Hacks On How To Set & Stick To Your Boundaries
Boundaries are part of cultivating healthy relationships, so why is it so hard to achieve?! Why does saying no feel like the biggest ask? Why does the thought of saying how you feel cause guilt, sometimes consuming every inch of your body? Why do you feel that honouring your needs is something you shouldn’t do?
Words by YK Daily's resident life coach Amira Mansour @the_communicationexpert
Boundaries are key for a healthy relationship, and when you get it ‘right’ it means you’re able to honour your needs. You can identify what your values and priorities are, and essentially say no to anything that doesn’t align with this. But how many of us are clear on what our values are? If we’re from a family where you’ve been rewarded for being close and staying as a unit, you may have adopted your family values without ever questioning what yours are. If you’re not clear on what’s important to you, you’ll probably feel unsure why something has even bothered you.
Boundaries are supposed to bring us closer in relationships. They’re supposed to help us acknowledge what’s important to us and others, but why do we hold back communicating them? Part of it may be because you’ve never done it, so it feels hard to do something you’ve never done. Maybe you’re not sure how to communicate them well, in a way where the other person is going to understand them. Or possibly it's the sense of guilt that’s going to consume us, the fear of being judged, as being seen as selfish for putting our needs first, or for the fear of being disliked.
Maybe you’re the fixer in your family, I mean hey maybe you’re even good at it. Or perhaps you mediate between your parents, and stepping away from that role feels disloyal. Isn’t it better to keep the peace and preserve the happiness? And I get it! You think by expressing what’s important for you, you’ll hurt the other person’s feelings by doing so. Yes you’re right, you might, however you’re also not responsible for how somebody else feels. This can feel difficult, but the more responsibility you take on for others, not only the more stress it can create for you, but it could also create feelings of resentment, and this isn’t a good look.
Maybe you’ve even tried the whole ‘let me set my boundaries’ but you’ve taken it too far. Maybe your boundaries have been so strict and inflexible that actually you’re relationships have worsened as a result. I mean that’s enough to put you off. So how do you know if your boundaries are working? Well, if they mean you’re avoiding hard conversations and honest communication, and you’re using them to disconnect from the world and people around you, I’m going to hazard a guess and say these aren’t healthy boundaries.
Whether boundaries are completely new to you, or you’re finding it hard to know where you’re going wrong, here’s my 3 tips to help you communicate them in a way that’s going to bring your relationships closer, rather than creating distance…
Starting small is going to benefit you, and them, particularly if it’s new for you and the relationship. Setting and communicating your boundaries is something you’re going to want to practice until it becomes a habit. By starting small it also allows your body to get used to the new behaviour you’re choosing. The idea is that by starting in smaller increments you’re more likely to uphold the boundary. If you’ve been thinking about setting a boundary for a while but this is the first time you’re communicating them, it also gives the other person time to adjust too. Remember, they may be surprised and it could take them time to adjust. Be patient and remember you don’t have to rush the process.
Adjust Your Expectations
Sometimes we’ll go into these conversations with a beautiful image that it’s going to go well. You imagine them responding well, when in reality they push back, react defensively or perhaps even disagree and think you’re being unreasonable. By adjusting your expectations before having the conversation it allows you to accept that ‘this may go well, or this may not go well’. It isn’t a reflection of you, and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create the boundary.
One thing I often find with my clients is the view that once they’ve communicated their boundary, that’s it, the other person should understand it and there’s nothing else they need to do. Or when someone pushes back, they question and doubt themselves. If this is a relationship that you plan to have in your life for the foreseeable then this means you’re probably going to have to have more than one conversation, as It takes time to alter a behaviour. Plus, it's not only about being consistent in communicating your boundary, but how you’re upholding it too.
Now it’s great when you communicate a boundary and the other person immediately respects and understands it, however, we’re not living in a textbook world, and as Melissa Urban says, “someone reacting badly to a boundary is upset because you’re revoking a privilege they should never have had in the first place”. So how do you handle someone crossing your boundary? I’ve shared my 3 tips to help you do it differently…
Create A Consequence
There’s a balance between rigid boundaries, and a time where you may need to limit contact or create a hard and fast boundary or restriction. Let’s take drinking alcohol as an example. If alcohol is no longer part of your life, then setting a boundary that sounds like, “I’m not dinking anymore and therefore I don’t want you to do this around me” could be realistic and fair, even if it feels harsh to the other person. It’s a way of you preserving your space and recovery. What if you’d leant a friend money and they hadn’t repaid it within the timeframe agreed? You may say that you don’t want to go on holiday together until they’re able to pay this back.
It’s easy to play the blame game, but how clearly did you set the boundary when you initially communicated this to them? Be clear on what it is that you need. Would you like your family to call before they come around? Would you like your friend to repay you the money they borrowed when you agreed they would? Stay away from explaining how shocked you are by their behaviour, or outrage that they can’t see things from your perspective, come back to clearly explaining what it is that’s important to you.
The best way to take ownership of how you feel is by using ‘I’. You don’t need to explicitly state, “I’m setting a boundary because of your behaviour”. Instead, say “I feel X when X happens. Next time I’d appreciate it if you could do it X way instead”. Remember boundaries is about honouring you, your needs, your values and your priorities.
Boundaries are unique to each individual, and unfortunately there isn’t a blueprint that you must follow. It’s a journey to untangle relationships, desires and to people please. So lean into letting go of trying to do it the right way, and find your words to speak up and express yourself.