Boundary Setting 101

3 Ways to Set and Keep Boundaries

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We’ve all been there, you’re overwhelmed, you’re giving all of you’re energy to the people around you – friends, family, kiddos, work colleagues. Some of them are in crisis, some of them are needy, and some of them are toxic.

But remember what those Southwest flight attendants are always saying. When the plane is experiencing turbulence, and the oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartment, “make sure to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put one on anyone else.” Setting and maintaining a boundary is like the oxygen mask you didn’t know you needed.

Boundary setting is setting an expectation or standard around certain type of behavior. And it’s an important tool for creating space in our busy lives to just breathe.

(1) Turn to your Community

More than ever, we need the power of connection. And when you are getting ready to do some boundary setting. It’s important to be connected to a community. These are people who can cheerlead you on, who can validate you, who can point out to you where you have the agency to set a boundary.

Most importantly, three months down the road, when you think you’ve overcorrected, or you were too harsh, these people can remind you why you set the boundary in the first place. You need these people.

(2) Communicate Your Boundary Clearly

Use the simplest form of the truth to communicate the boundary you’re setting. I’ve often found that when I’m afraid or uncomfortable communicating a boundary, I over-explain myself. Usually, this in an effort to either soften the blow to the other person (like, I’m trying to manage their response to the boundary) or justify/rationalize why I need the boundary in the first place.

The simplest form of the truth sounds like this, ” ____ is a behavior that is unacceptable to me, and I need you to know that.” For example, being part of a huge group text is really challenging for me. So I’ve told my friends, “Group text makes me anxious. I don’t feel compelled to completely remove myself from the chat, but I’ve muted the group text convo. If you have something that you need to talk to me about, I need you to text me directly.”

(3) Get clear and Stay Firm

Boundary setting in the heat of the moment is not ideal. You’re amped up, activated, and agitated. It’s unlikely that you’ve given much thought to the boundary and so it will probably be challenging to keep.

But use that disagreement to reflect on what it is about this relationship that is painful for you. Do some writing about this. What would be an ideal instead? What type of behavior are you no longer willing to tolerate? What will be the consequence if you are exposed to this behavior again?

For example, you have a friend that flakes on your plans all the time. It hurts your feelings, it messes with your schedule, it’s annoying. It’s your responsibility to let your friend know that you can’t handle her flaking. But the question for you is, what will be the consequence if she does this again? Maybe it’s that you stop making plans with her, but you’re still happy to chat on the phone or via text.

The point is, that there is a lot of flexibility here. There is no right or wrong way to set a boundary. And, all boundary-setting is part of a practice of self-care. Practice means that we don’t do it perfectly each time, but that every time we try, we learn more about how to do it!

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