement them.
- Trial and error come with the territory, so start small, build up your confidence as you work on laying down the rules for others.
- Boundaries are for you, and in order to maintain them you need to put the work in. They are there to improve your everyday life, so give yourself some respect.
- Ditch anxiety and worrying about the outcome of what might happen and focus on your needs instead.