Healthy relationships start by setting boundaries in your relationships. Whether you are interacting with coworkers or communicating in a love relationship, you need to establish basic guidelines for yourself.
Even if you aren’t consciously setting personal boundaries, you probably know how it feels when someone else crosses your boundary. For example, the time you stayed late at work because of pressure from your boss. Or when you missed a social event that you were planning to attend because a neighbor was asking for last-minute childcare.
When other people cross your personal limits, it often results in feelings that you are let down, disappointed, or hurt. If you don’t understand how boundaries work, it can be hard to understand where these emotions originate.
What are Boundaries?
Boundaries are rules or limits that we create, showing other people how to behave toward us. These guidelines are often unspoken ways we interact with others based on a mix of opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and past experiences.
On the other hand, we can proactively set healthy boundaries when someone surpasses appropriate behaviors. This process isn’t about controlling what other people are doing. Instead, boundaries manage how we respond when someone oversteps. Your response is the consequence of the actions as a way to build safety for yourself.
Boundary setting involves a decision about the okay behaviors and how you choose to respond if someone else doesn’t respect these limits. The purpose is to create relationships that are caring, respectful, and fulfilling.
Why Setting Boundaries is Important
We all want thriving relationships, and this process starts by creating a healthy space where we can connect with others. Setting boundaries gives you the opportunity to communicate your needs while also setting limits, so others aren’t hurting you.
If you aren’t consistent about maintaining your boundaries, then it means that you are giving up parts of yourself with the intention to please other people. Often, these relationship patterns leave you with unwanted feelings in the relationship:
- Others are intruding upon your life
- You are taken for granted
- Feelings of depletion
- People are taking advantage of you
In most cases, poor boundary setting causes a person to feel anger, resentment, burnout, and hurt.
Ultimately, setting boundaries is a form of self-respect. Not only are you honoring your own needs, but you are also creating a better environment where your relationships can thrive.
How to Set Healthy Boundaries
When you understand why setting boundaries is important, the next step is to learn the appropriate way to create healthy limits in your relationship. Where do you start when you need to implement boundaries in an unhealthy relationship?
Here are a few tips to improve your boundary setting and support your relationships:
- Identify Your Limits: You must know your personal limits before setting a boundary about these issues. What behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable? For example, if you tell a family member that you aren’t able to attend an event, and they don’t take “no” for an answer, then you might set a boundary not to answer their phone calls. This person is overstepping your boundary if they continue pestering you until you say “yes.”
- Start Small: If you are new to boundary setting, then it might be helpful to start small. This process can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Instead, find the most comfortable pace for you, then adjust your approach as you discover your preferences.
- Maintain Your Boundaries: Sometimes, the most challenging part of boundary setting is maintaining the limits you choose. For example, if you have a friend who is chronically late when you meet for lunch, you might tell them that you will wait for 15 minutes and then leave if they don’t arrive. If you set this boundary, then you need to be willing to follow through and go within the selected timeframe.
- Respect Other People’s Boundaries: In addition to setting personal limits, also be proactive about respecting other people’s boundaries. Improve your awareness of boundary setting, so you know when to honor the things other people are requesting from you.
When you have healthy boundaries, it creates predictable behavior in the relationship. You know what you will accept from others, and other people know what to expect from you.
Types of Boundaries
It doesn’t matter if you are at work, home, or spending time with friends. Everyone has boundaries that influence their interactions with others.
Setting boundaries fall into five different categories:
- Physical: Anything involving your body and personal space and how comfortable you are with other people touching you.
- Sexual: Intimate interactions, including both physical contact or comments other people might make about you.
- Emotional: How comfortable you are about sharing feelings and thoughts with other people ─ when you choose to open up vs. when you want to keep these things private.
- Financial: Any situation involving money, such as spending money on someone else or offering a loan to a friend or family member.
- Intellectual: This includes how you interact with other people when discussing opinions and ideas.
Is Boundary Setting Hard for You?
It’s common to put other people’s feelings and needs ahead of our own, which is a form of boundary violations. Some people feel that setting boundaries is a mean or selfish way to interact with loved ones. These efforts bring up feelings of guilt or fear, especially if you feel like you are putting the relationship at risk by setting a boundary.
Remember that setting boundaries isn’t a way to punish other people. Instead, the purpose is to protect your well-being. As you learn to establish healthier patterns and interactions, then relationships start to thrive.
If you are navigating relationship challenges and need to learn how to set better boundaries, then it can be helpful to talk to a professional. Contact our experienced team at Lifeworks Counseling Center to schedule a consultation and learn more about available services.