Do you struggle to make decisions, find yourself in dramatic or difficult relationships, or fear letting people down? Do you feel responsible for making people in your life happy? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be struggling with creating and maintaining boundaries.
A huge component of enjoying healthy, successful relationships is our ability to understand and implement boundaries. That sounds great in theory but what does that even mean? What are boundaries? How do you know if you have good boundaries?
What are boundaries?
Boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that mark your limits on your life and relationships. These boundaries can be mental, physical, or sexual. All humans create boundaries to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards him/her and how to respond when someone passes those limits. Some people have overly flexible boundaries (unwilling to say no, always accommodating others’ needs), and some have overly rigid boundaries (to the point of being righteous and judgmental). Ideally, healthy boundaries fall somewhere in the middle of these two options.
Why are boundaries important?
Boundaries are vital to a strong relationship and improved self-esteem. They help you establish the limits of your relationships and provide others with guidance on how to be in a relationship with you. Boundaries help you and your relationships feel safe.
How can I have healthy boundaries?
Determining what your boundaries are can be hard and implementing them can be even harder, but with some self-exploration and practice you can work towards identifying and establishing healthy boundaries. Try these five simple steps:
- Know your boundaries. We learn boundaries from watching others be in relationships. You might take a moment to think about the influential relationships in your life. What positive examples did you witness? What are some things you may have been exposed to that didn’t feel healthy or comfortable? Decide what you will and will not tolerate in relationships with others. Write those things down.
- Listen to your gut – We all have an internal “warning light.” This is what tells us when others have crossed the line, acted inappropriately or disrespected us. Usually when you start feeling uncomfortable or your internal warning light is going off – it’s because someone is testing your boundaries. People by their very nature will test boundaries. Remember, they are seeking guidance from you on how to be in a relationship with you. If you always say “yes” when you want to say “no” or don’t speak up when someone offends you, that person will continue to push your boundaries.
- Say them out loud – It can be hard to say no or let someone know they are crossing your boundaries, but over time and with practice you will be able to soften your responses. Most people worry that if they say no or assert their own needs they will hurt someone’s feelings or the person will not like them. Know that you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. Don’t let someone guilt you into crossing your own boundaries. They may react at first but they will ultimately respect you more for setting limits and letting them know what to expect from your relationship.
- Know that you have a right to set personal boundaries. Other people’s feelings and needs are not more important than yours. A lot of times people struggle because they are putting other people’s needs above their own because they think being a giving partner, parent, employee or friend is part of being in a healthy relationship. While this is true to a degree, finding a balance is so important. In continually sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others, you will wear yourself thin both mentally and physically and jeopardize your own health and happiness. If you’re not healthy and happy, it’s impossible to be in a healthy and happy relationship.
- Ask for help – If you are struggling with boundaries and determining what is healthy versus unhealthy for you, find someone in your life who has good boundaries and use them as a sounding board.
If you’re read to create better boundaries in your life, schedule an appointment for therapy. We can help you understand how you relate to others, and help you achieve your goals for personal and relational growth.