Setting Healthy Boundaries
Updated: Feb 17, 2019
Healthy boundaries serve to let people know how we want to be treated. You’re allowed to decide what works for you, what doesn’t and how you’re available to friends and family. You’re allowed to say no, and ask for what you want. Some people might resist. You’re still allowed to state your needs and expectations. Here are some highlights of setting healthy boundaries:
Trust your feelings: If you feel that a situation isn’t working for you, trust that gut feeling. You are the ultimate authority on what works in your life and what you’re available for.
Be specific: Be specific when stating your boundary. This eliminates any expectation of mind-reading on the part of the recipient. State it calmly, firmly, honestly and kindly.
Speak directly to the source: Rather than going to someone else to vent about your boundary violation with someone else, go directly to the person who has violated your boundary. The healthiest way to set a boundary is to go direct and speak your truth.
State your truth firmly but kindly: Use a kind and business tone. There’s no need to get confrontational the first time you tell someone what your boundary is. That helps them feel respected, while you’re expressing your needs and expectations.
Healthy boundaries are event specific: Set your boundary as soon as you feel the situation isn’t working for you, before becoming angry and resentful. The longer time passes before delivering a healthy boundary, the less effective your boundary setting will be.
Own your feelings: Use “I” statements and own your own preferences, feelings and request. "You" statements generally turn into blaming or accusing. For example: “I feel uncomfortable discussing anyone who isn't here to speak for themselves. Can we please just talk about you and me?" Or simply, “I’m not available for that.” or “It doesn’t work for me when you come by without calling first. I'd appreciate it if you’d call to make sure it’s a good time.”
Don’t apologize, story tell, or blame: This is your boundary, you’re allowed to have it (see first tip). You’re allowed to set expectations about what you are, and are not, available for, and how you want to be treated. Apologizing and explaining gives the impression you’re not sure what you want. It makes it appear that you’re not sure you deserve to be treated the way you want to be treated. It also undermines your authority and makes it easier to people to feel they can ignore your boundary.
Yes, it’s true that setting boundaries can disrupt relationships. Saying no can be hard if you’re not used to it. Indeed, some people may resist. You may have to set the same boundary more than once. But it’s important to stick with it. The more you do it, the easier it gets.