5 ways to start setting boundaries

“That’s it!  I’ve had enough!  This is my boundary, now and you are NOT allowed to cross it!”  Have you ever said this, or something similar?

The word boundary, or boundaries can mean so many things to us when we use it in our relationships.  Maybe you are feeling like you need to set a boundary at work.  You are no longer going to let Suzie give you the work that she isn’t doing.  Or maybe your husband is not taking the garbage out like he agreed to, so you’re just going to let it pile up until he can’t stand the smell of it.

Boundaries can be used as another word for “NO!”, but it’s actually so much more than that.  They are an opportunity to define yourself, what you want and need in relationship with others, and a way of giving those in your life a chance to have authentic and healthy relationship with you.

But how do you start?!  WHERE do you start?!  Here are 5 areas to consider in building boundaries in your relationships with yourself and others.  As you begin to use some of these boundaries in your life, you may start to feel a bit more free, respect from others, and a new willingness to say yes to things that you actually want to do.

WHY ARE YOU SETTING THE BOUNDARY?  The first step to setting boundaries in your life is NOT saying no.  It begins with understanding why you want to set those boundaries.  Understanding the why helps you to stay committed to and invested in your boundaries.  So, for example, if you are single parent, it may annoy you when you arrive home after 6:30 at night when you doesn’t have your kids, because you have no time to recuperate from your day, clean up, and still have time for yourself while the kids are with their other parent.  When you take that time, you notice that you are more productive at work the next day, and have more energy for caring for your children when they’re home.  This would your why for saying no to staying late at work each night.

WHAT IS THE BOUNDARY YOU WANT TO SET?  Many times, when you are feeling stretched, overwhelmed or exhausted, you may know that you want to set boundaries, but just end up saying a hard NO to everything in your life.  But there may be things that you give up that you truly enjoy, and then resent quitting it.  Sound familiar?

I like to describe a boundary like a picket fence that has a gate.  As opposed to a brick wall of NO, a fence still describes where you begin and others end.  There’s still the opportunity to close the gate and say no, but there’s also the option to open the gate and let healthy things in while also being able to keep the unhealthy out.  The gate provides you with choices and a voice in your life.  So, before you start saying no to things, consider whether this situation has a healthy component to it that you would like to just limit or put a definition to, as opposed to leaving it wide open.  In the above situation, you recognizes that it helps you to have your kids see their other parent on a weekly basis, and as long as it happens once a week, it doesn’t really matter to you what day it happens.  So, while it might be frustrating that the other parent keeps changing it, you can make the choice to not get upset about what day it happens on.  This relieves you of the anger and emotion that used to come up because you have defined your why and what the boundary is.

START SMALL.  This is one of the most common mistakes I see when people start setting boundaries.  You have a few things in your life that are bothering you, and you are learning about boundaries.  You want relief, so you start saying no to that thing or person that is the worst offender.  And then you cave, and can’t keep the boundary in place because of how they respond.  This isn’t a matter of it being the other person’s fault.  Neither is it that you can’t have boundaries.  This is about you needing to start small so that you have success.  Take time to learn what works for you and what doesn’t, and then you can start to implement that in the more important aspects of your life.  So, in the example we’re using, if you are wanting to start implementing boundaries, maybe saying no to your boss isn’t your starting point.  Maybe you starts with getting your kids to put their dishes in the dishwasher.  This gives you the chance to try out how you word your boundary, and have success when they listen and observe the boundary.

HAVE SUPPORT.  You need support as you start to change the way that you operate in relationships.  Find one or two people (maybe it’s a counsellor if none of your friends are good at boundaries either) that will support you, encourage you, and hold you accountable if needed.  Tell them what boundary you are going to try to set, how you want to do it and then ask for the support that you need.

USE YOUR WORDS.  When you are new to boundaries, you can be afraid of hurting other people’s feelings.  Or maybe you think that the person you are setting boundaries with should already know that they’re pissing you off and need to stop doing something.  But if you are wanting to have a healthy relationship as a result of someone honoring and respecting you, then you need to offer them the opportunity to enter this relationship. 

Tell the person that you’re setting the boundary with what your boundary is, why it is important to you, and what the consequences will be if that boundary is not respected.  So, for the example above, it might be something like this with your ex-husband “Jake, I know that it is important for the children to see you once a week, and I want to help you make that happen.  We have agreed that as long as they get to their activities, I am okay if you see them Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday evenings.  However, I do need to know one week ahead of time which day that is going to be.  It gets confusing for the children when the schedule changes with short notice.  If you need to make changes with less than 24 hours’ notice, then I will explain to the children that you are not able to see them this week, and I will take care of them.”

The idea of setting boundaries is to have healthy relationships in your life, where you can authentically say yes…and no…to yourself, others and activities so that you feel fulfilled, energized and content.  How do these steps sound to you?  Are they exciting?  Terrifying?  If you would like help learning more about boundaries and how to implement them in your life, click on the button below.  The therapists at Vitality Collective would love to be a resource for you and help support you in implementing boundaries in your life.