Learning how to create healthy boundaries can be tough. If you’ve struggled with this, you aren’t alone! While creating boundaries can feel daunting it is well worth the effort. Research shows that having consistent boundaries directly correlates to happiness and healthy relationships. So, if you’ve been worried (like I was) that creating and enforcing boundaries would lead to misery, conflict, and loneliness…you’re mistaken. But here’s the thing, for those of us who grew up in environments where we weren’t allowed to have boundaries this process can be tough. I get it… and that’s why I’m going to simplify the whole thing for you! In this article, I’m going to look at the question, what are healthy boundaries, and then talk about how to maintain them in relationships.
How to Create Healthy Boundaries
Creating healthy boundaries can take a little trial and error especially when you’re first starting out. It can be very difficult to identify what you need if you’ve never been allowed to do so. So, be patient with yourself through this process.
Creating Healthy Boundaries for Yourself
Learning how to set boundaries in relationships is an essential aspect of self-care. It can be very helpful, though, to start off by evaluating the myriad of boundaries you likely already have for yourself. You may be calling these “rules”. By changing your language and referring to them instead as “healthy loving boundaries” you’ll begin to see which belong and which do not. Those of us who struggle to make boundaries for others often excel at creating rules for ourselves. Some common ones that need to go are:
- I don’t inconvenience others.
- I keep my feelings to myself.
- I don’t ask others for help.
- I don’t acknowledge, identify, or express uncomfortable feelings.
Many of the rules we’ve created for ourselves aren’t healthy or loving in any way. They are restrictive and painful.
Once you’ve eliminated restrictive or unrealistic rules from your personal boundary list, it’s time to create some new healthy loving boundaries.
Ask yourself this question: “how would I treat someone I love”. Now… create some healthy loving boundaries from there. Consider some of these:
- I will not beat myself up emotionally when I miss it, instead I’ll give grace and approach myself with curiosity.
- I will allow myself to rest or take breaks when I need them.
- I will not force myself to do things that don’t feel safe or aren’t aligned with my authentic self.
- I will accept myself fully even as I’m growing and striving toward self-improvement.
These guidelines about how you treat yourself will help you create boundaries for your relationships as well.
Creating Boundaries in Your Relationships with Others
Boundaries are essential in every relationship. It’s very important to recognize that creating and communicating them is actually a favor to the other person. Healthy people who value their relationships want to know and make an effort to respect the boundaries of others. And unhealthy people… well, sometimes we most need boundaries with them (find out more about that here).
It can be very helpful in identifying your boundaries to think about how you prefer to be treated and if you struggle with this think instead about how you feel you should treat others. For example, what are some things you would or wouldn’t do in your relationship with a co-worker, friend, or loved one. This thought exercise will help you identify your own boundaries. Many of our perceptions of how others prefer to be treated reflect assumptions about boundaries and possibly about the ones we would prefer for ourselves. While this will not give you a complete or entirely accurate list of your personal boundaries in relationships, it is a good place to start.
How to Communicate and Enforce Healthy Boundaries
Communicating healthy boundaries is as simple as telling the other person your needs. This may be done preemptively or at the time that a boundary is crossed. Simply and clearly stating your boundary is an effective way to communicate. There is no need to give an explanation or seek validation or permission. You don’t need to apologize even if this is a change in your relationship expectations. You can simply state your boundary.
Even once we’ve communicated our boundaries, we may find the need to enforce them or remind those around us of them. Issues with personal boundaries in relationships aren’t always intentional or an indication that the relationship isn’t healthy.
Intentional Boundary Violations
When boundary issues become pervasive, or you are met with pushback, frustration, or intentional disregard for your boundaries it’s important that you hold up under pressure. Reminding yourself that you can’t change the behavior or others is very important. It’s typically unproductive to argue or defend your boundary in situations like this. Instead, it’s best to communicate how you will respond or behave if it continues. But be sure that you are willing to do as you have told them. This is not a threat or an ultimatum. It’s simply a statement of fact. Concise statements like “I’ve already communicated my expectations regarding you correcting my children, if this continues, we’ll be leaving” are excellent ways to inform others of what will happen if the boundary violation continues. It is most effective if you can make these statements in a calm, clear way rather than emotionally. It’s ok that you’re feeling hurt, disappointed, or angry that your boundaries are being violated but it’s very important that you not share your feelings with those who haven’t earned your vulnerability. And when someone appears to be disregarding your boundaries that certainly isn’t an indication that they have.
Unintentional Boundary Violations
Sometimes our boundaries can be challenging for those around us to honor. They may be trying but have a habit that is difficult to break or struggle to be mindful of the boundary.
For example, I’ve found this to be particularly true in my relationships with my boundaries regarding gossip. Some of the people in my circle have a habit of gossiping about one another in a negative way. A few years back I communicated a personal boundary that I don’t want to be involved in these kinds of conversations. But because it’s a habit many still engage in amongst themselves, sometimes gossip will come up in conversations with me. I simply remind them that I’m not comfortable with the conversation and change the subject. The first time this happened I was very uncomfortable and pretty certain it would cause a conflict but to my surprise it wasn’t an issue at all. The conversation just moved on. No one was deliberately trying to disregard my boundary; they were just engaging in a habit.
Boundaries Are for You
At the end of the day, your boundaries are for you. The only person whose behavior they will alter is your own. BUT, once you’ve identified how to create healthy boundaries, and then you’ve communicated your boundaries to those around you, it will be so much easier for you to feel empowered to make the choices for your life and relationships that are aligned with you. One of the best things about creating boundaries is the way it frees you from second guessing, guilt, and shame. When you aren’t honoring your own healthy loving boundaries, it will be much easier to get back on track. And when those around you are disregarding your boundaries, it will be easier to create distance or walk away. Finally… the relationship clarity and peace you’ve been looking for!
Start creating boundaries for yourself and others using the exercises you’ve learned in this post!