Setting Good Boundaries

Many people ask me about boundaries because it is a concept with which they are unfamiliar. However, we all should know about them because they are extremely important to healthy relationships and good mental health. Simply put, boundaries are the emotional and physical space that we place between ourselves and others; they determine how we act toward others and how we allow them to treat us. People who have overly rigid boundaries do not allow anyone in and they don’t show much emotion toward others. On the opposite end are people with boundaries that are too weak. These are the folks who always do what they believe others expect of them and rarely get their needs met.

Although it may sound easy, developing healthy boundaries is tough! They require flexibility and a balance between getting our needs Good boundariesmet and tending to the desires of others. Healthy boundaries also require the knowledge and subsequent acceptance of the idea that the only thing in life we can truly control is ourselves: our feelings, our thoughts and our behavior. As such, even in circumstances where we don’t have much influence over what is happening, we have some measure of control. So, here are some tips for developing and maintaining good boundaries.

There are three basic steps for setting boundaries.

  1. Decide upon the behavior you want to exhibit.
  2. Express your boundary verbally.
  3. Follow through with the consequences.

Example: if a coworker is rude to you, determine to be polite (step 1). You could say, “I don’t like it when you speak that way to me. If you continue to be rude, I will end our conversation” (step 2). If s/he persists in being offensive, stop the conversation (step 3). Keep in mind that you must be consistent in following through with your consequences. People do not like to have others draw boundaries for them so they may respond negatively at first. Prepare yourself for the backlash but do not give up. Once they realize you are serious about your boundaries, they will respect them.

There are times (e.g., dealing with people who have greater power and authority) when you cannot tell people your boundary intentions. For example, your boss may treat you unkindly and stating your boundary could get you fired. However, this does not mean that you cannot have boundaries but merely that the consequences may be different than if you were dealing with a peer. In such a circumstance, you may decide that your boundary will be to refuse to engage negatively in the conversation. Thus, you can decide to remain unaffected (step 1), state the boundary to yourself (step 2) and respond solely to the facts (step 3). Example: Your boss says, “What are you, stupid? That report was due yesterday!” You reply, “So next time I need to get the report to you sooner.”

Things to keep in mind about boundaries:

  1. The only person you can control is you.
  2. You are not responsible for the feelings of others.
  3. You have the right to request positive treatment.

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