There’s been a lot of talk recently about “good” or “bad” boundaries and how they manifest in our lives. Boundaries are rules or limits we live by that keep us feeling safe, protected, and in balance. Boundaries work both ways in our relationships and are commitments we uphold, as well as ones we expect others to follow through with on their end. Boundaries can show up in a myriad of ways including time, physical, emotional, and relational. They can be choosing to commit to something or choosing not to commit to something.
The holidays are a time where we can struggle more so than we already do with boundaries. Things are often busy, and we may forget to take down time for ourselves when we have a million obligations. There are also topics such as food, body image, or personal questions that may arise when we are around our families for get-togethers. Feeling prepared to handle these situations can make them more enjoyable and reduce stress around these events.
Since boundaries is a topic that covers many instances, here are some examples to help further specify what boundaries are:
Committing to doing a favor for someone
Setting aside time for yourself
Finding work/life balance
Saying no to others when you don’t have the time or energy to hang out.
Respecting someone’s physical boundaries around if they are comfortable or not with hugging or touching
Speaking up for what you are and aren’t comfortable with physically.
Choosing how much, if any, information you want to share with someone about your personal life and feelings
Setting limits around how often people come to you with their problems
Sticking to your values and now allowing someone to negate things that are important to you.
Setting expectations within your relationships of what is acceptable or not
Clear communication about what you like or don't like
Whether you chose to be monogamous or not in your relationship
What is acceptable within healthy conflict and what is not
If we have firm values we are able to say no to people, only take on commitments we want, feel heard and respected, and end our day knowing we stuck to our authentic self. When our life is in balance, boundaries can be easier to set for ourselves and others. When life is chaotic or people are struggling with their mental health, it can be easy to over-commit to things, have trouble saying no to people, and feel irritable or tightly wound.
One day you may be in a good place where you have the energy and want to commit to several projects and social commitments. Another day, you may need to commit time to yourself and say no to things that come your way. Both are great and ways of checking in with boundaries and adjusting as needed. They are going to look different each day, month, and year.
So what gets in the way of setting boundaries? Some people grew up in a household where parents did not listen or respect boundaries, causing people to grow up and feel as though this is normal. Others may have got into the habit of people pleasing to avoid conflict and possibly to keep others "liking them." Something I hear often from clients is how they want everyone to like them. And of course it's natural that we want others to like us, though not at the expense of making ourselves uncomfortable. Those in our lives who respect, value, and love us unconditionally, will understand when we say no to something.
Another big thing that gets in the way of setting boundaries is that it is uncomfortable and can be hard. Setting boundaries is often going to cause some nerves or tension in your body and mind. This short amount of discomfort when setting boundaries is worth being able to do what you want and need. The question I often pose to my clients is do you want to feel uncomfortable for 10-15 minutes, or for hours on end doing things you didn't want to do? All the times you don't stick to your boundaries adds up, and your time is too important to waste it on making sure other people are happy.
Here are some phrases you can start with when working on setting boundaries:
"That sounds great another time, but I can't right now."
"Unfortunately I'll be busy that day."
"Thanks, but I'm actually choosing to do ______ instead."
"I can't talk right now, though maybe later."
"I'm actually not feeling that today."
"I'd appreciate if you didn't do _____. Thanks."
Depending on what the situation is, what is happening, who you are talking to, and your personality, you can come up with responses that are more or less blunt and are tailored to you. I'm confident you can find something that works for you. If you're someone that is just starting out, be patient with yourself and take time getting more and more comfortable within the discomfort. We may also unfortunately have others in our lives that don't respect our boundaries even when they are appropriate. That's a signal to us to check in on our own boundaries and whether or not we continue to interact with this person. It may be we want to or that we have to and we need to adjust our communication with them to happen less or look different.
I hope you can continue to check in with yourself and notice what your boundaries are and if they are in balance. What you want is important. You are important. Don't let anyone make you think any different.
Written by Devan of SafeHeart Counseling. Devan is the founder and owner of SafeHeart Counseling, which provides therapy services to children, teens, and young adults. SafeHeart Counseling specializes in working with eating disorders, trauma, and anxiety.