How to Set Healthy Boundaries

What is a boundary? In a physical sense, it is easy to understand that a boundary marks off where your property starts and where the neighbour’s ends. You are responsible for your property but not for anything that happens on your neighbour’s.

While not as easy to mark off, our emotional boundaries also mark off where our responsibilities start and end. Too many people feel out of control of their lives because they don’t have good emotional boundaries.

Boundaries are like fences in that they keep bad things out and good things in. This means that you protect yourself from things or people that might hurt you and you nurture things or people that help you. Notice I said fences and not walls. A wall means that nothing gets through from either side whereas a fence allows flow.

Boundaries are limits or barriers that protect you, your time and your energy. When your boundaries are well-defined, they help to prevent conflict within your relationships. They are like your personal rules or policies. Laura Stack says it beautifully, “setting limits is a way of defining who you are and what you’re all about, what you will do and what you won’t; what’s acceptable to you and what’s not”.

Setting boundaries means owning and taking responsibility for your personal choices and the consequences thereof. You make the choice, you take responsibility and you can make a different choice if you don’t like the consequence. You can’t control other people’s behaviour but you can control the extent to which it affects you. In other words, control your exposure to people.

For example, I don’t allow people to make racist remarks around me. Now I can’t control what they will say but I can control whether I continue to listen. Another example is I don’t allow anybody to speak to me in an abusive manner. Again, I can’t control what they say but I will warn them before putting the phone down. It’s their right to say what they want but it’s also my right to not sit there and be a doormat.

Here are some physiological signs that your boundaries are weak:

· Knots in your stomach when you agree to do some things

· Anger and resentment

· Deep feeling of dread

· Feeling shocked or being appalled at something someone said

The first step to creating stronger boundaries is to learn to say no.

Remember if the reaction to your setting boundaries is not great (sulking, anger, etc), it’s not about you – it’s about them. That feeling belongs on their side of the “fence”.

Write these 3 sentences on a piece of paper and write out as many statements underneath each as you can think of:

1. People may not…

2. I have a right to ask for…

3. To protect my time and energy…

Here’s to setting healthy boundaries!


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