What are boundaries?
Boundaries are the mental, emotional, and physical limits to how others can treat you, behave around you, as well as what they can expect from you.
Boundaries allow you to define and maintain the space you need to show up as your very best.
While setting and enforcing these personal rules may not always come easily or naturally, it will get easier with practice.
Here are eight tips to help you get started.
1. Clearly identify your boundary
Get clear about the boundary that must be kept in order for you to feel comfortable and safe.
- Do you need your coworker to completely stop coming to your cubicle to chat during work hours, or only when you’re trying to focus on an important project?
- Do you need your mother to stop dropping in without notice, or is she welcome as long as she calls before she arrives?
- Do you need your friend to stop borrowing any of your clothes, or is it just your favorite ones that are off limits?
Clear rules help you feel confident about what you expect in your space, as well as reduce misunderstandings by others.
2. Understand why you need this boundary
It’s important to understand why you are setting these rules. This will help you defend your boundaries if anyone attempts to talk you out of following through.
- I do not want to be disturbed by anyone while I’m trying to focus on important projects because when I’m unable to complete my work on time, I let my team down and it makes me feel like a loser.
- I need my mom to stop dropping by whenever she wants because while I love her, there are times when I just really need my own space. If she wants to visit, we must schedule a date and time that works best for us both.
- I need my friend to only borrow clothes that I set aside for her. She needs to respect that my favorite outfits are very special to me and are only for me to wear.
3. Decide what happens if your request is not respected
These are the actions you will take if anyone violates your boundary. For example…
- My friend may continue borrowing my clothes except for the ones I set aside as off limits.
- If she attempts to borrow them anyway, I will give one warning stating that if this behavior continues, I will no longer feel comfortable allowing her to borrow any of my clothes.
- If after my warning the behavior continues, I will follow through and stop allowing her to borrow any of my clothes.
4. Be direct
Don’t be vague when communicating your needs, thinking you’re going to spare someone’s feelings or avoid conflict. Keep in mind that you are not being mean or selfish by having boundaries. In fact, it’s the opposite.
Boundaries allow you to maintain the space you need to stay mentally and emotionally healthy and feel safe. This helps you be at your very best for yourself, and for the people who count on you.
Boundaries also helps others understand what you expect from them, as well as what they can expect from you. Communicating your rules helps put you and those around you on the same page, preventing resentment and unexpected negative reactions.
5. Don’t apologize
You are not doing anything wrong by setting and enforcing your boundaries, so there is no need to apologize. Doing so just makes it appear like you feel guilty about needing to feel safe and happy in your own space.
Think of it this way. If you have an infant with cat allergies, you will not allow family and friends to bring their cat when visiting your home. This is to keep your baby safe in your own home, so you certainly won’t feel bad or guilty about enforcing that rule.
It’s the same thing when expecting others to respect the types of behavior you allow and don’t allow to keep you feeling confident and safe. You have the right and responsibility to communicate the types of behavior you will not allow in your personal space.
6. Begin with tighter boundaries
It’s easier to ease up on tight boundaries than it is to tighten loose boundaries.
For example, you set a clear rule with your ex husband that you don’t want him entering your home when he drops off the kids. From this firm boundary, it’s easier to invite him in later if you decide it’s appropriate.
But it will be much more difficult to tell him he can no longer come in when he’s been given the spare key and free access to your home from the very start.
7. Address violations early
Don’t wait until someone has repeatedly violated your boundary before you speak up. You can’t expect another person to know your boundaries until you’ve communicated your rules to them. And yes, this also includes boundaries that are “obvious” to you.
It’s also not fair to suddenly change the rules and tell your brother he can no longer use your spare car to go to work, after you’ve allowed him to use it without issue for the last 6 months. In this case, give him notice so he has time to look for a car and still get to work in the meantime.
8. Trust your gut
Practice mindfulness. Pay attention to what you’re feeling. If something makes you feel uneasy, create a rule to protect yourself from those negative feelings and enforce it to keep peace and confidence in your personal space.
I hope these tips help you begin setting and maintaining healthy boundaries. And remember, it is your right and personal responsibility to maintain the space you need in order to show up as your very best.