“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others” (Breneﹶ Brown).
When we deny ourselves the right to set boundaries, we invite the opportunity to be offended by others. Boundaries are not unloving. Separating ourselves protects our relationships because we are taking a stand against things that destroy them.
Previously, I discussed what made boundaries the greatest gift I rediscovered during Covid-19. They protect us and our relationships, preserve our time and energy, and promote internal peace and mental health. In my most recent post, I discussed how boundaries can be a double-edged sword in that they can keep us from thriving; therefore, we must test boundaries as we move throughout life to see if they need to be renegotiated.
Now that we understand their significance and how they can affect us, let us discuss how to set proper boundaries that can ensure all of the benefits and minimize the risk of being bound by them. I mentioned in a prior post how diligent my father was in setting boundaries in his life and teaching us to set them in our own life. It wasn’t until later that I came to realize that setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill that many are not taught and is one I took for granted.
There are several areas to consider when setting boundaries, but research indicates these four are paramount for relational, physical, and mental health: Our time (how we will or will not spend it, who can access it, etc.), our relationships (what are acceptable requests, interactions etc.), our jobs (choosing what are acceptable or unacceptable requests that can be made of you- travel, extended hours etc.), and social media (time limits, choosing platforms to engage on and disengage from, etc.). In considering when, why, and how to place boundaries in these areas, you should these two questions:
Why am I setting boundaries here? You must understand whether your boundaries are discerned needs or trauma informed (based on unfavorable past experiences). The ladder, while necessary for a time being, are boundaries that you must consider renegotiating more frequently than those that are discerned. Discerned need for boundaries tends to be more long-lasting, prioritizing time for self-reflection, exercise, or being home for dinner each night.
What will my response be when/if the boundaries are crossed? How will you respond when someone steps over or pushes your boundaries?
Once you determined how your boundaries will look, where they need to be, and who they need to include, consider the following advice to ensure they are respected.
Know your limits and yourself
In asking yourself these questions, name and know your personal limits. How can you set boundaries if you don’t know where you stand? This may take time. My red flags for when my boundaries feel “pushed” or “crossed” usually surface as discomfort or resentment. When I feel violated, I feel discomfort, and when I feel taken advantage of, I tend to feel resentment. If I feel either of these emerge, I stop to ask myself why I feel the way I do, knowing why I feel a certain way, gives me confidence to speak up.
Be direct and assertive
While being direct won’t always be required, there may be times that it is. I recall living abroad, where many of the cultural norms and expectations weren’t anything like what I grew up with. Living in France challenged many of my comfort zones in terms of physical distancing, sexuality, and conversations regarding many topics that felt taboo. There were times when I had to ask friends to let go of the fact that I’m not comfortable with hanging out in a locker room, naked, lotioning my legs, and gabbing away. I admired their confidence to do so, but it was too far outside of my comfort zone.
In being direct, also be assertive. Be willing to let people know when they have crossed a boundary that makes you feel uncomfortable or taken advantage of. Far too often, we fear being disliked, but the truth is, if someone dislikes your honesty (assuming you were tactful), then I would assert the boundaries are even more necessary than originally known. Those who love and respect you will respect your boundaries. I’m speaking from experience here.
Allow yourself to feel the way you do
Often, you will find that those closest to you feel that they have free access to you and to your time. While never meant to be harmful, this expectation is taxing to relationships. Give yourself the freedom to say no. "No" is a complete sentence. It’s okay if you’re too tired to join the fun. It’s okay if you feel too busy to take time away. It’s okay to use your day off to be alone and unwind. Don’t accept misplaced guilt from people who don’t understand everything that is on your plate.
Jesus himself had to tell His mother and brother “no” when they attempted to pull him away from His ministry because they wanted to see Him (Luke 8:19-21). If Jesus didn’t feel guilty resting, working, and doing what God called Him to do, why should we?
Acknowledge threats to your boundaries
Considering your past and present is important to understand possible threats to the boundaries you seek to create. This is where trauma-informed and discerned need for boundaries comes into play. Think of how you grew up and what your role was in your nuclear family. Were you expected to be a caretaker or “earn your keep”? If so, then you might have created early habits that caused you to always put others before yourself. You may have habits that cause you to believe you are only worthy if you can “earn” your keep. These thought patterns are harmful in that burn out is almost always the end result.
You also have to consider relationships. Have your relationships always been reciprocal? Are you expected to do more and take more? Is there a healthy two-way street in your relationships? If not, you may have to reconsider what you expect from relationships and how they can be reciprocal and healthy.
Beyond your past, you must also consider expectations of work and outside commitments. Are you in an environment where overtime is expected? Do you tend to go above and beyond because it’s expected but not necessarily respected in terms of being offered incentive to do so? It can be challenging if you’re the only one setting boundaries in certain spaces. What will you do to maintain them?
Self-care and support
Make it a point to allow yourself time to do what you want and not what others expect of you. It is okay to say "no" and do something for yourself. Surround yourself with people who encourage you to maintain healthy boundaries and remind you to take time for yourself. Taking time for yourself seems so counter-culture, and counterproductive to many; however, psychologists agree that those who care for themselves are not only happier and healthier, but they positively affect those around them and encourage the same behaviors from those close to them, thus making for a less stressful environment.
Start small, be consistent
Change doesn’t happen in a day. You are not expected to set boundaries in every area of your life and maintain them effectively all at once. Start small. I found it beneficial to set boundaries around my morning routine. It didn’t really affect anyone but me. I wanted to wake up earlier to have more “me time.” It made for a happier wife and mommy each morning. From there, perhaps consider areas of work you can set boundaries around or a relationship. Think of small changes, over time, that will have great impact. When you begin seeing the results and feeling the weight lift from your shoulders, you will be encouraged to tackle harder areas of life.
With the six tips above, take time to make a list of what you value, what you need, and how you will honor that. For example: I value my well-being; therefore, I must say "no" to things, if it’s not an absolute yes. It’s okay not to answer right away if you want to think on your response. Another example of this is: I value growth; therefore, I must test my limits and boundaries. I will still take action when I am afraid and when I don’t have all of the answers. As you begin to set boundaries, become comfortable with the word n”. It’s an acceptable word and a complete sentence, regardless how others feel about it. Josh Billings once said, “Half the troubles of this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough.” One last thing, don’t compare the boundaries you need or set to another’s. God created us all differently -- our needs, strengths, weakness’, and experiences are all different; therefore, our boundaries will be, too.
Remember, boundaries are not unloving. Separating ourselves protects our relationships because we are taking a stand against things that destroy them.